All good novelists have bad memories.
–Robert Olen Butler paraphrasing Graham Greene (so you go on and paraphrase this somewhere else and it’ll be a game of telephone–who knows how the quote will end up many clicks away in cyberspace!)
This idea appears in many places–the notion that great artists are miserable or were miserable or suicidal or tormented by a dark side. I even read an interview with an agent who actually said a miserable childhood was a requirement for a good writer. Well, all you parents out there who want creative children. Forget Baby Mozart. Start abusing your children!
Okay, I jest. But is it true? I asked my students once what they thought of writers (and I did this when they didn’t know about this “secret” life of mine). Or more accurately, I asked them how they thought writers were different from other people if they were different at all. The students used adjectives like this–wild, free, independent, unhappy, and unstable. At the word “unstable” all the students nodded and said, “Oh, yes” or ” that’s right.” Several mentioned that writers had bad parents, drank too much, and had many affairs. Well, am I behind the curve. All this time and not one affair or addiction! (Except for coffee–does that count?)
I’ll take independent. And I’ll admit to something of a crazy childhood, but wild? Unstable? Do I have to be? If I stay my uptight, homebody self, can I be a great writer?
At this point, if I’m not a great writer, I don’t think my staid lifestyle has much to do with it. Hey, I love Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton and Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway as much as anybody (hmmm…okay, not love, but I like them, I really do like them), but I’d like to lose this suicidal, depressive stereotype. Nobody writes much passed out on the floor or laid out in the morgue.
But then again, I look at the stories I write, and I think–maybe I am crazy…