On 'madness' and genius
When I was 17, I did my final AP Psychology paper on the cultural fascination with genius and ‘madness’, and whether there was a substantiated correlation.
Yes. I have always been Like This.
Of course I had the research skills of a teenager, so who knows what conclusion I’d come up with if I did the same investigation today (Research Pikachu has evolved, y’all).
But I think about that paper often and stand by a few of its points.
- ‘madness’ is actually maybe inversely correlated with genius? Jackson Pollock, for instance, did not make his most famous works until he had his bipolar disorder properly medicated.
- while detrimental personally (many of the ‘mad’ artists were burned at the stake or locked away), the myth can be culturally useful to get people to leave artists be. This is obviously not a universal across marginalizations, but a marginalized person is still given more room to just be and muse and speak and exist if it can be argued as an ‘enriching little art project’ relative to the normal grind of the boot of supremacy coming atcha.
I’m thinking about this correlation a lot lately because of this app Retro. It feels the most like old Instagram and in its private permissions, I find myself uploading more real moments of my day. A thousand pictures of my kids, my ok looking meals, my rose bush, my daily dog walks in my neighborhood. It’s a beautiful life, it’s the best, even when I’m stressed out of my mind.
And I think there’s a large set of the population who would find my existence excruciatingly boring.
When I was 17, I think I was terrified that someday far in the future I might heal from my wounds and become excruciatingly boring. Not because my days would feel sloggy, or I would stop having new ideas. I was afraid it would take art away from me. I was afraid that drama, anxiety, and being yelled at by hypercritical people was what kept me close to the muse, and that it was the cost.
I already knew I needed art. It kept me alive. But that was a strange conundrum: to maintain a sense of sanity through creation, I would have to let myself be constantly destroyed. I took this to mean I should seek out the destruction to feed the creation.
I didn’t know this consciously when I wrote the paper, but I think I was beginning to understand that this would be a central conflict in my young adulthood. All my life I have wanted a certain kind of boredom, and that boredom isn’t monotony. It is room. Room to expand, to unpack, to make a mess without constantly grappling, hissing, fighting back.
For years it was easy to join in the gaslighting that I was picky, stubborn, unreasonable, and silly for wanting what I wanted. I think because what I want is boring and simple and harder to capitalize on—as I don’t actually need a constant, expensive sense of novelty. I have all of the room I need right now, and I just work to maintain and float in it.
The creation is always there for me, no matter how much I ignore it, belittle it by belittling myself. I am not the kindest person. As much as I am trying to learn, there is a hardened core inside of me that resists dismantling, that fears community and distrusts others. And yet creation is always there for me, with no strings, no sense of vengeance. I can always return to myself, no matter how I’ve been.