Sunday, February 9, 2014

Being creative means being an addict

Photo: Justin Hoch.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman and I were neighbors. We were both Rochestarians. His family lives next to my family. But the news of his death upset me for another reason. My brother died at age 34 due to heroin addiction. HE HAD BEEN HEROIN FREE FOR OVER A DECADE. But the damage heroin did to him IN HIS TWENTIES was everlastingly permanent.

It's not an "exception to the rule" example. People who become addicted to heroin and quit often die a decade later.

There's a myth out there that people who are sensitive and therefore creative are so bruised by life that they are somehow in need of illegal/legal medication to create.

If I only could show you what I see as an editor. Percentages of novels devoted to different phases of the romantic arc. Math, math, math. Ascending arcs hitting the midpoint, and then "Bad guys closing in" in the right and proper order. Do you honestly think plotting like is a drug fugue?

Heroin is NOT a conduit to creativity. But its deadliness is in its longevity. People like my brother and my hometown hero Philip Seymour Hoffman quit for YEARS and YEARS and their bodies were damaged regardless.

Heroin addicts don't write. They don't create. If someone in your family is addicted... well, I wish there were better resources to help you, but we're all so stuck in "Hemingway is taught in high school so he's good so drugs makes you creative" mode. But NAMI helped my brother immensely. They gave him the dignity he earned, and they let him earn it.

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE unlatch the "creative genuis" myth from the drug addict reality. In Rochester, heroin addiction has doubled in the last decade, and I'll bet anything we're not alone. I know my readers are parents and teachers. Please UNCOUPLE THE MYTH THAT ADDICTION AND CREATIVITY ARE SOMEHOW PARTNERS. If you are a teacher, tell your students, ALL of them, that drug addiction kills creativity and how to get in touch with NAMI.

I'm struggling with college bound (maybe I hope) teen children myself but you know what? MY BROTHER DIED FOR THIS.  If you work with teens, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE contact me about NAMI if, like me, you crave that next thing to do.

My daughter has a mental illness (anxiety), I know this is hard. I blame myself constantly for having children when I "knew" what my brother went through. But we were so ignorant 20 years ago, and call me a b#tch, but I'm NOT going to call my daughter's talents "a blessing of her mental illness." NO.  If she had a broken arm, nobody would look at the talents God gave her and say "It's because she has a broken arm!!"

This is why I write for teens, this is what I have to say to them--DON'T COMMIT SUICIDE. And if your teen makes you stay up all night worrying about this, first NAMI (kept my brother alive about 5 years longer than his inclinations) and second, contact me. I work for the day when we are not alone and when teen depression/or anxiety is treated as a broken limb.


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