Coming Soon to a Theater...or not

Titanic: Two the Surface

Goonies of the Carribean

Brokeback to the Future

Sleepless in Seattle: The Horror Movie

The Shining: A Romantic Comedy

Depression and Creativity

The death of Heath Ledger, whether or not it's actually attributable in any way to his depression, sparked a few conversations about the connection between creativity and depression.

This is a subject I've given a lot of thought to, because for most of my life I've based a large portion of my identity on being a poet - and poets are so frequently associated with this romanticized view of depression.

Does an artist need to suffer? Do they need it in order to have the material to produce art? To have the impetus? The insight?

Does being mentally ill provide an advantage to an artist? Does it allow them to step outside normal boundaries and access greater creativity? Does it inspire them? Drive them?

Over the years, I've had different answers to these questions for myself. I do think that it's hard to produce art if your life has always been easy, if your challenges have been small and easily overcome, if you've lived inside the "norm" comfortably.

In terms of suffering due to external causes (as opposed to mental illness, there's a saying that it's impossible to create art when you're starving, or the idea that art is a luxury... yet I've witnessed some of the most inspired work from people in duress, people on the edge.

I'm reminded of a singer I saw on the streets of Prague when I was homeless. I was begging for spare change in one of the main squares, it was early winter, and the first real snow had fallen. A pale, thin woman in a cheap quilted coat stood near one of the churches, a man beside her with a little tape player. He set the player down, pushed play and the tinny sound barely reached a few feet... and then she began to sing. Not simply sing, but reach up to heaven with her voice, the purest and most passionate soprano I have ever heard. It was simply transcendent.

A few months later, in the early spring - I saw the woman again. She had a better coat, more color in her cheeks, and the weather was turning warmer - and her voice, though still accomplished and beautiful, lacked that extra dimension.

On the other hand, being too far outside society for too long is more often a disadvantage - "outsider art" has it's own appellation because it's simply not as accomplished as other forms. Being pushed to extremes is more often a distraction, or can wear down an artist until they haven't the energy to produce anything.

And what about mental illness?

This article mentions the "creative fire," and associates mild mania (specifically with bipolar disorder) with creative intensity - but is that an accurate association? the specific characteristics they describe are, indeed, also components of what is sometimes called the "creative trance" which many artists enter when they create. A hyper-sensitivity to stimuli, especially emotional stimuli; lowered inhibitions; and the tendency to become intensely focused while working. I find that those are actually part of the reason I sometimes avoid writing - especially the absorption. When I get into a project I have to allow things to effect me more deeply, to drop my inhibitions, and I become intensely absorbed...and it can interfere with my ability to function. During my most creative periods I have trouble keeping a job, embarrassed myself and done damage to professional and personal relationships by simply saying too much because I lose my sense of what's socially appropriate, and I had difficulty relating to others in a rational manner. So yes, I would agree that there is some level of social dysfunction associated with intense creativity... but is it an advantage, and is it necessary?

Most people who have bipolar disorder or major depression do not become great artists - so it's not as though these illnesses automatically will make you a genius.

An article on the APA website suggests that part of the connection may be self-reflection. Both creative persons and people with depression exhibit a higher degree of introspection than average. So it may be that the conditions which encourage and develop creativity also tend to encourage the development of depression or manic-depression.

Another factor, as mentioned here, is that creativity can be stifled. It's dismissed, or put down, or set aside for "real" problems. And that stifling of potential can lead to depression. Another article discusses this in a more complex manner, and even suggests that some of the characteristics of creativity can be mistaken for mania.

Mary Rocamora, who counsels gifted people, and heads The Rocamora School in Los Angeles school, which provides awareness training classes for gifted and talented adults, says those "who are passionately engaged with their talent but are constantly separated from the creative experience by relentless self-criticism, self-doubt, and feelings of inferiority often suffer from depression and the periodic shutting down of their spontaneous creative impulses. The drive to express their inner creativity is heightened in many gifted individuals, and when the drive to create meets the wall of shame, it implodes into numbness, rage, depression, and hopelessness." She also notes that it is well known among researchers of the gifted, talented and creative that these individuals "exhibit greater intensity and increased levels of emotional, imaginational, intellectual, sensual and psychomotor excitability, and that this is a normal pattern of development." Dr. Linda Silverman, Director of the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development in Denver, has also cautioned that this higher level of excitability and intensity may be perceived and misdiagnosed as manic depression.

But the article I found most helpful was this one: An interview with a doctor who did an empirical study on creativity and mental illness, and so is speaking from facts rather than supposition. In his study, around 70% of the writers had depression, which is just massive. However, he noted that during a depressive or manic phase, an individual is not motivated or organized enough to actually create. It is only after they emerge from that state that they are able to use those experiences as fuel. He addresses the fear that some have of medication stifling their creativity with examples, and states that creative people are more functional and more able to actually produce work while their illness is under control. He also notes that besides major Depression and Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia has a link to creativity - but once again, not when it is out of control.

Which makes me optimistic.

Does an artists need to suffer? I would say that yes, they do - they need it as fuel. But who, in their life, has never suffered? And that suffering, like branches gathered in the woods during a storm, is only useful to light the creative fires once it has cured and dried, after the rain is gone.

Movie Character Careers

I've noticed that there are certain professions or callings that are over-represented in film. For example - there are far more architects in the movies, as a percentage, than there are in real life.

This is just a list, for my own benefit - because I know that I am attracted more to certain of these as well, and it would be helpful to consider more characters who work in other areas.

Directors, Producers
Agents (for actors, musicians, writers)
Journalists and Writers (especially struggling poets and novelists)
Secret Agents/Spies
Assassins/Hit Men/Vampire or Monster Hunters/Bounty Hunters
Kings, Knights
Icy or Evil Queens, Lonely Princesses
High School Students
Psychologists/Psychiatrists (usually supporting)
Bartenders (usually minor characters)
Experimental Scientists
Damaged Veterans
Police Officers/Guards
TV or Radio Talk Show Hosts
CEOs/Vice Presidents of multi-billion dollar companies
Lawyers/Heads of Law Firms
Drug Dealers

Now, here are some links about careers and statistics:
Bureau of Labor Statistics
here's a list of occupations from the same source
and here is a .pdf of occupational shares
Fastsest Growing Jobs AZ
(A surprising number of medical professions there - but nicely specific ones, nto just your usual surgeon or GP)
America's Most Admired Professions - from Forbes
Interestingly actors are among the least prestigious/admired though not as low as business executives, stockbrokers and real estate agents. Many of the careers in my list are among the top: Firefighter, Doctor, Nurse, Scientist, Teacher are the top 5. Celebrities, Lawyers, and Accountants have fallen in popularity, while Military Officers and Farmers have risen.

EDIT: One more - I e-mailed the BLS and asked where to find a list of the most common occupation across all fields - and they pointed me here. They are downloadable excel files, and the the first link, 'National Cross-Industry Estimates' is the one I wanted. Column D lists total employment, so you just have to sort by that column.

Pretty cool stuff.

Science Fiction is Alive and Kicking

Sometimes a film writer pens something dumb enough it makes me wanna smack 'em. This article in EW is one of those.

I do agree, there are a lot of science fiction movies that seem to lack an original take on the future, that seem to dig up the same old ideas that have been fueling the genre since the '40s, that are re-makes and adaptations... of course, that is true for most of the movies being made today, regardless of genre. A lack of originality in this season's blockbusters is only evidence of the cowardice of studios and producers, of the general trend for big money to play things safe and forget that what made Movie X a hit wasn't that it had such and such special effect, or a particular concept - but that it was a great story with engaging characters told in a fresh yet engaging manner.

Of course, it's clear that Mark Harris is not a huge fan of the genre, or he never would have called it sci-fi, which is pronounced "skiffy" by the fans, and considered a sneering and marginalizing abbreviation. The correct term is "SF." At least, that's what my friends in the 90's said when I was in a writer's group with some serious aficionados and players in the field (including the then editor of F& SF.) I admit that my own leanings are more toward horror and fantasy, in particular magical realism along the lines of John Crowley - but I am familiar with Science Fiction enough to know the conventions of the genre.

The author points to 2001 as re-defining the genre, as if a movie of that caliber gets made more than once in a generation - but also ignoring the fact that there have been genre-definers made since then, in particular the Matrix Trilogy.

Yes, it's been a while since AI, ExistenZ, and Dark City. But what about V for Vendetta? Not good enough? Serenity and Children of Men are among the best SF films ever made. And before you dismiss those because one was based on a TV series (but a recent one) and the other on a book (though loosely) note that the author of the article lists 3:10 to Yuma and No Country as evidence of great and fresh things happening in the Western genre.

How about something completely original? Take a look at Paprika, a great piece of anime. If you want interesting and unique ideas about the future, anime is a good place to look. Then there's Jathia’s Wager, a fascinating concept that seems to be a sort of choose your own adventure for the digital age. I am sure there are also original ideas being made cheaply and shown online for free, as fans of SF tend to be drawn to new technologies.

Mr. Harris also makes the mistake of limiting SF to films depicting the future. Some consider Donnie Darko an SF film. Then there's Eternal Sunshine, which, since the plot relies on a new technology is indisputably science fiction... and how about The Prestige? Not ground-breaking, but a decent movie certainly, and despite being set in the past, again, the centrality if science to the plot makes it SF.

I do agree, that more originality is needed. That new ideas that derive from someplace besides old books, TV shows and movies are essential not only to science fiction, but to film in general. I just think that those things are out there - and as DVDs and the internet continue to erode the success of the 80's style blockbuster, film companies will seek them out - just as they had to when television threatened the movie business.

Puppy Needs Home

A stray puppy was running around the neighborhood for a couple of days. I grabbed her Tuesday when she was following an electrician down the street. None of the neighbors claim her.

She's a German Shepherd, very friendly and playful. Gets along with people and other dogs. About 8-10 weeks, and around 18 pounds so she'll get big - wouldn't be surprised if she got to be 100 lbs.

She doesn't know her boundaries yet, and while she is starting to get the idea of it, definitely isn't housebroken. She will come when called (usually), and understands no (though she'll probably still try again) and is already learning "sit." She needs someone patient but firm and consistent, and this will be one incredible dog. I was sooooo tempted to keep her, but can't really do that right now.

This little girl needs a home.