The Death of Me
Do you love Ted? I sure do. And if you’re wondering who the hell this guy Ted might be, I’m referring here to the twenty-some-year-old lecture series that started as a conference where technology, entertainment and design converge. I’ve spent many an hour watching TED lectures instead of doing what I’m meant to be doing (a-k-a writing). I justify my indulgence by assuring myself that I’ll discover something inspirational to write about. Now and again I hit paydirt, like the one I stumbled upon from May this year. In it, neuroscientist Mariano Sigman puts forth his hypothesis that Your Words May Predict Your Future Mental Health.
As weird as this initially sounds, Sigman posits that introspection, i.e. the ability to think about one’s own thoughts, is a relatively new phenomenon (emerging around 3,000 years ago). Prior to the development of introspection, (seen in Platonic writings), humans believed their thoughts were generated by a celestial being or muse; in other words, something outside of themselves. They literally heard voices, which as we know, is every schizophrenic’s dilemma.
This change from external to internal thought was identified by applying an algorithm to written works that indicated introspection. Words likely to be used more often when describing introspective thought were in fact identified together and more often. Sigman suggests that using this same algorithm – identifying and analyzing the words we speak, like the Fitbit that analyzes our physiological state – can show what may happen to our mind in the future.
So, what about this theory spurred me to blog about it? Especially as my blog is essentially about literature and the art of writing? Well, if we are indeed the summation of what we say and write, are writers of true crime, mystery, dystopian fiction, etc. doomed to madness, depression, paranoia, or some other form of psychosis? By delving into the deep recesses of human cruelty to create our characters and plot lines, are we poking the sleeping bear of crazyland? (Imagine what lies ahead for poor Stephen King!) I contend we are not.
For me writing is cathartic. It’s my way of emotionally purging myself of dark thoughts and confusing feelings. As the old Cherokee parable goes, there are two wolves inside each of us. But, even when we only feed the good one, the evil one will end up with some scraps. When needed, writers confront the evil wolf to create believable villains. By going “there,” writers can see for themselves what destructive thoughts produce, and hopefully come out the other side with their sanity still intact.
Were some of the most famous writers ultimately unable to conquer their demons? Sure. The troubled artist motif is a powerful one. Hemingway put a shotgun in his mouth, Plath put her head in the oven and Woolf weighted her coat pockets with rocks and walked into a river. Their demise simply adds to their literary prestige. Yet, I contend the majority of writers who consistently write about dark and disturbing topics are doing themselves a favor. Professor Sigman’s hypothesis aside, a writer’s words represent her in the way she chooses, and not vice-versa. What goes on a page stays on a page, if you know what I mean!
What do you think? Do you feel cathartic when you write about a painful experience, or does it make your feel worse? Feel free to share below: