Hello, friends. I must apologize for the snafu at the Big 5-0 party on Monday. How can you have a post entitled “Unhappy Birthday” — in late May, no less — and not link to this? A lovely page, from noting that offering his Mozness happy returns is less appropriate than observing that marking the occasion means “he still hasn’t met the right person to die in a fiery bus crash beside.” (Even if a preposition is a word you don’t end a sentence with.) It’s even got cats in it, for goodness sake. Take that search engine optimizer! And, the pictures of the Motorcycle Au Pair Boy are mostly from (or before, actually) his prime.

In his prime. Prime side of British beef, that is!

It’s also a good excuse for to mention two things. First, one of my favorite Stewart Lee remarks (he doesn’t “do” jokes):

… in December, I got a review describing me as a “squashed Albert Finney. Nine years previous to that, the same paper, the London Evening Standard, described me as looking like a crumpled Morrissey. And it’s good, you can see a kind of trend developing there, of comparing me unfavourably to various stocky, greying celebrities in increasingly terrible states of physical distress. [I’ve probably mentioned that before.]

Second, I read a (genuinely) interesting article the other day on the relationship among depression, creativity, and antidepressant drugs. And what better segue into that than a reference to The Pope Of Mope, The Sage of Salford? Well, this, clearly. Lloyd Cole’s always been a good, if show-offy, lyricist, but his concise sketch of a broken relationship in Rolodex Incident, at the absolute height of his powers, never fails to blow me away. There’s a snippet on that link.

“[M]y drawings reflects on the idea that our cities are places that we create and care for together” hasn’t contemplated depression recently (OK, that’s probably not true), so, as the sun pours over my shoulder in this beautiful corner of rural Pennsylvania, shall we begin the descent into despair? Yes, let’s!

The Observer, May 18: Does Prozac Help Artists Be Creative? — Alex Preston

The gist seems to be, “Maybe.” Friends have expressed the thought to me that, if you can’t get out of bed — and particularly if the depression is situational — then a stint on some sort of antidepressant may break the cycle. ([P]ost-Leveson, we know that “a close friend” means the [writer] made it up.) Yet, as the article reflects, “[a] 2009 study by Oxford University, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, found that those taking SSRIs reported ‘a general reduction in the intensity of the emotions that they experienced’. They described themselves as feeling ‘dulled’, ‘numbed’, ‘flattened’, or ‘blocked’. If poetry is (as Wordsworth claimed) ‘the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings… emotion recollected in tranquillity”, then could Prozac bring artists too little feeling, too much tranquillity?” Another problem cited (by the columnist’s brother, [Sam] Preston of The Ordinary Boys) is that “You lose the inner critic. And that goes for life as well as art. I got married to someone I’d met on a TV show and didn’t really know.” Alex Preston observes:

With my creative blockage came what I later identified as a kind of moral blockage. Because actions didn’t feel like they had consequences – in that nothing seemed able to shock me from the pallid world the drugs had wrapped about me – I pushed myself into more and more extreme situations, desperate for a spark of authentic feeling. I was haunted by the sense that I was living in the third person.

Interesting, because I probably wouldn’t have had 50 posts to share with you without the kick-start of my extreme situation.

For me, the article raises the question, “Why are so many creative types on SSRIs?” The line that always comes to mind in these moments is from Henri Barbusse’s L’enfer: “I see [feel?] too much and too deep.” Why is that? I can’t help but think that the need to repeatedly return to the line is self-serving. Or maybe not, if one considers the rest of the passage: It is as if I could not see things as they were….

“I thought of all those wise men, poets, artists before me who had suffered, wept, and smiled on the road to truth”.
Henri Barbusse yucks it up.

Certainly, it seems that extreme experience requires sufficient self-reflection, and jolts free enough new thought, to light a creative spark in those so inclined. As Sam Preston realized, extreme situations do seem to generate particularly genuine and authentic feeling. (Or, maybe, the feeling is no more authentic, in the moment, but it’s certainly more vivid, and provides a nudge to deeper reflection.)

All terribly unhealthy. But, in discussing the article, I was made aware of a conference attended by the Dalai Lama which discussed the benefits of meditation, both as a mental exercise and an aid to recovery generally. According to the publishers, the book The Mind’s Own Physician records much of the conversation: “How do meditative practices influence pain and human suffering? What role does the brain play in emotional well-being and health? To what extent can our minds actually influence physical disease?”

I’ve not read it, obviously, but it sounds like another good addition to my post-stroke life, to go with early rising and regular exercise….

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