“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” E. L. Doctorow
I’ve always wondered about this statement. I mean, it’s meant as a joking comparison–writers hear voices. Then I went and looked at the definition:
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by a breakdown of thought processes and poor emotional responsiveness, manifesting as auditory hallucinations, delusions and disorganized speech and thinking. These symptoms are often accompanied by social or occupational dysfunction.
I don’t want to marginalize or demean this disorder in any way. It is very serious and requires lifetime treatment. That being said, Doctorow’s statement has some eerie merit.
You guys. It’s so true. We are socially acceptable schizophrenics.
Let’s break it down. I know Doctorow says “writing,” but we all know he means writers, because when it’s on paper, it’s different people talking to each other. Before the paper, it’s a different self talking to another self.
We all hear voices in our heads, the voices of our characters clamoring for our attention. Every once in a while, “their” thoughts break through our daily routine. For example, one day I was tippity-typing along at work and BAM.
“Mine is the night!”
Uh…that thought did not belong to me. It belonged to one of my villains, and had nothing to do with any plot I was working at the time. I’m not really sure what’s going on, but I’ve been wary of a mutiny ever since.
And then there are the times where we deliberately consult these imaginary people. Making lifestyle choices often goes down the road of “What would Character X do?” And then suddenly, there’s the answer. X is speaking, and he’s damn sure you should eat that second doughnut.
But it’s not just the voices. Writers are often recluses (Emily Dickinson ring any bells?). I find that the more I write, like when I am on a binge, the more I hibernate. I become detached from the world–emotionally as well as physically. I’ve blown off friends to write (they knew it, too). I stop being able to follow normal human logic.
Another example: when I first moved into my condo, there was still construction across the way. One night, I was up late, and noticed I fire burning in the new building. I called 911 to report it. I told the dispatcher the situation. She says “Oh, it’s probably just a construction salamander.”
My first and most immediate thought was “Why the fuck did they trap a mythological creature for construction?”
I mean, YOU GUYS. Seriously!?
And I cannot even begin to describe how terrible I am at speaking aloud. I communicate in grunts and hand gestures most of the time. Why? Because there are so many damn people trying to say stuff out of the one mouth.
Writing it the only effective filter for all the voices. It’s a terrible affliction: the cure is the curse.
But now is the time to stand up and be counted. Would those similarly afflicted please come forward?
“Hi, I’m Jackie and I am a writer.”