Hypergraphia: How Not to Write

10 Aug

One of the reasons I don’t usually write creative or personal pieces is that I don’t like looking too closely at my past experiences. It requires a facility with mood regulation that I have yet to achieve. I keep so much back, all the time, fighting with memories and emotional currents. I need to put them in boxes, not channel them.

T.S. Eliot once said that he wrote to escape from his emotions. I think that’s bullshit. We are driven by our emotions. There is no escaping them (especially not in writing). But mine overwhelm me if I’m not careful. I’ve finally internalized the fact that I can’t run from them, but I endeavor to keep them at a safe distance. 

I stopped performing for much the same reason as I stopped writing, even though I loved it and exhibited some potential. There were also the overlapping issues of hypomania and sleep hygiene. Performing makes me speedy and it often involves being “on” at night. Then I can’t sleep and things spin out of control.

I’m predisposed to being on at night. I used to start writing around 8 or 9 PM and go for hours until I passed out. This practice began when I turned twelve and the shit hit the fan.

A few years ago, I stumbled upon a box full of my old notebooks. It was pure hypergraphia. Some of the pages had holes where the pressure of my pen had pushed through. Many were so covered in ink that hardly any white showed.  When I reached the end of a page, I sometimes spun the book ninety degrees and continued writing so I wouldn’t have to stop.

Those notebooks horrified me. They chronicled the onset and development of my illness. So, over my mother’s bewildered protestations, I threw them out. 

Franz Kafka wrote his short story “The Judgment” in one night during a bout of hypergraphia. His family tearfully intervened in the morning, begging him to stop, and he collapsed. 

Kafka’s world was one of trauma. His hometown of Prague had a lengthy history of Anti-Semitic pogroms, the most notorious of which occurred on Easter Sunday in 1389 when a mob massacred 3000 men, women, and children and burned the Jewish quarter to the ground. The history of the pogroms was recent enough that the generation before his remembered them. Within this context, his Jewish family bore its own wounds. His two younger brothers died in infancy when he was six years old, and he had an exceedingly complicated and painful relationship with his father.

He confronted all of this pain in his writing, channeling it to create inimitable works of art. And he died in his thirties of tuberculosis after years of ill health, anorexia, and suicidal ideation.

I know that you don’t have to suffer to write well, but given my history, I don’t see how I could write effectively without examining my own pain. I’m afraid to do that because it could unleash my illness, which means I don’t write honestly. Without honesty, the writing falls flat.

So many of the writers I admire embraced their crazy. They looked unflinching at the world. They held nothing back. And almost all of them died early from suicide or substance abuse or lack of self-care.

Maybe I should just learn to play the violin instead.

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