Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Genius/Madness Continuum

The death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman at 46 has been on my mind since I heard the news this last Sunday. I, of course, didn't know this man. But he has spent many hours entertaining me. I don't remember the first time I noticed him. Perhaps that is because he could completely disappear into a role.
My mom and I were talking about his death as football watching was happening in the other room. She said that she couldn't understand why someone so brilliant and talented would participate in something so self-destructive.

I can understand. I understand completely. Sometimes, all you want is to quiet your brain.

I have found anecdotal evidence to support a theory I have: The smarter the person,the more powerful the brain, the more gifted the individual, the more likely that person will seek things to quiet themselves. And I think the x-factor--the thing that cannot be measured by IQ points--is the level of a person's creativity.
Numerous studies support my observation. There are real and measurable correlations between people in creative occupations and people with mental illness. There is also substantial evidence of alcoholism and drug use happening at greater rates with more intelligent and creative population.

I can't tell you why this happens. But I can tell you that I completely understand the need to feel still. My brain is constantly spinning. I find that I can focus better when I am feeding myself with constant information. I have always done so. I did homework best in front of the TV. I will work with an audiobook playing in my ear. As I am writing this, I am listening to the Rachel Maddow podcast.

So, yes, I understand why Phillip Seymour Hoffman was taking heroin. I am willing to bet that he wasn't chasing the high. He was seeking the quiet.

Please understand, I am not claiming to be either a genius or a creative talent. All I am trying to communicate is that I too seek to be still.
I've known some highly intelligent alcoholics. These people will forgo dinner to drink beer. They always have booze in the house, but not necessarily mixers. Their recycling contains many containers with labels that read "Proof." But, I am not talking about these people. Those types are the folks seeking to feel good or, at least, feel nothing. And there are times when I want to feel nothing. But, I think, feeling nothing is a very different goal than calming thoughts running unchecked in the brain.

So yes, I get it. So does Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, and Robin Williams. I don't think it was a coincidence that Heath Ledger, Jim Morrison, and Chris Farley died of a drug overdose. And I hope they found the peace that I think they were seeking.
I have tried several times to write the following sentence without sounding glib or making a ham-fisted segue: Right now, skating is my heroin. When I am skating, all I am thinking about is trying to stay upright or mastering a new skill. It quiets my thoughts.

There are as many reasons people gravitate to Derby as there are skaters. I know that I didn't find Derby as much as I was dragged to it by Sara, who knew-before I did-that I needed it. But right now, I am so, so thankful for being able to check out for a few hours each week.

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