Must authors be insane? The Authors Collection

Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now
Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now

One of my favorite  movie quotes comes from Apocalypse Now where Dennis Hopper’s character refers to Marlon Brando’s:  “The man is clear in his mind, but his soul is mad.”

That strikes me as a perfect metaphor for authors.

For the most part writers are just guys on the street. They work a day job, love their families, take out the trash.

Then they sit down at their keyboards and write about serial killers, the end of the world, love affairs that have never happened and never shall.

They cloak their insanity with a Wal-Mart coat and go on about their business.

Like people in the early stages of a terminal illness, writers learn to mask the symptoms of their disease. They participate in civilized society, attend soccer matches, serve on church committees.

Then, in the privacy of their studies, or at a table in Starbucks, they plunge into the abyss, journey into a world that has no guide posts, revel in the paranormal.

For some reason this bizarre writing schizophrenia reminds me of Sigmund Freud.

That’s a stretch, you say.

Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud

Maybe.  But I’ve admitted often I am at least half a bubble off.

For those unfamiliar with Freud’s work, I would just say that he was an Austrian physician who at age forty began an inquiry into the inner workings of the human psyche.  His approach became known as psychoanalysis and literally turned the world inside out. With The Interpretation of Dreams he explored the dark recesses of the mind.

But, it is his later work Civilization and Its Discontents that comes to mind for purposes of this blog.

In that book, and you will have to pardon my bastardization of his thesis, Freud staked out the position that civilized society can only exist if it is prepared to make a trade off between the duties necessary to ensure a stable world and the unspoken forces that lie just beneath the surface of each person.

Which brings us full circle to the writing life.

The author must have one foot in each world, one in the humdrum affairs of daily life, the other in the imagined realm where people refuse to make the trade offs sanity imposes.

There we have the encapsulated version of a writer’s dilemma.  In the midnight reveries of his tortured mind, he must walk a tight rope between the niceties of mundane existence and the horrors of what he imagines, the things that sound implausible but are way too close for comfort. 

It’s really no wonder that so many authors are weirdos.

It comes with the territory.




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