• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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I Like That Boom Boom Pow

Hi Besty,
I loved, loved, loved your book and am recommending it to my journalist’s group.
I am the ambivalent writer of whom you speak, and I’ve been a successful journalist for the last 15 years, always wanting to write memoir/creative non-fiction but not finishing my book projects. I wonder if I’m just addicted to having assignments and an editor whom I’m writing for. But then after reading your book, I just wonder if I’m not crazy enough. I wonder if my not dipping into my crazy anymore — tearing my hair out, complaining about my nervousness and insecurities and fear of failure and despair on not getting a book – is what’s keeping me from writing. I decided a while back that I don’t want to be that neurotic (and my boyfriend would not put up with it) but now I just wonder if I have to be less “practical” and let my crazies out in order to write again. Curious on your thoughts. (Name WIthheld)

Sister, you just might just be nuts. You have a successful writing career and a boyfriend. And you got your shit together. Please  tell me you’re writing to AskBetsy in a very weak moment because as far as I can tell, you are doing great.  You are a successful working writer. Sometimes when you are fighting a project, such as your memoir, it’s a blessing in disguise. I hate that expression but you know what I mean. It will come. Something will shift. Crazy is boring, I promise you. I’ve worked with my share of famously crazy writers over the years and in the end it is tedious, draining and completely predictable. Doing your work every day, now that’s exciting.

Where do you stand on the crazies?

61 Responses

  1. …..get thee to a therapist. Figuring out the chaos is helpful. Honest.

  2. You talkin’ to me? (insert mirror). You talkin’ to me?!

    You’re not writing your opus? Oh. Shucks. You’re working, writing. Getting paid. What, exactly, are you complaining about again?

    Bitter Betty here…

  3. Craziness: an excuse for not doing your work. All the creativity gets shit-sprayed (to borrow a term from one of my co-readers) all over the place, instead of on a canvas, a screen, or any other viable medium, not excluding toilet paper. Craziness and drama mean shitting on yourself and others, instead of getting your shit together. Letter-writer, don’t confuse “crazy” with “uninhibited;” they’re not the same thing.

    • Or eccentric?

      I grew up with indisputable crazy. Childhood was a lethal disease. Believe me, it is not cool. For anyone. As for the artistic side? From what I witnessed, craziness does spark creativity in a manic way for a while, but once it progresses to circling the drain there isn’t much cohesion, artistic or otherwise.

  4. “Be steady and well ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.”

    Brain chemistry is not a life choice any more than eye color or height. Romanticizing crazy is every hacks wet dream.

  5. “Where do you stand on the crazies?”

    When I’m standing on the crazies, which is most of the time, I’m log-rolling and I’m pretty good at it. Lots of practice, quite a few dunks in the cold river in the early days.

    When the crazies are standing on me, they’re tap-dancing in stiletto heels. I don’t go to that bar so much anymore.

    The crazies got boring. They got old. I got old. I figured out how to focus them into my work. They’re an energy. They can be a hand grenade or a welder’s torch. I came to prefer the torch once I’d blown so many things up, peppered myself with too many loads of shrapnel. Now it’s goggles down, gloves on, and pay attention.

    (Say, I dated that girl in the photo. She was full of surprises.)

  6. My boyfriend’s ex is seriously crazy, while high-functioning. Had to call 9-1-1 on her. Boyfriend says I should write about it, but won’t that make her more crazy?

    Crazy is the saddest thing I know.

  7. Well, madness runs in my family. We’re all, you know, “creative,” whatever that means. Not much natural talent for reality. What saves us is that we’re also a vain, ambitious lot. Stubborn. Control freaks, truth be told.

    I suppose with the right mixture of crazy and tenacious (mad, yet accountable!), shit gets done.

  8. The crazies don’t do it for me anymore. But I do wonder about their parents.

  9. I’m with Flaubert. I never got any serious work done until I achieved a contented stable domestic routine. I need grounding.

  10. Schizophrenics need to write just like anybody else. So give it your best shot. Mira Bartok’s memoir about Mom the Schizophrenic shows what can be done in that area. Most have nuts in the family if not nutty themselves. Make that completely irrational. Writing is not a rational act anyway. So cheer up and get moving. A new picture won’t hurt either honey.


  11. I think Betsy is right on here. Crazy is overrated…


    • I was hoping you’d comment! Now I’m left wondering what percentage is The Crazy when my husband says to the kids “You know how your mother is.”

      • Or when the kids are playing Barbies and you hear this:

        “Okay, honey, let me finish this one sentence and I’ll play with you.”

        “Okay, Mommy . . . Mommy, it’s been an hour.

        “I’m sorry, honey. It’s a tough sentence.”

    • I agree crazy is way overrated

  12. Doing your work every day, now that’s exciting.

    I love the contentment I feel when I can say, “I wrote today.”

  13. “My boyfriend would not put up with it.” God how that line saddens me. The remarkable thing about the crazies, is the only way you can be productive is when they’re reined in. Take F. Scott Fitzgerald. He knew he was no good on a binge. He either wrote or drank. It wasn’t until near the end that he really wrote while drinking and his work reflected that. All of his major work was written and edited while sober. His wife while an artist, was engulfed with schizophrenic madness, which even an astute editor couldn’t unwind to make her writing sing.

    If you want to write fiction,or memoir, sit in a chair and see if you can do it without the need for the audience, the editor, your boyfriend’s approval. Be as crazy as you can IN the writing. Then write more. The lonely, dull time, that’s when the work gets done.

    But hell. What am I telling you for? You’re a writer and I’ve been working on a first draft for two years. It’s a bad memory that hasn’t happened yet.

    • “The lonely, dull time, that’s when the work gets done.”

      You got that right. Love it.

    • “. . . see if you can do it without the need for the audience, the editor, your boyfriend’s approval. ”

      Thanks. That says it all for me.

    • Awesome post, Lyra. I’m sick of people claiming that they need to drink or do drugs to create art, that it’s part of the process, lies within the province of being a creative soul, or what’s worse, it is the fate of great artists to mess themselves up so that they can create their greatest works.

  14. The photo on this post is awesome. Baby Jane as a young babe!

  15. It takes so little to be crazy these days. People use the word schizophrentic to describe themselves when all they have is JayZ and Mozart on their iPod. People say they have a “sick” sense of humor just because they giggle at risque puns. It takes just the palest shade of grey to make people think they have a “dark side”.

    And now it seems that not being able to write a book makes people think they have lamentable mental health.

    People who believe there are 72 dimensions in the universe, all of them vibrating on invisible “strings” — THAT’S crazy.

  16. there’s crazy and then there’s CRAZY–i’m wrapping my violin in packing tape because the rats. the rats are going to eat it from the inside, out. steal my music.

    CRAZY is a lonely, lonely place. that people would choose to spend time in that place is perplexing.

  17. Personally, I’m hoping to get a little MORE crazy in the next six weeks as I pursue a self-inflicted deadline. Sometimes you need crazy.

  18. I’m all about constructive, tightly focused, productive crazy, the kind that gets you doing crap loads of work when people think you should rest, the kind that makes you take up the pen again (or the keyboard) when you want to pick up a book instead, the kind that lets you dream you can write a novel, write ten, write them all. If it wasn’t for crazy we’d all sit around watching American Idol. I’m all for crazy like Daedalus was for false wings, and if it turns out we’re actually Icarus? Then fuck it, at least we almost touched the sun before we fell.

  19. Oh, come on! I think I understand what the letter-writer is saying. I’ve met so many journalists at writer’s conferences who have big problems letting go and letting their creative side out, so conditioned are they to take the “I” out of everything they write.

    Journalism is a fine skill, but it won’t help her that much if she wants to write a memoir. The longer she does it, the harder it may be to tap into her idiosyncrasies (which is what I take her craving “crazy” to mean).

    If Cindy Sherman helps, by all means…

  20. I understand her as well. I’ve been a journalist. It’s all about immediacy. You take yourself OUT of the stories while still putting your creativity IN. Choosing the right word, crafting the right sentence, it’s all there in good journalism. And you better do it fast as well. Fiction or memoir, it is all the long haul. It’s not crazy vs creative, it’s trying to remember how to put herself back into the words. And do it alone.

    • I agree. It seems to me that this writer is struggling to tap into something she used to be able to channel with ease. She is equating the freedom of expression she enjoyed as a younger woman with being a little crazy. I get that completely. And I understand that training oneself to write for a particular audience could, over time, pave a synaptic path which would allow for very few detours.

      That said, if the letter-writer was unstable before and couldn’t finish a project, going back to instability is surely not going to help. Sit down. Write. That’s the way projects get finished.

  21. As another former journalist, I agree with Mary Lynne.

    There’s a journalist group? News reporters who sit around and talk about books?

  22. A friend is in a similar position. He’s supported himself by writing freelance journalistic pieces for the past 15 years. I met him in grad school and have read his screenplays and a short story or two. He’s got a perfect credit score and is very easygoing, sane, even boring in everyday life. But he has an imagination and a capacity for empathy and observation that allows him to write intense, write “crazy” when he wants to (in fiction, screenplays). How he does it, yes, is he remains orderly and, as he says, pretty boring in real life. This I find wise.

    If you notice the crazy, if you observe, if you allow your mind to wander, explore, transgress boundaries, you can write “crazy”– in unexpected, vivid, imaginative ways. However being “crazy” is different. Some people try on crazy, especially when they’re young–this is annoying but also understandable as young people do stupid things–just as old people do. Other people are crazy as in they are seriously mentally ill and suffering and need to find treatment in order to suffer less. This is no fun for anyone. Wise treatment makes life better. Still others self-medicate with booze, drugs, sex, food in attempts to keep the crazy (or even just clinical depression) at bay.

    Being an adult means accepting responsiblity for one’s behavior in so far as this is possible (no one knows just how far that is). It means treating others kindly and trying not to be selfish and greedy. There are a lot of people who are selfish and greedy–they are another kind of crazy.

    There are people who are polite and know exactly what to do in social situations and who manipulate people to get what they want while apparing not to. This is another kind of crazy.

    There are people who dwell in the past or in the future–or in the past and future–without living in the present. This is yet another kind of crazy.

    In the interest of addressing the writer: I’d say that, yes, if you want to write interesting stuff you might have to let your imagination play and be a little “crazy.” But you absolutely have to keep one foot on the ground, so to speak–and take care of yourself and others in basic, boring and important ways. This is called dealing with reality and paying attention to the details of one’s life.

    Pynchon was crazy, Beckett was crazy, Shakespeare was crazy. Some of our best writers were/are crazy but they contain their craziness, confine it to the page or canvas, where it belongs.

    My friends are boring, funny but fairly established in their routines and good behavior. They are trustworthy. I try to be this way too. Briefly romanticized the crazy because there is an aspect of our split culture that romanticizes crazy as much as it fears the same.

    The crazy will out, so best to give it a safe place to play–on the page, on the canvas, somewhere it can run around and get its ya-yas out or whatever without hurting anyone, without hurting you.

    Writing that does not reckon with every color/aspect of human behavior is boring.

    Writing steeped in a world of crazy is boring too.

    David Foster Wallace wrote most persuasively, deeply, poignantly about being depressed, about being obsessive. He had been there, had inhabited those places. Good for art, not so good for living. He went off his medication and killed himself. A loss for all, still upsets me. Sylvia Plath wrote Ariel, a brilliant and deeply disturbing book. She killed herself. She lost herself, we lost her.

    Nurture the artist, nurture the person. Let the crazy out to play in non-hurtful ways but don’t let it take control.

    An aside:
    That photo makes me remember the one women’s studies class I took in college–how men whose egos are injured or baffled will often call women in crazy. It’s an easy thing to do, an way to attempt to discredit someone. The tendency is dangerous and should probably be met with skepticism.

  23. Apologize for typos, rushing to finish an assignment.

  24. Crazy? No. Neurotic and delusional? Yes (or maybe I’m trying to make myself feel better).

  25. I sympathize with the writer, too. Being a working writer is fantastic, but there’s working and there’s working. If you really WANT to do X but spend all your time on Y Y Y, then you’ve either got to let go of X or accept that you don’t really want Y like you thought you did. Maybe crazy to her is risking a Y in the hand for an X in the bush.

    • Sympathize too. Tough to balance paying work and writing–though possible, I think (has to be, right? hmm). Requires strong tea, coffee and the awareness that some things are just going to have to go. Good luck!

  26. Where do you stand on the crazies?

    Gotta read my novel to find out. That’s the whole theme!

  27. First, it must be awesome to be able to turn off the crazies. You’re not crazy, you’re spoiled. Second, who the fuck is Flaubert? The attributed quote really makes me happy I don’t know. Third, Vivian Swift – greatest post, ever. A million times, ditto.

  28. you don’t know who flaubert is?

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