During this sad, weird week, as we try to make sense of the death of a person who was able to demonstrate the pain of some truly awful characters in ways that were ever humanizing, I keep going back to this essay I read in Salon before the Hoffman news came down the pike. It’s written by a cartoonist named Julia Wertz and it’s a half-written, half-cartooned explanation of her alcoholism and depression which ends with her writing, So the question that probably didn’t cross your mind until I put it there is, if I’m happy and healthy, does it have a negative effect on my comedic work? And the answer is that I don’t know. And I don’t particularly care. If being a good comedy writer means I have to be depressed, then fuck it, I quit.
The Plight of the Tortured Artist
I recommend reading this piece not just because her work is incredible and her honesty courageous but also because she’s expressing a sentiment that seems so sadly uncommon—at least among many people I encounter. I sort of feel the opposite way that she does about work, in that writing about my pain is one of the ways I try to make sense of it and publishing it can sometimes lead to me finding out that other people are struggling in similar ways. But her examination of whether she can make her life into material and not be depressed reminded me of the number of sober addicts I know who suffer from crippling depression or various other mental maladies but say that they don’t want to take medication for it because they’re concerned it’ll make them lose their edge or their voice or their artistry or whatever. And look, obviously no one should take anything they don’t want to take. But who really cares about an edge or a voice or artistry or, as Wertz writes, a career when we’re talking about trading it for abject misery?
Read her piece. There are great insights on recovery (“The whole addiction/rehab/recovery cycle is not like it is in movies or books”), recovery (“Without realizing it, I’d replaced a boring, solitary, indoor habit with an exciting, social, outdoor hobby”) and herself (“I’ve oscillated between cynicism and buffoonery”). Plus cartoons!