Growing up the eldest daughter of a novelist stuck in a Creative Director’s body, I learned about cynicism at a very young age. To my father’s credit, I also spent many nights watching Hitchcock and Wes Anderson films (a surprisingly delightful combination) and as many of my friends know, read Little Women twice before I even knew who Harry Potter was. The quintessential image of me as a child: I am about 7, reading a book (either Where The Wild Things Are or Oh, the Places You’ll Go) sitting cross-legged on a tree stump in the middle of the woods. Oh, and I’m wearing a bright red batting helmet, because safety.
I loved my childhood. Wouldn’t change it for the world. But I wouldn’t say it was happy. It was fun and weird and scary and devastating and vibrant, but happy? Nah. That’s not a word I would use. And that’s okay. I’m okay with that. I’m sure I had Kodak childhood moments, and I know I laughed a lot, and still do, but there was always something inside of me that held total happiness just out of reach. According to my father, that thing inside me was, and is, intelligence. No joke. I distinctly remember a conversation we had about the nature of happiness when I was about 12 or 13 (I read David Mamet plays at a very young age) and these were his fatherly words of wisdom:
“Casey, you’re too smart to be happy.”
And he was right. Look at the brilliant writers throughout history, they were all sad, suicidal bastards. Hemingway? Shotgun to the face. Plath? Head in the oven.Woolf? Pocket full of rocks in the river. David Foster Wallace, Hunter S. Thompson, Anne Sexton; Hanged, shot, left the car running. What can I say? Literature loves a tragic hero.
Now, that’s not to say the only way to be a brilliant writer is to be suicidal, that’s just crazy talk. But I do believe that your level of intelligence and your level of happiness are inversely correlated. To quote South Park: “Simpsons did it.”
My creative process has always been about finding that sweet spot. The perfect blend of intelligence and happiness that allows me to create something meaningful. If I try to create when I am too anxious or feeling depressed, my product is garbage, if I can even muster the energy to produce anything at all. Likewise, if I am feeling too excited of joyful. No one wants to read poems about unicorns and glitter and true love. Unless it’s a Lisa Frank graphic novel.
As intelligent creative people, we must find our own kind of happiness. We must accept that we are never going to be satisfied and learn to love our neurotic, anxious, deeply emotional, constantly questioning, existential, borderline personality disorder selves. It may not be happiness, but it’s happyishness. And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be happyish and deeply creative, than happy and well, boring.
Peace, love & Happyishness