Nothing is confused except the mind.
– Rene Magritte –
My personal interest in mind, brain & behavior runs like a red thread throughout my life. As a 23-year-old I worked as a trainee psychiatric nurse in a large psychiatric hospital for a year. In a way, I feel that this experience altered both my own psyche as well as my general outlook on life. I continue to carry this unique experience inside me as it allows me to filter the dynamics of human behavior; something I am deeply grateful for. Yet, in spite of this great asset, I am unable to understand myself. For the last few days I have felt nothing but deep confusion regarding my art making, and no amount of thinking, reflection or analysis has assisted me in any way. I am not despondent, but confused about my own confusion.
I am currently reading Musicophilia by the neurologist Oliver Sacks, a book that intersects music, neuroscience and the distortions of mind & brain. A passage that Sacks quotes from Berlioz’s Memoirs has jolted me: it tells of Berlioz having woken one morning with a potential symphony in his head and his disturbed thought processes in the situation that he finds himself. Experiencing emotional and financial distress related to his sickly wife, the famous composer acts in an almost non-sensible way, indicating his confusion: ” … I was going to my desk to begin writing it down, when I suddenly thought:
If I do, I shall be led on to compose the rest. My ideas always tend to expand nowadays, this symphony could well be an enormous scale. I shall spend perhaps three or four months on the work … . When the symphony is written I shall be weak enough to let myself be persuaded by my copyist to have it copied …. Once the parts exist, I shall be plagued by the temptation to have the work performed.
Berlioz’s mind – his thinking – is clearly confused here. His anxiety does not evolve round his – clear capability – of composing but rather his seemingly chaotic thinking. Sadly, if one reads on, Berlioz writes that on waking the very next morning he experiences the same clarity of composition where he is ‘on the point of getting up’, but that his ‘previous thoughts recurred’ thereby holding him ‘fast’.
The sense of thoughts ‘holding’ one, is the closest to how I am able to describe what I am currently experiencing. It is a confinement of sorts – a cage – that I desperately want to escape from. Unlike Berlioz who remains inside ‘steeling myself … clinging to the hope that I would forget’ about his potential symphony (should he actually write it down), I am desperate to create and connect with what appears to elude me. What Berlioz and share, however, is creative confusion.
The singer and painter, Joni Mitchell, has this to say about creatives and confusion:
Everyone has confusion … Simply by confronting paradoxes or difficulties within your life, designating a time to confront then several times a week, they seem to be not so important as they do when they’re weighing on your mind in the middle of the night ..
Or, in the morning, as it was for Berlioz. The point is that I am perhaps paying the price for not writing my morning pages for the last while.
This is the place – the only place really – where I confront my anxieties, fears and confusions. Best I do it.
- Oliver Sacks:
- Musicophilia (2007) Picador Publishing / ISBN: 978-0-330-44436-1
- Joni Mitchell:
- In Her Own Words (2014) by Malka Marom / ECW Press