Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Creativity and the Sertraline Kid

Since being prescribed Sertraline to help with my depression, one of the less unpleasant side effects of the drug has been the impact that it has had upon my urge to compose and how I now work.  This has forced me to consider the internal and external drivers that fuel my need to compose.

Sertraline is an antidepressant of the selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) class and is primarily prescribed for major depressive disorders. In addition to its physical side effects there is a fair amount of anecdotal evidence of its effect upon the creative processes of its users.

Since coming to the point where I felt that I had no choice but to face my depression and take steps to deal with it, I have noticed a marked change in my levels of creativity. Let me be clear at his point, I am not saying that I am less creative, it is simply that my impetus has changed and this has brought into sharp focus why I have to compose.

Every composer will have their own, very personal, reasons for feeling the need to compose although there is quite often a common thread running through them. Alun Hoddinott once told me that he believed that all composers had a flaw in their personality that made them compose; shyness, the inability to engage with people, loneliness, a need to create an alternate world, seeking immortality were all motivations that were cited with respect to a number of composers. 

Depression too, as I well know, can be a significant stimulus to the creative mind with the building of another world in which to not only escape but also to express all those things that remain unsaid. At the very lowest point of my depression I wrote both my 3rd Symphony (my longest piece) and also Furnace of Colours (in my humble opinion, one of my best pieces) and remember fighting against self-doubt and being in floods of tears for most of the time I was writing them whilst being compelled to work intensively because I was able to escape from myself while writing.

So, now that I've donned my outfit and climbed upon my horse to become the Sertraline Kid, what are my driving forces that make we want to indulge in this ridiculous and often thankless occupation?

Immortality plays no part in my motivation, I have little desire to write for posterity. I write primarily for my contemporaries and am interested in the interaction between me, the piece, the performers and the audience. Of course, that's not to say that I don't want my music to outlive me but it's not my driving force.

Also, fame plays no part in my thinking other than the fact that it can allow one to pursue one's craft with greater ease and provide financial security. In my experience, those who are driven by the desire for fame produce shallow, Emperor's New Clothes, music that might please the critics and pseuds but has no real substance nor a connection with performers or audience.

As I have stated in previous blog posts, my motivation comes from the need to communicate and express my feelings, from a deep-seated need for approval and acceptance and from a profound loneliness. The irony of composition is that it allows me to escape my loneliness but I hate it for the enforced solitude that it brings when I'm working.

I have spoken previously about my loneliness and it is the curse of my life. I constantly have a sense of the world going on without me when I'm writing and often resent the practical act of composition in that it cuts me off from real life. This, of course, is the paradox, in that composition is an escape from the world of which I long to be a part.

I am at my happiest when I can compose in semi-solitude - alone in my study whilst there is someone within easy reach to whom I can talk and the opportunity to socialise whenever I need a break and the craving for company and intelligent conversation becomes too great. This has become more of an issue since I have become single again and is a new situation to deal with.

The loneliness, whilst incredibly painful, is a powerful stimulus to work and fuels the creative process as the desire to reach out and communicate my feelings is extremely strong and I hope that through my music people will understand and empathise. Also, it is one of the few positive things that I am able to do that makes me feel that I have some control over my life. I am lucky in that "The Labrador" is very attached to me and will sit with me for hours when I'm working and senses when I need company although her conversation is a little limited.

I have a need to write for someone, in addition to the performers for whom I am writing as I hardly ever write a piece without having performers or a performance in mind, and, hopefully, to gain their approval. To once again quote Elmore Leonard - "I have done nothing that wasn't for the love of, or to impress, a woman" - a sentiment to which I wholeheartedly and unashamedly subscribe. I generally eschew pretentiousness but in this case I do seriously refer to this as my Muse and although she almost certainly doesn't know it, everything that I have written in recent years has been as a result of her inspiration.

For me, my Muse is the single most important factor that stimulates my creativity; knowing that someone is interested in one's work is an important factor in the creative process but this is multiplied many times if one feels a connection of some sort - spiritual, intellectual or physical -  with them. Also, for the shy, insecure, person it is a way to communicate one's feelings without ever saying them and risking rejection. 

I cannot stress enough the importance, for me, of having someone who is interested in my work. It matters not if my work is ignored, ridiculed or even praised by the wider world as long as that one person approves of it and understands what lies behind it. This is possibly a bit sad but we all need our various triggers and inspirations.

So, since starting on the Sertraline I have lost the crutch that was the depression I have rediscovered the real instigators of my urge to write (they were always there but the depression shrouded them in a mist) and my working practices are more planned than intuitive.

Whilst Sertraline takes the edge off sadness and loneliness, they are still there and it also allows everyday emotions to come to the fore (rather than the empty, flat, darkness that depressive illness causes) so there is no perceivable change in my music merely in the way that I approach my work.

At this point I mount my trusty steed, Black Dog, wave my hand and shout "The Sertraline Tabs are on me!" before riding off into the sunset in search of the Black Note gang so that I can put them under a rest.