Several years ago, I had a conversation with the writer of a very well-received memoir, and told him that I was writing a book. Being a professional, he asked me the appropriate question: How much was your advance? When I confessed that I had neither an advance, nor a contract, nor a publisher, nor even an agent, he shook his head, wearily. Writing a book for money, he informed me, was low enough, but writing one for some other reason was madness. He wanted to know what manner of childhood trauma had led me to such a depressed condition. That there is some connection between creation and madness is an insight at least as old as the cults of Dionysus and Shiva. Around the time of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the eccentric artist became an affectation, and in our own time it has descended into an outright banality, not to mention an excuse for antisocial behavior indulged in by several generations of mfa students, teaching assistants, and bartenders with artistic...


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