Have you ever known a person whom you a) questioned their sanity at times,or b) knew perfectly well that there are those who would not hesitate to call him or her crazy? Or perhaps this question may well be directed to yourself. No matter, if you answered yes to any of the above, then welcome to the human race.
We are so quick to judge others. We meet someone, and within seconds have already formed an opinion about them based on exceedingly superficial observations. If we are fortunate enough to have sharp intuition, we may be somewhat accurate in our initial observations. But it is the rare human who can meet a person and simply get, on a fundamental level, who they are. Usually the process of knowing someone, I mean really knowing someone, is very long indeed, sometimes taking years, or possibly decades, to fully unfold.
Then there is the question of sanity. It is probably a safe guess to assume that most of us believe in our own sanity. In other words, we believe that we are sane, rational human beings without any real craziness running through our blood. When we meet or know someone whose sanity we question, or to whom it wouldn’t be too tough to call crazy and actually mean it, things can become tricky. In a hurry.
Last night I watched a play performed by a troupe of young actors here in the small town where I am on hiatus. I happen to know the main character quite well; he is played by my middle daughter, Julia. At seventeen, she has just graduated from high school and her last offering to this community, artistically speaking, is performing in this play. This is no ordinary choice for a group of teenagers. The play is The Accidental Death of an Anarchist, by Dario Fo. According to a review on Amazon.com, “This outrageous comedy opens with a character known as the “Maniac” being brought to a police station. It’s a very “metatheatrical” piece; Fo warps theatrical conventions and makes jokes in a way that reminds me a bit of Luigi Pirandello’s “Six Characters in Search of an Author.” There are some really funny scenes, but a very serious vein still runs throughout. Ultimately, this is a thought-provoking piece about truth. What is the true story, and how do you discover it? Fo’s satiric wit explores police brutality as well as the relationships among the police, the media, and the political establishment.”
The Maniac, or Fool, as the troupe here refers to him, carries this play, with outrageously long soliloquies and monologues all delivered in an incredibly speedy, histrionic manner, because he is simultaneously completely insane and exceedingly lucid. Or so we gather. Wikipedia defines histrionic thus: “ the histrionic personality disorder reflects a tendency to be self-dramatizing, attention seeking, overly gregarious, seductive and manipulative, exhibitionistic, shallow, frivolous, labile, vain, and demanding. These behaviors are overwhelming and can be difficult to deal with. People with HPD have a high need for attention, make loud and inappropriate appearances, exaggerate all of their behaviors and emotions, crave stimulation and usually make a big deal about nothing. However you may find that someone with HPD can be charming, lively or funny in small doses.”
Hmm. I sat down to watch this play and was soon overwhelmed with Julia’s acting abilities. Her delivery of hundreds of lines of script was lightening fast and spot-on for insanely histrionic. The play was intense, the satire razor-sharp, and the overall theme certainly made a strong political statement. No wonder the principal of their supervising high school (the actors belong to a small, alternative high school which is administered through the mainstream public high school) would not allow them to perform it on school grounds nor to have any mention of their school anywhere near it. This play is radical leftist material, written by an Italian during the beginning of the 1970s. It is outrageous, and certainly could be shocking to mainstream Americans who still embrace law and order and the status quo as moral ideals.
Back to the original point, however. My middle daughter Julia, is a highly unusual person. She embodies the spirit of Artist in every sense of the word. When the words “Prima Donna” come to mind, she fits the description perfectly. Beautiful, temperamental, highly sensitive, and with a talent that will knock your socks off, Julia is an actress through and through. As to her portrayal of the mad Fool, I have to say that I do not think an actor can fully embody that kind of madness without having a little of it flowing through their own veins. When I mentioned this rather obvious fact to her father after the play was over, he simply laughed. Then he said, ‘Madness transforms into Genius.’ Touché!
Does it actually matter if Julia has a touch of madness in her artistic soul? I think not, and that far from being detrimental, this extreme quality will only enhance her creative efforts in the years to come. Her performance in this play left me quite speechless. In the space of two hours, she transformed several times, seamlessly gliding from one loonybin to the next in a spellbinding array of acting genius.
According to James Hillman, one of our fundamental purposes in life is to meet and follow our daimon, the embodiment of our soul’s calling. He writes that we basically all have one kind of pathology or another, and that far from denying and abhorring it, our real work is to embrace it, go down into it fully, learn to understand and to love it. Only by embracing our shadow self can we ever hope to make friends with it and thereby transform it into something which is of great value to us as we evolve as humans. This is hard and often painful work. It is damn hard to face the frightening parts of yourself without wanting to bolt out of the room, as fast as possible. I daresay that nearly all of us have a touch of madness, a crazy person running around somewhere in our soul’s basement, rattling the doors and windows, crying to get out. Most of us keep that part of us locked up as tightly as possible. When we meet another whose crazy person is allowed to roam freely and dares to come up and have an actual conversation with us, we are shocked and frightened. We don’t know what to do. We either want to run far away from them, or else decide they may be dangerous and ought to be locked up for real. Or worse. There is so much to being human that we do not take the time or have the courage to understand. What would our world be like if we did?
I admit, I don’t really know what to do or how exactly to behave around slightly (or blatantly) mad people. When I see my amazing, artistically inclined daughter freaking out on an ordinary weekday morning over what appears to be next to nothing, I am woefully unprepared to know how to handle her. Sure, I try my best to soothe and comfort, to bring hot tea and hugs, to tell her to calm down, the play will be fine, it is all right, there, there…. and yet. Somehow I know that there is simply more, much more, going on within her soul than I am really comprehending. There is an extraordinarily complex human being standing before me, unafraid to let the many sides of her be seen by the world. In the end, as in last night’s performance, all I can really do is just sit back and enjoy it, admiring her courage to shine on crazily for the rest of us, grateful that she is willing to show her shadow to the world without apology. So much so that we have to stand up and applaud, and shout, Bravo! Bravo.
- Mad Pride and Spiritual Community: Thoughts on The Spiritual Gift of Madness (madinamerica.com)