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« "MS" [by Berwyn Moore] | Main | Eileen Myles’s Cool for You: An American Classic (Terence Winch) »

July 10, 2009


This is very interesting. I don't think bitterness is more prevalent among artists than anyone else, although artist certainly aren't immune. I do think it's a byproduct of our consumer culture - in which what you have defines who you are. And of course, in which there is always someone who is going to have more than you.

Also - I don't know if "bitterness" is a mental illness per se; I do know being around deeply bitter people makes me nuts. Maybe bitter people are carriers, like Typhoid Mary.

Though "Bitterness" may, in some instances, stand alone as a definable condition, most likely it's linked to a larger illness or dysfunction. Alcoholics, for example, are warned in their primary text that "resentment [read: bitterness] is the number one offender." It underlies the alcoholic's rationalization for drinking -- ie: you'd drink too if such-and-such happened to you -- and can be eliminated or at least lessened through AA's combination of group support, talk therapy, and personal spiritual growth. But the necessary predecessor to this "psychic change," as it's called, is putting down the drink. Without that, little change can happen. And so it seems "Bitterness" needs to be looked at in a more holistic way, as many medical doctors are loathe to do.

Anyone who thinks artists are more prone to bitterness has never worked in corporate! granted, there are unjust situations in this world & bitterness is a natural response to some situations, but i wonder if much of this 'syndrome' is more about self-entitlement and lack of appreciation for what one has and refusal to acknowledge things will not always go our way. one of my dear friends has many painful, degenerative health conditions, so many that she could go on complete disability, lost a child, cannot have any more childred, yet she is engaged with life and not bitter. i know another person who has a loving husband, secure job, financially set, freedom to do whatever she likes, and yet she is the victim and the entire world is against her & she is always talking about the injustices of her life. C'mon people, at some point we all have to get a grip and grow up already. The attempt to make bitterness a mental illness is too close to giving people an excuse to behave badly and not take responsibility for themselves.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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