“Because I’ll kill everybody in the room.” has always been my canned response as to why I don’t drink, when asked by someone who is. It works. And it’s probably not that far from the truth. Though probably I’d just kill one person. I’m 47. And the only reason I’m 47 is because I’ve learned to live with a beast. And I’m not talking about alcohol. I’m talking about a little voice that asks me to explore dark places and to look at things from a perspective closer to the edge than the center. For a while during my life, I followed the voice along some very dank paths.

For as open as I am these days, there is a part of my life that I’ve shared with few people outside of my wife. Knowing what she knows, I’m surprised she’s stuck with me all these years. Being married to ‘unstable’ is an acquired taste. Most normal people learn how to cope with their demon early on in life. They slay it or ignore it or just consider it folly as a responsible life of good decisions start to take hold. Eventually, and fairly quickly for most people, the demon becomes part of their history. Like losing baby teeth. Getting hold of my own demon took longer. Nearly too long. And so my treks deep into the shadows are fresher than with most people. Though I am well aware that we all, each of us, keep certain things locked up in closets.

Rather than run away from my demon, the most I could ever do was chain it up in a corner of my mind. And not a day goes by when I’m not tapped on the shoulder and asked, usually very politely, to look at a thing from an unusual perspective.  An angle that you don’t acknowledge because of how you dealt with your demon long ago. You see prettier things. Good on you. Sometimes denial is the most stable path in life.

Because of my experiences, and the thing chained to the wall in my head, I tend to think about things in ways that you’d probably consider, well, askew. Some of the thoughts that move through my head would be irresponsible to share. Ever. I’ve somehow learned to capitalize from this curse, however. I mean, I get paid to have conversations with people who don’t even exist. I talk to myself. Out loud. Pretty much daily. I walk around inside of the human heart and discover soft spots to attack with words and concepts – as a way to fuel commerce. And I’m good at it. The transition between normal and abnormal, moving from one imaginary conversation to the next throughout my day, is seamless for me. Sometimes these conversations are for work. Sometimes they’re the result of loosening the chain and following the beast around for a while. Letting it tell me stories as I engage with it in real time. Sometimes we’ll stop to admire the beauty of a flower only to notice the fungus assaulting its foliage and the insect ripping its flesh. Sometimes we play the worst-case-scenario game where I kill off everyone I know as a way to feel those emotions without having to live through them directly. Not yet.

And in case my condition somehow sounds sexy – please know that it’s a fucking burden being this way. To accept that no matter how hard you try to fit in, you’ll never truly feel comfortable around others. That after an hour in most social settings you’re casing the exits. To spend most of your time tending to the moat that surrounds you as you try to prove them wrong when they tell you you can’t be an island – and that conformity is requisite. But you wake up, stuff your guts into a plastic version of yourself and walk out into the light of the world to make your way, day after day. And you are proud of yourself for doing it.

The burden of creativity devours the soul. If I ever get around to writing something of substance, it may well rip your mind in half.


Jim Mitchem


Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.

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