I never really liked the television show “Happy Days” but there never was one of those laugh track fueled sitcoms that did anything for me. I was never a television person, to begin with, because – books. Erin Moran was cute and she was popular but she fell into a downward spiral and one of the saddest things I remember seeing is when she got evicted from her trailer. That’s got to be an odd thing, you know, to go from being on a popular television series to being kicked out of a trailer. But Poe died both crazy and broke so writers take a hit on this sort of thing, too.
When Pete Duel killed himself in 1971, I was just ten years old. To me, it was totally unfathomable that someone who was on a television show might decide to end his life suddenly like that. But De Vinci’s last words were purportedly, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.”
Hemingway drank a lot. I’ve got a pretty impressive scale when I say someone drinks more than average so when I tell you someone has an alcohol problem you can pretty much bet that problem is serious. Along with a host of other issues, Hemingway’s penchant for inebriation likely fueled his mental health issues which led to suicide. Hemingway was a damn good writer. I have a pretty high bar for writing, too.
I’m not sure where Kathy Lucas is right now, or if she ever became famous for painting, or if she simply gave up, like so many people do when it comes to creativity. Quitting is a form a self- destruction that leaves the body alive, you know. I can’t speak to what it does to the soul. Kathy and her boyfriend Tom lived with me for a while in the mid 80’s and Kathy was a painter, and in fact, the first painter I ever had close contact with. She created this massive piece of art. Seriously, it was four feet tall and six feet long, canvas on a wooden frame, and it was glorious. But the subject matter made it even more intense; it was a painting with the point of reference behind a blonde child’s head. You could see the reflection of the kid’s face in the window of a candy store, and that alone was impressive. But there were a dozen jars of candy, each of them filled with colorful striped candy, gumballs of every hue, and they were in glass jars that reflected the child’s face or the candy next to it, and that made it glorious. The sun was shining from behind the child and created a shadow inside the display of the store’s name which wasn’t readable, but the fact it wasn’t, was part of the draw of the painting. All of these things made the painting magnificent.
I walked in one day and found Kathy curled up on the floor crying like Judas. The sobs were coming like she was giving birth to her grief. On the floor near her was a razor knife. The painting lay in ruins, slashed into a hundred pieces, viciously, as if attacked by a pack of four-year-olds seeking the candy within. It took me a full ten minutes trying to talk to Kathy before I realized she had destroyed her own painting with that knife. I spent the next eight years telling people she was one of the most insane people I had ever meet. Then I started writing. Maybe I was right about Kathy Lucas. But not about why she killed the painting. If I have to explain it you wouldn’t understand. I didn’t for a very long time.
Creativity is the greatest gift in the world, no matter what your medium might be. But it’s also a form of madness. It’s a burden. It’s an alternative universe. You’ll never have any happy days that are not sandwiched between the peanut butter of doubt and sadness that you aren’t good enough and you never were and you never will be, no matter what happens.
Erin Moran died of the complications of cancer, we are told, but the drinking, the drugs, and the despair certainly didn’t help her body any. Heroin didn’t kill Erin Moran. Alcohol didn’t kill Papa. The stones didn’t kill Virginia. If I have to explain to you what did you wouldn’t understand it. Sometimes, I still don’t.