Since posting about creativity versus health, I've been feeling some misgiving, deepened by reading Virginia Woolf. Because it's not exactly a choice, is it? Whether to be mad or not. And mental health and good behaviour are not always what they're cracked up to be.  They are guarantors of happiness only insofar as happiness is constituted in conformity, in treading the via media. I think as I get older I'm growing less tolerant of social transgression, more plaintive about disturbance of the peace. This happens, no doubt, when we get comfortable, when we become elder to the new generation. But when we become elder still, we face the final unravelling of everything we've woven so tightly, so decorously round ourselves.

Dementia, the long goodbye, is a horrible darkness, but in some cases that darkness is ever so slightly illuminated by creation. Dementia patients can find in themselves a sudden sensitivity to art, a sudden ability to paint or compose that they never had before. Ravel's Bolero is the notable example: a piece made by a demented mind that has a driving rhythm and a strange, lurching magnificence. We would be poorer without it. Oliver Sacks has been criticised for exploiting his patients' stories of neural anomaly, but I think he's added immeasurably to our stock of human experience. Experiences on the perilous edge of human consciousness, which we might never know except by reading about them, challenge our notions of what it means to be human, what it means to be healthy or happy or good, how much our notions of normal are constituted in perception. And Woolf, gifted and afflicted, lyrically afloat in the full-fed stream of her consciousness, wrote at a depth few of us reach. We would be poorer without her.

She's one of many artists - the ones Sonya Chung was harking back to - that embody Shakespeare's compounding of the lunatic, the lover and the poet. And of course, as the poets would testify, we would be poorer without a spectrum of experience that involves the unconforming, the unbodied, the inexplicable. Keats saw it in Shakespeare, but the coinage, ‘negative capability,' is his. “When man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason." When experience of all kinds is welcome evidence of existence, and the fuel of creative fire. While I might personally fear an exile from the middle way, collectively we need the experience of these border rangers. We need the negatively capable to testify to the enduring mystery of existence. To find the hard shell of normal and crack it open.