NOTE: SMC Community Ed has a more detailed story on student poet John Young in our monthly newsletter, Sound Bites. The following is an excerpt from that article with an additional poem not included in the Sound Bites article.
The thin line that often separates genius from madness, or bursts of brilliant creativity from severe depression, is an intriguing topic that has generated countless articles, essays and discussions over the years.
And it is a topic that has taken on new meaning to SMC Community Ed student John Young, a prolific writer whose world was turned upside down a year ago when he had a breakdown and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Young, who took Betzi Richardson’s poetry class last fall, recited two of his poems at last month’s Community Ed Open House to high praise from audience members
“This is the first time we had live poetry reading at our Open House, and John’s performance was powerful and yet surprisingly intimate,” said Alice Meyering, Program Coordinator of Community & Contract Education. “I think everyone in the audience was touched by the sincerity and the artistic depth of his work.”
Young is unusual in that his diagnosis came late in life. He is 57, and most people are diagnosed at a younger age. In fact, his siblings and friends were shocked at the diagnosis and he himself had no idea he was bipolar.
He said over the years he has had manic episodes where he had huge bursts of energy and would get “massive amounts of work done” at his computer-related job.
“But I didn’t understand it and I just thought it was my personality,” he said. “I was never out of control.”
A year ago, however, things did get out of control. Within a month, his 17-year relationship ended, he was feeling intense pressure at work, and two of his close friends died. He started buying things he didn’t need, including five iPhones, two massage chairs, a $7,000 bed, computers and a robot. He rescued a dog while living in an apartment that forbade pets. And he stayed up for days with no sleep.
His sister and brother, who live on the east coast, became alarmed at his dramatic behavior shift and came out to L.A. to be with him.
“They saved my life because I would have had a heart attack staying up so many days,” Young said.
John Young with fellow poetry students & instructor Betzi Richardson
The day after Super Bowl 2016 he had a breakdown and was admitted to a psychiatric ward, where he stayed for 16 days. That’s when he received the bipolar diagnosis and was put on medications.
Since then, he was forced to go on disability, he’s struggling with memory issues, and his medications are constantly being modified.
But he has been a productive writer, has taken stand-up comedy classes, and has even published a volume of poetry, “Hardcore Dance Poems,” which is available on Amazon in digital and paperback.
“Eyesore” (Dedicated to the legendary icons who have passed away through the years)
David Bowie’s died
Who’ll take his place
You or I?
Not in music
Just in style
You’re a delicious
Eyesore in argyle
Don’t just sit there
Let’s do something
Be like Andy Warhol
Not the village bumpkin
Say something different
Say something important
Oh shut up and
Pass that bottle
Of juicy red currant
Let your body hit the dance floor
Let the dance floor hit your body
Let your body hit the dance floor
Let the dance floor kill your body
In your eyes
Dance the dance
Until you die
The Jean Genie
Granted your wish
Your jeans will fit
Before you perish
I don’t have that many friends
But if you hold me
You’ll be one of them
You ran in screaming
What was I mumbling
I just smiled
I love you
You can turn anything
Into a literal depiction
Yet you still have trouble
Separating fact from fiction