Thanks to the brilliant minds at “Trend Hunter.” Can you handle what’s on the other (bell)end of this link?
My friend Johnson owns a hose store. And for no apparent reason… he sells nuts and Brillo pads in the store too.
Barbara Kingsolver, Black Holes, Death, Depression, Drowning, Drugs, Dune, Fear, Fine, Food, Games, Ghosts, Hope, Hyperbole and a Half, Joy, Life, Love, Meaning, Philosophy, Sadness, Sex, Trees, William Styron, Wisdom
Forgive me for blogging about depression. I don’t want to be a downer.
But it’s important.
There have been times in my life when I’ve struggled with it. A lot of artistic types struggle with it, given the way Reality conflicts with truth and beauty. Most of all I struggled with depression through parts of college, and right up to the clear September day in 2007 when I got fired from a shit job and used that insult to finally find the switch in my head that turned me into a real writer at last.
Since then, I’ve had a shield against depression. A jewel-encrusted, heraldic, mighty shield against which depression beats its brutish, arctic form in vain.
But I remember depression. Sometimes I feel the old horror latch onto me in a dream. And, like now, sometimes I feel the beast get a grip on the edges of my shield, with its crackling tentacles and claws, and pull….
Depression is an awful dead seeping numbness of a feeling, for those who don’t understand it. It’s not crying. It’s not pain. It’s not remorse. It’s an infestation by the cockroaches of meaningless, vile insects that attach themselves to everything in your live and corrupt all those once beautiful everythings with aversion.
I think a lot about why our culture is so vulnerable to mental illnesses. I think about other cultures, cultures more in synch with the way Human beings are truly evolved and built, cultures more lined up with the ideas in the book “The Continuum Concept” and much more plugged into the entirety of Earth and not just Civilization’s madman, selfish, tyrannical fantasy.
Many cultures have existed where meaninglessness was almost unknown. Many of the most successful are cultures we’d tragically call “primitive.” You know. Cultures from “prehistory,” from before the time when important things of any kind happened.
Oscar Meyer doesn’t manufacture that baloney. But if the owners of the corporation did have a patent on it, they’d be bazillionaires.
I’d contend that our fundamental disconnection with the “whole” of earthly reality is a main source of meaninglessness. We don’t feel like we’re a true part of the system. We make it an art to sequester ourselves away from it, and then to view the rest of the system as if through the bars of a zoo. Other life forms are not our kin, they are our pets and our fodder.
Other cultures in Civilization don’t have true diversity from us. They seem diverse to us, but their similarities are much more significant than the diversity of Evolution advocates. In fact, the dream of a “unified World government and culture” is… depressing, from an evolutionary standpoint. Yet even now, our Civilized World’s cultures have enough similarity to be more like the fragile parts of a narrow and genetically engineered farming ecosystem. Other places do not have vital gods of their own, they have malls and resources.
An ability to love.
These are key components in a life insulated from the cancer of depression. And in a giant, insular World that often feels as though it’s spinning out of futile control, they are easy components to lose.
Recently, when I felt more insulated, I had a friend struggling with depression.
Immediately my sympathy and empathy rose to attention. But it wasn’t that simple.
I wanted to help, but was acutely aware how hard it is to help someone “with depression.” I remembered the recoiling from help in myself, the fear of being sniffed out, ridiculed, and made to feel even more worthless. I remember the desire to hide. And so often sufferers of depression either wish to say, in that ancient way, that they’re “fine”…
…or to only entertain agreement with their view that the World is black and meaningless. Depression does not want to be helped. Help is something positive, and which has meaning. And depression sucks the life out of each.
My attempt to help was not very helpful. She lives four hours away, so I could not do much. And she stopped talking to me since then.
She may talk to me again. But I’d still feel uncertain I could help.
It’s sad. She’s wonderful.
The one thought in my life that I feel I could add to the stable of quotations about depression is as follows:
“Depression is an insidious injury. A broken bone spends its time trying to heal itself. Depression spends its time trying to convince all the other bones they’d be better off broken too.”
How does one find, and hold on to, meaning in this World?
Many say children and family. Many find meaning there. Evolution backs that up, of course, but there must be more. If one’s family does not seem to be part of a real, healthy, and sustainable larger system, even it can lose meaning. And lost meaning, as anyone who has lost faith in God knows, can be like lost wine poured down a kitchen drain. It won’t come back.
I read William Styron’s book once, “Darkness Visible,” about his battle with depression which only a long stay in a the clean routine of a hospital rescued him from. I remember him concluding the book with a line from Dante’s “Divine Comedy.”
There is something of… dark comedy in depression, once you escape. But it can take almost divine power to do so.
‘In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.”
Styron felt it to be the cleanest, best, and most succinct of the descriptions of depression.
There are times when I fear the frigid monster of depression will succeed in prying from my grip my great shield of writing. I imagine my exposed nakedness. I imagine abject, spiraling terror. I imagine watching as the monster, with it’s dead shark eyes, snaps off great pieces from my shield with adamantium and obsidian teeth. I watch, horror struck and laid bare, as my shield descends into the stomach of the monster. It is a translucent stomach, and, frozen myself, I observe my shield’s digestion in acid.
And then a black hole takes me.
But I have people who care about me. I have people who suffer as I suffer, and would suffer more were I to lose my grip on this life’s experiment in the illusion of duality. I have no interest in torturing them.
So how to battle depression if it comes, on their behalf?
Yet while I keep fit, I do not know if depression can be outrun, or ejected by the kidneys and liver by vigorous blood flow. Travel is in many ways only an assisted breed of running. Wonderful food is a wonderful and enlivening thing. But it all turns to shit. The recreation of intelligent games? Depression makes them seem even less relevant to “what truly matters.” Money? I cannot make love to dead presidents surrounded by eagles, arrows, and the hard stone of pyramids. Music? Depression destroys harmony. Sex? Depression is about taking love away, not making it.
I have no interest in becoming an alcoholic in a valiant but vain attempt to wash away the deadness. And I have no faith in coffee and its attendant nerve pain to wake me out of such a blanketing stupor.
Other drugs? Who knows? But I have heard stories….
My life is not just about me.
Loved ones say “you are important.” Depression bellows “you are worthless.”
I have no interest in buying a bottle of sleeping pills and keeping it by my bedside, sealed tight, against the day when I decide the time is right to drive with it to a beautiful place on a high green hill, lie down, remove the foil and cotton, consume the contents, and wait to die as a golden sun sets over evergreens in the West.
I have no interest in going through life with a mind always repurposing things as the means to an end.
But life must feel worth living, for true living to go on. How does one keep a grip on value, pulling it close and owning it forever the way depression wishes to own my shield?
Much of my life has been an existence without a future in mind.
Even at the best times, I have lived in the moment. I have not visualized a “career path.” I have not pictured the growing old while a family with children grows less young around me. I have not seen myself retired and in a dream home.
I wish to ensure writing and peace in the present. And a lack of foresight can be a problem.
Sometimes it seems tied to “not having the right woman in my life.” For many years I lived with women I loved but who I could not picture marrying, and because of that, with whom I could picture no future.
A few times I have been with women I could picture marrying. And from that, joy of joys, a tree seemed to begin to grow. It was a kind of softwood tree, perhaps a balsam fir. It could be said to be a Christmas tree. And I could begin, just begin, to picture it growing up through marriage and the future, and being the vessel on which I might hang a planned and full life.
But, as they say, if you want to make God laugh, make a plan.
Oh Jesus, you nut.
But depression can taint even one’s faith in the love Christianity tries to teach us that you have. But maybe that just makes your forgiveness and grace all the more precious.
At least once, that seedling found itself pulled up by the roots. It found itself thrown aside, and the dirt from the naked tendrils got in my eyes. And depression… call it Depression… saw an opening, latched claws and tentacles around the edge of my shield, and began to pull….
Shields are not built to defend against such an attack.
And then, what is a man to do?
When can he find time to plant another tree?
And what woman would feel safe even aiding him in the attempt?
Perhaps a man should get a dog. Dogs are so full of love that they are like the image of God. Dogs love trees. And women like cute dogs.
I can’t imagine getting a cat, for that, though. The vibe of “you are not important now feed me” does not smack of “cure.”
I don’t want to be a downer.
But I’m of the opinion that a good blog, and good writing in general, should be capable of bearing the writer’s soul. And the pen is mightier than the sword, perhaps especially when brandished beside a shield. Laughter may be the best medicine, but without a full understanding of one’s soul, how far into it can laughter truly penetrate?
Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing.
I can finish on a light note. Have any of you read the wonderful blog “Hyperbole and a Half”? I first stumbled across it when a friend posted the link to a staggeringly wise and hilarious entry about a boy ruined by his dinosaur costume. But earlier today, while doing an image search for “depression,” another marvelous entry came up. It’s hard to express just what a job the personalized, unique artwork does to aid the writing, as opposed to me who just scours the Internet for photos.
Give it a read. It’s insightful. It’s colorful. And it ends with nothing short of inspiration and the death of fear. Sometimes I feel I’d give away my very happiness to have drawing and general talent like this.
And, as “Dune” taught us, fear is the mind-killer.
This story is distressing. It makes national rage over slights to the LGBTQ community seem insignificant by comparison. I want respect for all people as much as the next person… but doesn’t the threat to our ability to survive on this planet dwarf that issue? Where’s the national, productive, transformative rage about the threat to the survivability of ALL communities. Not just human ones, but all communities of life?
An interesting article about the need for literary agents in this new publishing world, and on a book on the subject that’s now available for free on Amazon.
Bear with me as I try to figure out and learn what sort of “blog entry” most people will enjoy.
Should I be brief?
Should I be familiar?
Should I be complex?
Help me out.
I’d like to start a dialogue with anyone who’s reading, all the while bowing with grace to you for being willing to grant me your time. I’d like to know what you’d enjoy. Of course I have a great deal already on my mind, but I don’t want to be insular here. So feel free to propose short story ideas you’d like me to tackle, ideas you’d like my thoughts on, or amusing pictures you’d like me to create a meme out of. For just a small fee….
Just kidding. I’m not worried about how to “monetize” this endeavor yet. There’s gold somewhere down the line….
I can say that I do enjoy the conversational form of a normal blog post. It reminds me of email. It’s just talking, in my voice, and so everything flows with ease. It’s like I’m telling a story to one person, which is, I think, what Stephen King once recommended a writer should picture doing while writing a story. But this isn’t fiction. If I were adopting a “persona” that was false, it would be a kind of fiction, but I’m being genuine.
How about this?
Last night, in conversation with a friend, I found myself thinking about what it’s like to really understand another person. It’s harder than we think, at least in the moment. When being an armchair warrior we know all about misunderstanding, and feel prepared, but in the middle of things, I, at least, feel threatened sometimes by not understanding. I worry about my image. So it’s easy to feel like I have all the information I need to know what, say, someone’s going through. I look at the evidence on hand, see it pointing a certain way, look around for more evidence, see none, and… just feel like I have enough to go on.
I know I need to ask questions. Questions are almost always needed, unless people are on the same page exactly. Hell, I even have to ask myself questions. And shouldn’t I be on my page?
Anyway, I have this mental image that seems to fit with conversation about complex things.
It’s as if… “the truth” is all around, but under a thick layer of dirt. I’m trying to understand my friend, and she talks about one aspect of the truth. Some of it’s perspective. So… she’s uncovering one area of the ground for me. She’s only one person, so she can’t dig in two places at once. And she uncovers a piece of the truth along with more dirt.
Then she goes on, maybe moving off behind me and uncovering a bit more. Soon I’m looking around at the landscape of her truth as time goes by, and I start to see this map. There’s dirt in places she hasn’t dug, and in places she has. But in some of the places she has is maybe a story about her father, or an incident at work, or her feelings about a boyfriend. And I start to feel like I see enough to understand. After all, it’s all landscape around me. Nothing looks out of place. Where she hasn’t dug is ground and so is where she has dug. So I stop feeling like I need to ask questions.
My father always loved the following lines from Bob Dylan’s song “Idiot Wind,” from the album “Blood on the Tracks.”
“You’ll never know the hurt I suffered nor the pain I rise above
And I’ll never know the same about you, your holiness or your kind of love
And it makes me feel so sorry.”
A quote that I grew to love on my own is by Rainer Maria Rilke, the great German poet, whose “Letters to a Young Poet” is legendary to many artists.
“Ultimately, and precisely in the deepest and most important matters, we are unspeakably alone; and many things must happen, many things must go right, a whole constellation of events must be fulfilled, for one human being to successfully advise or help another.”
So maybe, while my friend digs, trying to show me her landscape, she says “Where should I dig, so that you can understand and help me?” She understands herself all right, but teaching is difficult. She doesn’t know where to begin, or continue, or end. She has assumptions about what’s easy and hard, and she can’t see the World through my eyes, or through the veil of my experiences.
So I say “Dig over there.” But that’s not the right place. How would I know what’s the right place?
Questions, questions, and more questions. Like the ones I’m trying to ask you, about what makes a good blog. So many people are threatened by questions, because they uncover things. Or they’re threatened by the assumption that there’s misunderstanding going on, because it would imply they’re faulty and so would make them uncomfortable. The safest way to talk is the shared display of hermetically sealed ideas.
“I believe this.”
“OK. Well I believe this.”
“Does that mean we’re finished talking?”
But how does that lead to learning? No. So we keep skating along on the surface, not digging. Why dig? What might we find? Why not just pretend everything’s fine? Life’s hard enough without making each other uncomfortable.
Don’t worry about making me uncomfortable.
Tell a fool he’s wrong and he will hate you. Tell a wise man he’s wrong and he will love you. Tell Amos he’s wrong and he’ll try to take it wisely.
How can I be of service to you? And how can I understand you better? Where, pray tell, is the treasure buried?