July222012

Brute introspection

I’ve realized two things in the last several months: first that I understand remarkably little about the way people’s minds work, and second that novel writing is an attempt for me to tease out part of that knowledge, since experience lacks somewhat. My writing has become increasingly florid in the last few months because I’m trying to fit too much into a sentence, and time will tell whether I can shift back.

I have had a very good stay with my friend Elidia’s parents in Germany these last few days. Tonight, I’m taking a train to Trier, my third and last Roman capital of this trip. The city seems reasonably compact and the train station has lockers to stow my luggage, so it should be good for a day trip. I wasn’t able to find a satisfactory hostel in the city, so I’m leaving the city again in the evening for Freiburg, where I’ll spend the night. Then I see Adam the following day, and Margot that same night (only an hour or two from Freiburg to Bern!) The kind of travel I like best from home, but on a macro scale.

April132012

On the chaos which crawls

I once had a long conversation with a friend of mine about religious faith. He has it, and I don’t, and I felt like he could inform me about it. Going into the conversation, I wasn’t naive enough to think that something as subjective and sensual as faith could be completely described with words, and this hunch was vindicated at the end of  our conversation, when he added, “But what we’ve been doing here is just theology, not faith.”  

"Okay, so in order to understand faith, you need to experience it?" I asked.  

"No," he said. "In order to know faith, you have to feel it."  

It’s the same with depression, I think. One of my favorite essays has a beautiful line where the author, writing about his friend the late David Foster Wallace, describes trying to intellectually bridge the divide between his own neuroses and David’s mental illness. He says: 

And yet one of the lessons of David’s work (and, for me, of being his friend) is that the difference between well and not well is in more respects a difference of degree than of kind. Even though David laughed at my much milder addictions and liked to tell me that I couldn’t even conceive of how moderate I was, I can still extrapolate from these addictions, and from the secretiveness and solipsism and radical isolation and raw animal craving that accompany them, to the extremity of his.

It’s true up to a point. But only up to a point. If you’re intelligent  enough and emphatic enough, you can perceive to a certain extent just what it is to be depressed. But I don’t believe anybody truly knows what it is to be that way unless they are. Because it really is hard to wrap your mind around. It’s hard to intellectually comprehend the heaviness and the fatigue a depressed person feels when they’re in the worst of it, the unwillingness to do anything despite the richness of the world outside and all the books and films and friends of which you can partake. This is the assertion I ask you, the reader, to accept.

I played the depression card once, just once, to explain a particular action one night where I struck a friend. Nobody believed me, but I didn’t feel as embarrassed as I could have, because contrary to what they thought, it was the only explanation there was. I would never have done that had I not been worn down enough to believe that a harsher response was the best one. It is hard for people to understand the full effect of depression on a person, how it worms its way into every aspect of your life and depreciates each one, like one of those algebraic functions that shift the whole system three points lower. It is not an explanation I am particularly proud of, and one I have made it my work to resist for several years. Denying it legitimacy is fighting it, for me. But until it is defeated, it still exists. And it has never fully gone away. And sometimes, it is the only explanation.

I, too, never understood what it was to not want to get out of bed every day until it actually happened to me. When I talk to my friends about it, certain of them will say things like, “Well, think positively!” or something. Positive thinking has its own potency, but it only goes so far. How much can conscious projection really do when it’s the same consciousness you’re fighting against?

When I think about ways to describe my depression, I think about the Silence: not the actual aliens, but the concept. “Silence will fall when the question is asked” had a particular resonance with me from the moment it was uttered on the TV that had nothing at all to do with Doctor Who. Because I think that when you are depressed, you could accurately be said to be battling your own silence; the illness that threatens to silence you, metaphorically or in some tragic cases, quite literally. And what is the question? It’s different for all of us, really. The factors which underpin my depression may be different from another person’s. But I know that for me, it’s actually a particular question.

None of this is meant to be an admission of defeat, or indicative of a learned helplessness. You truly feel defeat when you muster everything you have to bear against depression and fail to make a mark. What this is, rather, is acceptance that sometimes you can only win so much at a time, and that it is okay and natural to fall short sometimes, even frequently. That it’s attrition, not blitzkrieg. This acceptance is only possible because of another acceptance, one which I think people often forget about and which I consider myself lucky to possess. That in the future, sometime, somehow, things are going to be all right. That you will get better. That this person who likes to sleep the day away and flee from discourse and who has started to feel a deadness in his chest near constantly is not really you, as status quo as all of that seems.

March242012

I’m a little embarrassed that this is my favorite song. A lot of people judge a song by its lyrics and this one’s are just really inelegant. Plus, I think that lately, Anberlin has tried too hard to be cool. Ever since they made it big with this album…

Toda, I rode a bus in Sydney for the first time. Native university students get half off a ten-ride pass, and so I got my cousin to buy me one, and took the bus into the city. While riding, I listened to this son, and a few others by bands like +44 and 30 Seconds to Mars, which I think have the same issues as Anberlin. But while you might, as I do, crack an amused smile whenever Jared Leto sings about how the aaaaaaaaage of maaaaaaan is oooooover, there’s something evocative about that song. Something evocative about all of it, that not even the best poetry of Thrice or Simon and Garfunkel can match. Godspeed is my favorite song not because it’s particularly eloquent or complex, but because there is more energy packed into those three minutes than I have ever found elsewhere.

Interesting, isn’t it: that dichotomy between the rational and the visceral? I like to ride the whole spectrum. This one time, on the T, I tried to take a picture of a beautiful sunset over the Charles as we crossed it, even as Adam, visiting for the weekend, said it wasn’t possible to capture its beauty, that I couldn’t capture everything. The first time we ever made sangria for our friends, Devyn and I argued constantly throughout the process because I insisted we record our ratios and because, when it came to something as gloriously flexible as sangria, she did not believe in recipes. Conventional wisdom likes to stick people into tropes, that we are either organizers or unbound. But there is value in both, and so I am drawn to both, and so, I suspect, are most people.

March182012

Executor and Jedi (and bookstores and brewtours)

Had a great two days with Daniel, my friend in Tasmania. He was very organized about the whole sightseeing thing. When I first told him I was coming, he sent me a long list of things I could do in all the places he wasn’t. When I finally did meet up with him on Friday, he showed me around his home area of Burnie, on the northwest coast and about two hours from Launceston, in great detail. It was an excellent time overall.  

I found an excellent book today while Daniel showed me around Launceston, an atlas of the Biblical world. I bought it after realizing it was only forty dollars; I expected something like that to cost at least twice as much! I’m hoping it will fit in my suitcase. On the other hand, I prepaid for 25 kg of checked baggage and later found out I only had about 21, so I guess I am putting the extra space to good use. I have one more day in Launceston; my flight leaves late tomorrow night. I’m signed up for a tour and beer and cheese tasting at the James Boag brewery here in the city tomorrow afternoon, and I’m pretty excited. I opted for the longer tour because I felt like it could give some good insight into the brewing process. Our last batch back home turned out a bit funny (okay, more than a bit: it didn’t ferment and tastes like ass) which was a bit surprising since the previous two or three batches worked out fine. So hopefully, I can figure out what happened. The tasting should be a good midday meal as well.  I have a favorable view of Tasmanian alcohol so far: the ciders have been excellent and the single-malts scrumptious. They have peat bogs in Tasmania, so some of them are quite scotchlike.

Earlier today, I was thinking about ideals, and how they evolve over time. As I’ve grown up, I thought, ideal after ideal has sprung up in my life, to which I attempt to force reality to cleave, with mixed results. My latest set of ideals have fallen, one by one, and haven’t been replaced, so maybe this means growing up is just letting go of idealistic constructs of what the world should be. This seemed needlessly pessimistic, I thought then. I certainly don’t want a life devoid of ideals. Maybe then, ideals fall for the last time after we step into adulthood, and life is (or should be) just the effort to claw our way back to the top? Just now, while typing this, I am reminded of something my friend Adam wrote on a forum we share with our friends. I won’t quote him directly here because I haven’t asked his permission, but he said something remarkably similar to whay I’ve written above, of the creation that springs forth from a dichotomy. Food for thought.  

(I also just read through a 35 page Dashboard backlog because I haven’t had unlimited Internet for two days. I am too shocked at myself to be shocked at myself. O_O)

March42012

You aren’t defective. None of us get what we want. Few of us trust. Fewer maintain that trust. What I believe makes you unique is that you care so much about these deficiencies. To me that is a positive characteristic and not a negative. It is the birth pangs of a beautiful thought, if I might use the Socratic metaphor.

I truly believe that to be in a state of despair is to be a step away from understanding. If you look at the spiritual journey of the Buddha in Hesse’s Siddhartha, it was only by passing through every river that he was finally able to stop drowning. (If you have not read this. I think you’re in a place in life where it could help)

There’s nothing wrong with feeling like this world is broken. A lot of it is misunderstanding, chaos and confusion. Most people who seem happy are like the child born under water, who have not yet taken their first breath of air. It seems blissful, but remember that they have not seen the sun or felt the rain or heard the sound of rushing rapids. While you might feel like you’re gasping at the surface, many people do not even know what it means to breathe. Such depression and despair I take as the surface signs of a profound transformation of the self. You don’t have to see the way out of this depression just yet. But believe me when I say it is there.

The way we are taught to understand the world, and the way the world actually is are two very different things. Everything you think you want from this life is going to return to dust. It will fade from the rivers of time and the memory of civilizations as we watch them fall. All the people you know and love will crumble beneath ground or be lost to the waves. Even without warning. I believe that is the way things are and it is the source of the highest beauty. It brings a sharp focus to this reality that saves us from the decadent nihilism we would so gladly throw ourselves into without it. We shouldn’t simply make the best of the time we have. We should recognize that this best is only possible because we are so finite. The only way to get this world back is to surrender to it entirely.

Adam Kane
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