Sunday, May 15, 2016

Chasing the Shadows

Well, the clouds didn't look like cotton.
They didn't even look like clouds.
I was underneath the weather.
My friends looked like a crowd.
-Townes Van Zandt

It makes me crazy when I am trying to understand something and somebody tells me that there is no way that I can possibly understand it, that I have to experience it to know it - whatever
it is. I try not to do this, to tell people what they can feel. It is so much kinder and easier to do my best to explain, or show and see what happens.

Who am I to tell you what you can know?

Often it starts like this - in the car, so often when I am driving. One of those Story Corp. pieces or something similar comes on the radio, distracting me from myself and drawing me into somebody else's life, somebody else's special pain. On clear days, melancholy, sweet and satisfying melancholy drapes her arms around my shoulders, dries her tears on my hair and holds me in bliss. And I love these moments, savor them. I drink in the soft sadness thirstily, greedily. This is the good half of being half crazy. Still, I greet her cautiously, knowing all too well that melancholy is often a harbinger of darkness.

There are other warnings that darkness is coming, most unpleasantly notable is anxiety. Sometimes anxiety, depression's manic conjoined twin, grips my brain in its teeth, gnawing holes in sensible thoughts. Anxiety is every bit as irrational as depression and even more dangerous with its urgent calls for imprudent action and the totality of it's declarations and resolutions. Relationships can be inflated and destroyed in these tricky, twisted moments. Fortunately this also passes.

Then there are shadow days and I never really know when they will occur or how long they will last; in the car again, but this time chocking, weeping like a broken person, not even knowing who I am crying for. This is when the darkness creeps into every part of life. It is exhausting, paralyzing. The simplest of tasks last week seem nearly unthinkable today. My life is not set up for depression. I simply do not have the time. There are lists to be made, children to be raised, and dishes to be washed. There are people who rely on me not only to be present, but to be happy and alert, sometimes even inspirational.

If it were just a day, it would not be so difficult. And sometimes it is. But when the darkness really comes, I can be chasing shadows for months, or even years. Recently I was feeling particularly self-indulgent. Flirting with my not so secret mistress, melancholia, I read through my old essays, particularly those from the first months after I returned to live in Cairo with Jenn and the kids. It was a very difficult time. I made a hundred contacts and very few connections. The world was turned upside down and I felt everything, amplified and distorted. The writing was pretty damn good though.

And for so many artists of one sort or another, that is just another part of the rub. It is impossible to deny the powerful influence that depression sometimes has on creation. I am not saying that depression makes you more creative. In fact the debilitation overshadows nearly everything. But, when the shadows recede and calm returns, it is clear that some of my best work has been done in darkness. And so it goes.

It is probably for the best that most of this is entirely invisible to all but the most naked eyes. Laughter conceals almost everything from friends and bystanders. I recently read some comments about how happy and adjusted people appeared in a photograph, which struck me as ludicrous. There is no way you can see what is going on in someone's mind from a photograph. Even up close and personal, emotions can be hidden. This is not so terrible. Nobody has time in their lives for depression.

I only understand a little slice of all this, and even this is just a piece of that. I know that moods can be tangible, and hard to know, and that things will always pass and change. I know that breathing helps and so do dogs and that while nobody can effectively tell me to get over it, I'll be happier when I do. And so it goes.

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