Advent and Melancholy
I hope that this letter finds you recuperating from the dentistry work, and feeling better in general.
This time of year is so difficult to push through isn’t it? I have to dig deep to find an energy source. I leave for my day job in the dark; head home in the dark. It’s no wonder I feel disconnected from the days, and time itself. I wonder if anyone is actually energized in the Advent season? Or is that why it was invented? A way to force us out of bed and complacency with an obligation to dig out the Christmas lights from the attic to put them in the windowsill (so the neighbors don’t think you’re a lazy Scrooge), and make gift lists, debating which trinket will make another person happy?
Our lights aren’t in the window yet. (Although the door wreath is up, and I have begun a mental list.) I’m also getting some work done: The latest podcast is up, and I’m making progress on other projects. (I’m shortlisted for a performance collaboration in London, so I hope you’ll keep your fingers crossed for me.)
I’m having trouble concentrating. As I type this, I think about a conversation I had yesterday with a student who is struggling with the same thing. I talked to her about recognizing when to push back at the world, and when to relax, gather strength; and to never beat oneself up for not being perfect. Now my own advice comes back to me with a wink. This seems to happen a lot. This kind of synchronicity can either strike me in completely narcissistic terms – believing everything in the universe is designed to be a personal message for me – or it can open me to the fact that I am in no way unique, and that I’m completely blind in terms of my own weaknesses… and wisdoms. I’m ashamed to say I often have to remind myself of the latter. I so easily slip into magical thinking. For comfort, really, not out of narcissm.
And speaking of magical thinking: according to the podcast I was listening to, there have to be rules. Otherwise there would be no conflict: magic could potentially solve every situation. So, aside from dealing with time-travel paradoxes, there would be no drama if everything were possible. Each magic universe still needs consistent rules. No rules, no conflict. No conflict, no growth, I suspect.
It’s beginning to sound like I think that a tendency towards moral reasoning is built into our brain structure? Or maybe not. Maybe it just our need to rationalize (be rewarded for) suffering? Have you read much Eastern literature? From what I understand, there is no moral fine print to their stories. At least in terms of horror stories. In the West, the ghosts and demons target the corrupted or confused; but in the East, those hauntings are arbitrary. There is no reason for the haunting, it just is. They don’t rationalize evil.
I wonder if that is just their post-WW2 Absurdism? I wonder if that is where our stories will go now. Has the average person in the West finally, subconsciously, given in to radical existentialism?
I wrote an article for a magazine a few years ago about how superheroes are no longer challenged morally. For example, when Toby Maguire’s Spiderman saves the day, he is also unmasked (accidently) and people on the subway see him. Fame. Reward. I always thought that the whole point with those superhero disguises was that it was proof that they were doing what was right because it was right, not because they would be rewarded. Spiderman even got the girl in that rendition of the story. Remember the Superman films of the 70s? He lost the girl. Sacrificed. Because our basic story is still built on Christian mythologoy. Or was.
I am all for morally ambiguous characters and stories. But is that all we have now? And if it is all we have, have we lost the framework conflict? That is, have we lost sight of a moral norm? If so, there is not moral ambiguity, only moral irrelevance. It all is becomes Jean Genet’s game of: “I’ll play the bad guy, so you can play the good guy.” And then we lose the framework the dichotomy game all together. It is a lot like a magic universe with no rules: kind of pointless. No arc. No meaning.
Can you tell I have reached the time of year where I cover the 50s and 60s in Theater History? Every year I seem to circle back to another superficial look at the meaning of life.
You wrote about your “mild depression”: “But the last thing I want to do is to have the energy and the words cured away. Because, truthfully, that would be death.”
I’m always reluctant to define depression. But for me, there is a difference between melancholy and depression. I define it where it tips into what you describe as “death”: where the energy and words are gone. Depression (for me) isn’t an emotion, it is a lack of emotion. An emptiness. It isn’t sadness, anger or even despair. It is the point of numbness. Sometimes therapy has meant getting back in touch with the pain.
I remember when I was very little, lying in bed and thinking about the universe and trying to wrap my head around infinity. How the solar system was a shoe box, but then outside that shoe box was the universe, and a bigger shoe box. And another, even bigger shoe box. And it just continued, each box darker and emptier – until I was so far away from the light that I felt nothing. Nothing mattered. Untethered already at the age of 6.
That was depression, even then. Makes me melancholy to think about it.
“Writing as a quest for redemption”. I think you’re onto something there. Before one needs redemption, a quest for meaning, for wish-fullfilment? I am not sure about original sin, but yeah – I do think sometimes that I was born with shame. (Wait. Is that proof I’m not a narcissist? Or is that proof I’m not a sociopath?)
Is writing an attempt to create a parrallel life? I wrote a short story in high school (I remember because it won an award, and I was disappointed when my mother was utterly unimpressed). It was about woman who sought out her biological father, only to find him a lonely old man, working as a clown at a circus. It was only thirty or so years later that I realized the story was about my desire to track down my father. I swear that was not on my mind when I wrote it. Clearly, it was in it. Today, I find it sadly funny to think what my mother must have made of the story.
I had an ex-boyfriend who read a copy of mixed states and told me that it made his wife uncomfortable since so much of it was about my relationship with him. I was so confused. I have no idea which part of the book was about him. I wonder if, thirty years from now, I’ll see it, too? Maybe it is just the fact that we just repeat our mistakes so often everyone we know recognises us in them?
Do people’s readings of the “layers” of Dead Men cause you to ask yourself what is going on in your subconscious? Do you find yourself looking to your novels to understand yourself better?
Is Ice Child melancholy? Have you returned to it yet? Do you think it will be infused with political undertones because of what you are passionate about these days?
This weekend I’m reading Bee Bones again. E. and I talked about reading The Failed Assassin together. We are still considering what awkwardness might ensue were we to begin thinking too hard about who wrote it and all, though.
Yeah. That maybe shouldn’t be a sentence for public consumption. Then again, you wrote an erotic novel and put your name on it.
And I admire you for it.
E. has lit a fire downstairs and I’m heading down with wine and frozen grapes. We’ll try to find a film we can compromise on. You boys and your battles scenes. (You do know, though, that all women my age are really just into HP because of Snape, right?)
Much love to you and M. I hope the weekend is a lovely long luxurious birthday celebration for her.
ps. I have no idea when your birthday is, either.
This is one of a series of weekly open letters to friends – friends who write back to me on their own blogs. Please click through. Category: Correspondence.
If you’d like to catch up, read the letters in chronological order here.