Why am I, why was I, so depressed? Because of my fears about my book, mostly, and the future. My fears about what the future may bring. I didn’t consider then the future might involve the results of this election.
I’ve spent the last four years working in a dedicated way on my first novel, and this past July, I completed a draft which I’m shopping around to literary agents. I started the book on a bit of a lark, unexpectedly, and kept going, fueled by all sorts of ideas about how I should do it and how I could do it and succeed. In the beginning I worked on it everyday for at least an hour. After a couple years, I quit my nine-to-five office job so that I could devote more time to it, and I wrote five hours a day, every day, revising, re-writing, writing, researching, reading, polishing.
My novel is the reason I’m here in central Oregon at an artist residency program on the shore of a seasonal lake. The wind blows so hard here it makes the sound I hear when I’m standing under a waterfall or I have my head out the window of a speeding car. At times, the cracks in the corners of our cabin whistle. I feel lost, and this writing feels like the way back. Or rather, I think I’ve failed; I think I’ve made all the wrong decisions at every point, and I want to go into some kind of stasis, cease to be for a long time until I feel okay again. I’m angry and sad and often hate myself. I’m embarrassed by these feelings and embarrassed to talk about them. I feel paralyzed and don’t know what to do. I guess I’m freaking out. Maybe it was inevitable.
I’m also okay, and I also understand that my pessimism about the future of my book is likely premature. Books take many years to write and many years to find support and audience. It’s the way it works, and I haven’t failed until I stop trying. I tell myself these things, and the thought of trying, continuing, feels overwhelming and impossible. The maxims of artistic encouragement I gorged on for the last four years sound hollow if not mocking. I thought I was ready to handle the disappointment and rejection which is an unavoidable part of this life I’ve chosen. I thought I might be lucky enough and good enough to catch a break before I reached this level of despair.
I hiked yesterday with my wife and some other friends here, and it was a beautiful day and a fun hike. We found fresh bear tracks and, in the shadows of trees killed years before in a forest fire, the young sprouts of new ponderosa pines. We climbed almost all the way to the top of Winter Ridge, a climb I’ve wanted to complete since I first came to Playa in March of 2015. I’ve worked on enough of my own artistic projects — poems, installations, songs, performances, and now this novel — that I know part of what I’m feeling is the inevitable and brutal drop at the end of a project. It’s likely that this drop is all the harder for having been so long in the making. Part of worry is also just real. I’ve been living these last few years on borrowed time and money, some work, some inheritance, some loan. It was never an arrangement that could or would last forever, but I’d thought and hoped that I could dedicate this time to my book, take a risk, and find a payoff at the end which would open new opportunities and be enough to support me for a while as I figured out the next thing.
My novel is good, I think, but I feel as if I’ve lost my ability to judge anything. I thought I had plan that would work. I knew it was risky, but I thought if I worked hard enough, if I believed, if I gave it everything, that I’d have the kind of success I was after, publication, a warm reception, a chance and encouragement to write another book. Maybe those things will still happen, but right now I’m full of doubt, and my future feels bleak. I’m in my early forties; I’m not earning steady or sufficient income to support myself; I’ve spent the last four years working on a novel that may never be published, and the best plan I can come up with is to write about my feelings. I know I’m incredibly privileged to have had the life that I’ve had and the time over the last few years to do what I’ve done, and I’m grateful for all the experiences and friendships. I know many, many people are facing much more difficult and serious circumstances, especially given the election. I think about all my advantages in comparison to others, and I feel even worse, further isolated from my ability to do anything effective.
I don’t intend to wallow here; I don’t think I am, but the high internal violence of my depression has slipped into something gray and featureless. I feel disassociated, and it’s difficult to motivate myself to do much of anything or care about much of anything, and so this project feels silly and meaningless, useless. And maybe it is.
I meditate every day, and one of the main things the practice has taught me is to sit through discomfort, observe sensations and thoughts and don’t attach desire or aversion to any of it. The practice has been beneficial to me, I think — I believe I am a better listener; I’m less reactive, and I don’t immediately try to find “solutions” to “problems.” These have been good lessons for me, but here I am in pain and despair. Part of me thinks I should just sit through it, observe and let it pass, but it is such a lonely path, and writing is already such a lonely profession. I could talk to friends or a therapist about these feelings, but I’ve always had trouble talking about these things with others, and I feel distant from most of my friends. I talk about it with Meg, but she’s in a similar place, so our conversations, while helpful, often reflect our pain. Writing this, I feel something, a sharp and sour sweetness that leaves me feeling lighter for a little while, and I suppose that’s why I’m doing it, for that feeling, for some relief from this weight I feel.