Responsibility, Blame, Fate, Depression

Ken Rumble

On some level, I recognize that the amount of blame I feel, the amount of responsibility I often assume, is simply inaccurate. I am responsible for myself, but I obviously don’t and can’t control the world. I’m a small piece in a huge puzzle. It’s narcissistic? self-centered? self-involved? vain? privileged? to think I’ve reached where I am — geographically, materially, emotionally, spiritually, financially — all of my own effort, all of my own responsibility. 

When I’m depressed, I lose sight of that reality though, and I see myself as a flawed and malfunctioning person surrounded by normal, happy and fulfilled people. It’s my fault, my flaw, that separates me from everyone else. 

Most of the time, I recognize that this level of responsibility is unreasonable. My book may be good, but the world, literary agents, publishers, the audience, will decide if they want a fabulist / absurd novel about counting potatoes, violence, and warfare. I can’t make them want it; I can only make my novel as good as I know how. There are forces far bigger than I which determine what gets attention, what gets published, what gets noticed. I am not, in fact, in control of my life. I am where I am as the result of a wide and infinitely complex intersection of forces which have been at play since long before I was born. 

Taking sole responsibility for everything in my life is simply another thorn, the blank logic of depression which can feel so awful and true. When I climb out of the depression, I realize those thoughts don’t jive with reality, and the thought that I am a small part of something much larger can be comforting. I recognize that the world is bigger than me, that it’s not all my fault, that everyone carries their wounds, that I’ve done good work, and that most things are simply beyond my control, and that’s okay.

But my depression, US culture, white supremacy, European philosophy, movies, books, the news, they all seem to say that I’m supposed to be the captain of my fate. I should be able to will what I want into being. I should follow my dreams come what may, state a clear intention to the universe, go in with both guns blazing and come out a hero, dead or alive.

So I’m pulled between these two poles, and I don’t know what to do or what to believe, how to proceed in a way that might lead to the things I want from life. Be a thread in the fabric? Or the fabric designer? A combination? Something else entirely? Do I actually have a choice in the matter? I just don’t know.

I want what I want so powerfully it hurts, and the absence of what I think of as success feels like failure, even as I know success won’t take the form I hope it will. Plenty of people publish wonderful, critically-acclaimed, popular novels, and their lives are not necessarily transformed. They continue working jobs they don’t like; they continue to compromise their art for practical concerns; they continue to struggle in a culture which doesn’t understand how to value their work and calling. 

Publishing my novel won’t ensure I have a happy, beautiful, stable, politically relevant, culturally rich, exciting, fulfilling life brimming with love and friendship. I know that, but I can’t deny that part of me wants it and dreams of it, the dream of being successful and loved. Can any of us do this work without chasing some impossible dream though? I assume we’re all running through the dark swamp after the ghost of an idea. I also know we do what we do simply because that’s the work of writers and artists, it’s our work, whatever rewards we may or may not receive. 

And it’s so hard to have done the work, to have worked so hard, to be, I think, close, and see that it might not work out. I know many writers, most even, have a novel or two in a drawer somewhere, but damn, it’s such an easy thing to say and such a brutal path to walk, to put two, three, four, or eight years of work into a drawer. I don’t know if my novel is headed for the drawer of the bookstore shelf. I think it could be on the shelf, but I have no idea. Facing, understanding, recognizing both possibilities is a devastating part of this life I’ve chosen, or this life that has chosen me. I’ll keep going, keep writing, keep dreaming, but the grief is enough to tear you apart.

In the meantime, I’m unsure of what to do and I struggle to do the things I think I should do. Is writing about these feelings a mistake? Productive? Useful to me or anyone else? I should be patient I guess. Sit I guess. Wait. Breathe. My therapist talks a lot about the sorrow and the joy, that living, existing, being awake and aware in a profound, counter-cultural way, means feeling all the joy and the sorrow, the massive range of life’s contradictions, that avoiding feeling is to give up our connection to the divine. We struggle through difficult tasks against high odds, find the ends of our strength and will, suffer and rejoice, and do it again, continue until we can’t. Baba Yaga waits at the end of the path with another task, another challenge; she may eat you. The forest is always deeper than we can possibly imagine. It is not wrong to weep.