Paint it black?

I find it interesting in myself that, while ostensibly studying acedia, I collected quite a few of Norris’ observations about depression. This has more to do with my nods of recognition than any current resonant thrum—thanks be to God!—but today I want to fan these observations out in front of me and talk a bit. Imagine we’re walking through a scrappy gallery on Austin’s East Side; we’ll pause in front of a work and hash out its merit between us.

Depression stands in the full glare of the sun, unchallenged by recognition. p38

So this, I find, is one of depression’s larger mysteries to outsiders. How can you know what’s wrong with you and not simply walk away from it? Just stop! Just be happy. Just choose to be happy. Um, no. Depression’s not like a lack of stamina, that a little intentional exercise could fix. There is an amazing, fan-damn-tastic sequence about this right here that I can’t hope to equal: if its creator, Allie Brosh, goes on to live an exclusively quiet life caring for dogs she will still have work in the world that matters to that world. So if you haven’t encountered Hyperbole and a Half, go do that. (While on the topic of not having to top one’s creative accomplishments, I don’t care whether Lin-Manuel Miranda writes anything ever again, either, but that’s not what I was going to discuss today. Pardon!)

It will be interesting to discover whether acedia has this same quality, or is merely the sulky, tantrum-prone younger sibling who responds to a round of, “Get over your bad self already.”

[A]wareness of one’s underlying problems was key, but by itself could not effect a healing. p38

Awareness, recognition, having a name—key to the problem(s) in that until one has the name one remains at the mercy of the darkness. As if the condition was a demon made of smoke, and in naming it one forced it to take form and remain pinned in that form. One can engage with a thing with form…face it, wrestle it, raise an eyebrow at it and say, “Not today,” laugh at it and tell it it’s lying.

I owe a lot to Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea Cycle, especially the way names and magic entwine, though I read the first three books while I was 11 and not aware of the self I was growing into. But maybe I was fertile soil; going through a peripatetic life as “Kimbol” could easily get one to pay attention to the importance of using the right names for things.

Healing depression…now that, for me, was a long sequence of actions intellectually agreed to but performed without hope. Hope, within the depression, was incomprehensible. But rote obedience was, and what did I have to lose?

[M]onks […] have long understood “hitting bottom” as recognizing that you are not going anywhere, because you are already there. p40

(See there, how that linked up? And they’re in order on their own! Well, okay, you’re right. I would have re-ordered them to make something pretty like this sequence. It’s my crafting, after all.) <clears throat>

Bottom is a clarifying place. Since one doesn’t always realize it’s bottom until the bruise on the tailbone or the wind leaves the lungs, hitting it adds the emphasis of impact. The gift of bottom is that, at that point, any direction is at least neutral. “What did I have to lose?” At that juncture, saying stupid things into the mirror was an activity that wasn’t a knife and a bathtub. Good enough for the short term! And the long term ended up well for me after all.

The light [of depression] may be harsher than we would like, but at least it forces us to see. p98

Norris refers to research that I’ve run into elsewhere—it seems depressives are more clear-eyed and accurate about their actions and effectiveness than emotionally healthy folk. Apparently the truth inherent in depression, as in acedia, doesn’t support successful living over the long haul.

I’d like to think, though, that I can draw on that arc-light for my creative blocks while managing to elude the sharp shadows in the rest of my living. It seems to be working for me so far… -?


It’s been twenty years since my last full-blown depressive episode. One might not think that in reading this; I consider myself in remission, never forgetting the threat of the witch at the door. At the same time, it’s simpler to remember, immerse myself, and write about depressive things now that there’s less risk of immersing and then drowning.

As poets for centuries have loved to repeat: “I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity.We thank you, Mr. Wordsworth, for your Preface to your volume Lyrical Ballads, and pointing out how much simpler the work becomes when we’re in a safe harbor. And I thank God for and rejoice in my safe harbor.

3 thoughts on “Paint it black?

  1. Too much there for a simple comment. I never understood it at the time until I went through it myself. It’s not anything that you choose to be, but it really is something that you have to find the end of. Finding the bottom is the key to climbing out. As far as it being a defining quality of an artist, I’ve often thought that was a big old load of hoo-ha. Still, it is as you described – it’s an epic dynamo of emotion which can be used creatively. In that way, it serves.

    1. “It’s not anything that you choose to be, but it really is something that you have to find the end of.”
      Wow, that’s PERFECT. Yes, exactly.

  2. PS I know you’ve never espoused the idea that you had to be depressed to be a great artist either. Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that. 🙂

    I’m glad I can be so coherent and I didn’t even have any coffee yet. 😀

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.