Of Despair, Hope, and Climbing Paths- A Blast from the Past from September 2014
It’s not a secret to anyone that I’m of a depressive turn of mind. This does not mean I’m depressed – at least not right now – but that when faced with a stress, my mind tends to head down towards depression. When faced with a question of guilt, I tend to blame myself.
Now I hear you clucking and saying something about medicines for that. Of course there are.
But here is something our overly therapeutic age misses: guilt and fear of being terrible have a purpose.
I’m not going to link the book, because I think it would bring on us the mother of all trollings, but those of you who are on Sarah’s Diner on Facebook know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.
There is a man who wrote a book that he claims he’s been writing both since 75 and for twenty years. (We didn’t ask what year it is in his world, so it’s our fault.) He painted the cover himself, and the drawing isn’t bad for a 12 year old or so.
Anyway, he thinks the book is the best thing since sliced bread. You see, it’s not about one of them troubled teenagers. It’s about a good girl who does everything right. He thinks this puts it on a par with several greats of literature (though how he got there, since the greats of literature all write characters with flaws and the ones he mentioned surely didn’t write about good girls, is beyond me.) His book is so much better than all that trash featuring vampires and werewolves, because those are unimaginative. His is the first time that story got told. And it should be assigned to every high school student.
If you’re already seeing the several threads of delusion there, it gets worse. Though a lot of the comments made about his grammar do not in fact make any sense (and enlightened for me why so many people think that all indie books are full of grammar errors. It’s because they learned grammar on Mars or something) some are spot on. He certainly has typos. But beyond all that, his stuff is stilted and weird, impossible to follow and there’s no narrative line to attach to.
And then he put his magnum opus out. And waited for praise, accolades the Novel [sic] prize and the Oscar [?] to just roll in.
What he got instead was a whole bunch of people pointing and laughing. And he can’t understand it, because after all, his book is the most original, most uplifting, most everything EVAH. So these people must be jealous of his brilliance.
Some of the Huns had great fun baiting him in the comments, but here’s the thing: I could grin at their comments (and his behavior is horrible enough to make one want to hit him) but I also felt that little cringe one feels when one sees a bit of oneself in a crazy person.
Because I started out like that. Oh, not under the impression what I was writing was so original or that everyone who writes vampires and werewolves is “unimaginative.” I’d read way too much for that. (Which I think Mr. Original hasn’t.)
But I started out writing things that had no discernible plot, characters only I could love, and ham-fisted prose. [Okay, the last one was not so much “started out” as “last week”.]
I got rejected.
And then because I don’t have a healthy self-esteem (or much self-esteem at all, really, though the audience is helping me) I bought a bunch of books on how to do it, and I started analyzing it.
So, I couldn’t just self publish them, and yeah, that’s a difference. BUT I suspect if I had self-published and no one bought, and I’d got awful comments (except given what I was writing at the time it would probably sell on kink. Aliens. No I’m not telling.) the process would have been the same.
Because my idea of myself is not diamond-hardened and fire proof, I’d have gone “Oh.” And I’d have considered the idea that maybe my stuff really did suck and I only didn’t see it because it was mine. And then I’d have got the books/followed the same road.
So, to an extent, this depressive turn of mind, and this self doubt serve a purpose. The reason I run so hard is that me is following me, and I know the b*tch. If she catches up to me with all her doubts and insecurities, I’m going down for the count.
But sometimes she does catch me. And that’s an issue too.
My books take an average of two weeks to actually write – active writing time. In between there is a needed silence of two weeks to a month. The “battery recharging/ideation” time.
So how come I average two books a year (and some years I write six?) Well that’s the silences that aren’t necessary.
This is going to sound completely crazy considering I make a living at this, but I go through entire months of being convinced everything I ever write is drek. And then I can’t write at all. Extracting words from my mind becomes sort of like passing a novel out through a narrow crack in a wall, in papers the size of fortune cookie fortunes.
I could do without those silences. I could do without the fears so bottomless that I will accept any suggestion/criticism, no matter how ridiculous. I’ve learned over the years to do nothing to past works when I’m in this mood, and certainly not to read reviews/comments. Because if I read them at that time and then go and change my work, I will kill it. At best, I make it into soup without direction as I try to be all things to all people. At worst… You don’t want to know.
Now imagine someone with this turn of mind and the years of apprenticeship required to write something halfway decent. (I think I achieved that last week!)
Don’t nobody call no ambulance (yes, the grammar is intentional. Yes, I know. Nails on chalkboard) because it’s been years since this happened – but sometimes I felt I was spiraling down, with each level of shame/guilt worse, and constant memories of every humiliating/stupid mistake I’d made, to the point where often the only thing keeping me from committing suicide was knowing I had kids, and a duty to them.
It occurs to me that most of you are more of my stamp than of Mr. Greatest Thing Ever Written and You’re All Envious Hacks. And also that even for those who aren’t writers, these are tough times.
Not only are many of us struggling to make ends meet in Summer of (no) Recovery Six, but technological change is doing to the texture of our everyday life what hormones do to a pre-teen boy just before the jump.
You know the change is needed and largely beneficial, but we’re not a teen boy, and we don’t know where it leads. Everything is changing, and we’re caught in the middle of it. Unlike our “elites” we aren’t trying to take the world back (way back. Into feudalism) to where we feel more comfortable. But we do get scared and confused and wonder if what we’re doing is really for the best, like a beginner writer caught between two ways of writing and not sure which one is best (since it’s not just what he likes.)
In both cases: be good to yourself. Do the best you can. Few things in life are permanent. If what you are trying proves wrong, try something else.
And yeah, most of us have been tightening and tightening and tightening and cutting out all entertainment. And no, it’s not by choice.
But here is a suggestion: let that belt out a little bit. Shop advisedly. Buy bang for the buck. Amazon Prime furnishes us with a never-end of free movies and tv series, for instance. They’re a little old, but hey, we don’t have cable (expensive) so they’re new to us. And I’ve just joined Kindle Unlimited Lending Library. Now I know they pay a little less to writers, unless the story is 2.99 or under but here’s the thing: with it I read more than I could otherwise. So I don’t feel too bad for my fellow writers. $2 or so is better than what I would pay them otherwise (nothing, pretty much) and it allows me to read back up to the levels I like.
We also got a zoo membership and a membership to a couple of museums. These are expensive, relatively, but they give us a chance to run away every time things get to be too much. Weirdly, my family (each working three jobs or so) hits that wall at the same time. Most weekends we’ll all be working, catching up on things, maybe stopping for a movie in the evening (though not often.) And then one Sunday, usually dark and dreary with snow on the ground, we all go “this just isn’t working. I’m not getting anything done. Let’s go to—” And at that time it’s good to think “sure” and not “Do we have the money.” (Besides, when you have four people, one entry to a museum for all of us is half a year’s membership.)
That usually keeps the worst of depression away, while you’re working and don’t see an end in sight, and aren’t sure you are any good or will ever get anywhere.
When it doesn’t…
We humans are tormented/followed by the idea that our life must have a purpose. What I mean is, even the most irreligious of humans feels that he must be here for some reason.
Last week I posted the free book by James Owen, which I really do think is a wonderful pick me up if you’re trolling the depths. A couple of hours later, I had a thank you in my email. One of you – not a commenter, but a reader here – thanked me, because he’d been spiraling down the pit of hopelessness and trying not to think of doing away with himself. The book came just at the right time, and it stopped the spiral.
And suddenly I thought “Wow. What if my entire life, everything I’ve done, everything I am, was just for that purpose? To give a man a rope as he was slipping down the slope?”
Then I remembered an Agatha Christie story (in her bio) which I now don’t remember if it was a family thing or something that was told to her (I know she used it in a short story, later on) of someone who goes out to a cliff intending to throw himself down. Only there’s a woman there, sitting and looking out at the sea. And he can’t kill himself in front of someone. So he doesn’t. He goes back to life and it gets better.
I don’t remember how she explained it, but the thing is that the woman was also there, contemplating ending it all, and then (she somehow finds out what happened) she realizes if she’d killed herself before he arrived, he’d have been lost.
What I’m trying to say is even if your purpose in life is to just sit there at the right time and the right place (or if you don’t believe in purpose, your usefulness) there is something only you can do. It might be what you intend to do or it might be an entire accident (Glenn Reynolds, asked how he became instapundit “Like most things in my life, it happened by accident.”) But just by being here, you can become a lifesaver, and the life you save might change the world for the better.
In the same way, just by trying the best you can – at writing or life or whatever – you can sometimes become extraordinary. Perhaps most times. Yes, there is survivor bias in stories of “I tried, and I succeeded” but perhaps the arrow goes the other way. Perhaps if you really try, and are willing to admit you’re not perfect and to see clearly, you mostly succeed.
It’s just most people don’t. Because either absolute self confidence or its lack (yes, even that) are in a way far more comfortable.
But if you neither leap into the abyss, nor stand there frozen at its edge, telling yourself there is no abyss, if you learn the paths down and up the cliff, and if you lend a hand to those on the same road… perhaps, just perhaps that black cliff can become an enchanted cove where many find solace and life.
It’s worth a try.