Saturday, September 11, 2010


I read an epistolary interview of J.M. Coetzee in Harpers in which he talks about psychology. He accepts the notion that understanding one's past makes it possible to let go of the impact of past events, although he refers to it as a touching idea of Freud's and notes that it does not seem demonstrably true. He think it might be more useful to pay more attention to mood. I smiled when I read it. A sad, ironic smile. I am always aware of my mood. I describe it in probably overly simplistic terms. I'm in a good mood. Bad mood. I think of myself as a moody person and I think of that as a problematic characteristic. Coetzee says he is never in a non-mood.
He goes onto note that he is (at the time of the interview) in a melancholy mood. He differentiates melancholy and depression by noting that depression renders one unable to work. Melancholy, he says, is a state of being and not necessarily an affliction. He equates melancholy with water. He makes it sound almost desirable.
The next issue of Harpers, which I read soon after since I had allowed the magazines to pile up, there was an article about a new trend in psychology titled: The War on Unhappiness, subtitled: Goodbye Freud, Hello Positive thinking. Really interesting transition.
I am highly critical of ungrounded positive thinking. Obviously it's better to have a generally positive approach in life but I see so much bad framing of people's experience. We acknowledge and reward "good attitude" and blame people when they are sad, or angry. Barbara Ehrenreich writes so clearly about this in all of her books but specifically in Bright Sided. She writes about being criticized for not being positive when she had cancer. In fact she was being neither positive nor negative. She was being curious. And she writes about how this "war" on unhappiness operates as a means of social control in the job market.
I am always comforted by Ehrenreich's lucidity. But I was almost delighted by Coetzee. I think I have always been a bit melancholy. I think if you aren't a little bit depressed you aren't paying attention. I've always loved something I thought Freud said: ( a Google search says it may have been Einstein, no one seems to know for sure) happiness is for pigs. Martha Graham says that restlessness and discontent are what drive artists to create. All of that said I realize that I slip too easily from melancholy to depression.
I've been miserable. Really, truly, deeply miserable. Unable to write. Barely able to read. The pool has been closed for a month, which hasn't been good. I've tried to do some yoga. Mostly I drift though the day, have trouble sleeping and find myself crying over random things. And I'm angry a lot.
There have been some turn around moments. A friend from EA came for a visit and told me some things that comforted me. I knew my lay off wasn't exactly personal. There were so many people laid off that day. Still, It's hard to not feel rejected. Another conversation with an old friend felt like a long drink of water after years of thirst. And so I feel ... better. Still unfocused and somewhat paralyzed. But better.
James Hillman says that depression opens the door to beauty. He also says that happiness is not something that can be pursued, it is a result.
The pool reopens next week. I can take my watery, melancholy self into the deep, clear blueness.