Tuesday, May 01, 2012


Becket remembered reading an entry in Kafka's diary: Gardening. No hope for the future. Becket wrote: At least he could garden. 
I smiled when I read that, which may reflect badly on my sense of humor. It should be noted that Becket found a modicum of happiness working in his own garden and wrote his comment when he was older and no longer able to work outside. Perhaps it was a mournful comment. For me it was wonderfully grumpy.
Rachel Maddow was being interviewed by Terry Gross and mentioned having been depressed since she was in high school. She said she has learned how to assess her level of depression and manage her life accordingly. She says she can't concentration so she tries not to schedule a guest for her show who has written a book she might need to read. I took something like comfort in hearing this. My first reaction was to marvel that someone with meaningful work, the respect of her peers, a relationship that ( if you can judge by photos ) is loving and mutual. (Google: Rachel Maddow's girlfriend. It's interesting. Apparently she is considered fat. She is both slagged and bragged about on the Internet because of it.) All of this "having" means nothing to a depressive.
I think that if you aren't a little depressed you aren't paying attention. I also think that depression is often an indulgence. A tantrum of sorts.
I've been depressed for so long I can barely remember a time when I wasn't. But I don't suffer it all the time. Most times it's a low dull buzz. I am lifted out of it randomly and usually unexpectedly. Small things. Observations.Good conversations. A visit from my eleven month old neighbor. A watercress salad with marinated white beans, red bell peppers and artichoke hearts. A new leaf on a house plant.
David Foster Wallace's commencement speech to Kenyon college articulates mechanics of narcissism in how we observe (or don't observe) our world and maybe even more importantly how we choose to think about what we observe. I reread it often. The section about the grocery store speaks loudly to me. I am a horrible person in a grocery store. Internally. You might not see it if you were there with me. I reread it knowing that he hung himself.
A few years ago ( hard to realize how many) I wrote about hearing Parker Palmer on Moyers talking about "negotiating the tragic gap." I was depressed at the time. I was aware of my own tragic gap. No hope for the future. I was clinging to the raft of his lucidity. Like I cling to DFW's lucidity. Like I cling to Rachel's lucidity.
Depression may be chemical. A pill might make it all go away. I prefer to rely on the things I listed. And I know that all of those same things might not always work.
Pain is certainly part of it. Every day there are things I don't get done because the pain narrows what is possible. Age is part of it. Politics. Too much media.
But I smiled. At least he could garden. I don't really know enough about Becket to know if he was being particularly sulky and petulant or deeply in pain. I choose to believe he was making a small joke. The kind of joke depressives tell. We know there is beauty and value and fun and love. We know that there are people with more difficult circumstance. We may even know the parameters of our own depression. We may have charted the place at which we have a right to sing the blues and the place where we have built a shrine to our failures and losses. We may own it all. Or not. We may weed the garden of our perceptions but the weeds always grow back.
I'm actually relatively OK. I can list my blessings and, of course, I can also list the reasons they don't help. I'm not suffering. At least not every minute of every day.
And. Ya know. I smiled.

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