Mental Health, Real Life and Feels Ahead

Deep breaths.

Sorry for the quiet, everybody.

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Realities of Writing

Depression

It can be blue, folks. (Photo credit: Hendrike, via Wikipedia)

The fact is: writing can seem at first a terribly depressing field. Believe me, I know—you tack a determination to write onto someone already struggling with depression, and you get someone already prone to the blues receiving a steady stream of disappointments. No one ever said we set ourselves up to be the steadiest sorts.

I have spoken before of endurance, of perseverance, and I will confess the notions can come out as just so many words—a wisp in your ear that is gone by the time you turn around to greet them.

The reasons are plenty…

Reason the First

Though we talk the big game about passion and art and the need to write (all true, mind you), most writers are like the majority of people in the world: in some sense, we want to succeed. It’s not even that we need the big movie deals, or a fanatic cult (ala The Following—don’t watch it, it’s cheesy and terribly predictable), but we want to be able to point at something and say: You see this work? I wrote this, it touched someone beyond myself, and I am proud. Vindication, I suppose.

I know for all my protestations otherwise, I felt it when undertaking The Hollow March–whether I wanted it or not, the feeling lurked, just out of sight.

Especially in a world where the volume of writers has soared through the ceiling, as every Tom, Dick, and Transfalmadorian are able to turn to self-publishing to get a word out, is also a horrendously difficult field in which to get noticed. Slush piles are bigger than ever. As such, the opportunity for disappointment seems to grow, and while we can point to similar stories around the world, there is always that niggling little voice telling us: yes, but that’s not you, is it?

Reason the Second

Loneliness. You will hear many writers speak of it. Though some are capable of immersing themselves in sound, many must isolate themselves to work. The office cubicle may make you itchy, sure, but at least you know you can lean over the wall to talk to someone, or walk down the hall. With writing, we may spend hours in our own little world, and especially if reason the first is letting us down, that sense of isolation—isolation for seemingly no reason (so we tell ourselves) walks the dangerous line of feeling overwhelming.

Reason the Third

Too many hats. It began with a blog. Alright, manageable enough, right? You’re getting the hang of this. A blog post a week, perhaps, to connect with folks while you write. How about a Twitter? 140, alright, that’s not so bad. Have you considered a Facebook page? Well, I—Don’t forget to make two! One for you, and one for your book! Oh, and Tumblr, don’t forget about Tumblr…

ADD. It’s what you begin to feel like. Or being trapped in a bouncy castle. Writers are their own greatest advocates. At first it might seem glamorous—do what you want, when you want, how you want it—but it can wear at you quickly. Because it means you’re also out there without a lifeline. There are no promotions for good behavior. A writer can no longer be “just a writer.” He must also be a sales rep, a public relations whiz, and quite possibly, one of those fellows on the side of the road dancing around with business signs.

You are the alpha and the omega. It’s self-pub law, but even if you hit it big, the burden is increasingly being put on the writers themselves. There are no breaks, no real days off. If you’re self-conscious, or simply not sure what to say, or if the first two reasons have gotten you down, this can be (or feel) devastating, and you run the risk of a serious burn-out.

Epilogue

My, my, cheery today aren’t we Mr. Galford? Yes, I am, and I’ll tell you why: I have come to terms with these things, and what’s more, I know that everyone struggles with them equally.

Cease to abstract it. Can you point to examples of exceptions? Yes, but they are only that, the exceptions, and while you might feel surrounded to them, know that there are many of us in the same crowd, all feeling equally surrounded. You might say, “Chris, but I wrote a book and no one’s biting,” you must know that there are others around you looking at you with awe and wonder saying, “My god, I wish I could do that—you actually wrote a book? And published it even? You’re so brave.”

What you take as disappointment, other will take with jealousy. You may feel like the lowest end of the food chain, but I assure you that you are not, and there are many feeling the same way.

Take the disappointment—I’m not saying it won’t come. To look at the world as nothing but optimistic doesn’t get you anywhere either, but there’s a balance to be struck. Step outside yourself a moment. Don’t lock others out. If you’re struggling, I guarantee you there’s someone else willing to lend your hand.

Keep your fingers nimble, but keep your eyes open.

The Bitter-Bitter

Of all the things that earth yet whelps

a spirit stands by wonder of the mass

humanity cycles through the grass;

it springs by blazing lights

onto pavement struck by nights

running roughshod over skin and sin

a dancing has-been formed of thought’s chagrin.

Beneath the wan light, a man does dream of neon exits

too dull to see the dancer’s fed him by the bit,

because oblivion is just another state of mind

a symptom of the daily grind.

 

Across the bar, blue eyes murmur: the bitter helps.

Poetic Spotlight: Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight

American poet Nicholas Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931)

American poet Nicholas Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, both here and at the dVerse Poetry Pub, I showcased the tragic case of poet Sara Teasdale, and shared a few words on some of the darker aspects that often walk hand-in-hand with the creative mind. Suicide, depression…these are very real, very painful and confusing aspects of the human experience that man has faced since we first stepped upon the soil. And the real fact of these things is that it is never just one person affected.

When Teasdale died, it was only two years after another poet’s life ended. This poet–this week’s spotlight–was a friend, and a would-be lover of Teasdale in earlier years. Vachel Lindsay, a performance artist once heralded as the “Prairie Troubadour,” was the more famous of the pair in his day–the father of modern “singing” poetry (a style of poetry in which verses are meant to be sung or chanted, and as such connected to the more popular beat and spoken-word styles), and an American staple associated with other, more well-remembered greats such as Yeats and Langston Hughes. Today, however, he has by-and-large slipped into obscurity.

Below, however, follows one of his works: “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight.”

Like Teasdale, he was a victim of his own hand, committing suicide in the grips of a deep depression, in the wake of financial and health-related woes. He left a wife and two children behind when he did.

Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight

IT is portentous, and a thing of state

That here at midnight, in our little town

A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,

Near the old court-house pacing up and down,

Or by his homestead, or in shadowed yards

He lingers where his children used to play,

Or through the market, on the well-worn stones

He stalks until the dawn-stars burn away.

A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black,

A famous high top-hat and plain worn shawl

Make him the quaint great figure that men love,

The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.

He cannot sleep upon his hillside now.

He is among us:—as in times before!

And we who toss and lie awake for long,

Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door.

His head is bowed. He thinks of men and kings.

Yea, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep?

Too many peasants fight, they know not why;

Too many homesteads in black terror weep.

The sins of all the war-lords burn his heart.

He sees the dreadnaughts scouring every main.

He carries on his shawl-wrapped shoulders now

The bitterness, the folly and the pain.

He cannot rest until a spirit-dawn

Shall come;—the shining hope of Europe free:

A league of sober folk, the Workers’ Earth,

Bringing long peace to Cornland, Alp and Sea.

It breaks his heart that things must murder still,

That all his hours of travail here for men

Seem yet in vain. And who will bring white peace

That he may sleep upon his hill again?

~Vachel Lindsay

Once it’s Gone

Nothing’s ever meant to be

Once it’s Gone.

Only when we dream

in white horses and technicolor dreamcoats

does the voice sound like Jesus

as he kisses down our backs–

it’s fire, hope, a cross reaching–

cracking, cracks

When it’s Gone.

We never think of horizons

beyond the storms.