There are days when the existential (or life-event) depression becomes crushing, like a visceral weight in your chest making it difficult to breathe. Every motion feels like its underwater. Your skull seems to be floating outside of your body. Maybe you’re suffering from an illness, a loss, a kind of Kafka-esque nightmarish awareness of your environment. Maybe it’s PTSD, or a night job, or lack of money.
There’s no easy cure or simple fix for depression, but there is food.
Nobody wants to pay you what you’re worth. For anything. Ever.
You don’t get into the business of writing because you wanted a quick way to make some cash. If so, day trading and prostitution would have been much more viable options. But you wanted to write, because it seemed like happiness was the most viable option and money wasn’t necessarily the way to achieve that. But like every other human being currently living in a Capitalist society, you need money to pay your rent and maybe enough to go to the hospital if you need your appendix removed. Anyone can start up a magazine, and even without offering any pay they usually have writers clamoring to submit and have their name in a byline.
When I was 19 years old I told my first boyfriend, “I don’t want to wait for you on a cliffside while you go adventuring.”
I often talk in imagery when, frustratingly, I find myself unable to articulate everything I wanted to say. What I wanted to say was that, I didn’t want to just be someone’s wife or caregiver. I didn’t want to be swallowed by the story of a man. I wanted to be an individual, with my own adventures. I’d read stories of the wives who waited. Or more accurately, I read stories of the men that they waited for. Women tended to disappear inbetween the gaps, when mythology and history were being made, and that was my best way of saying that I didn’t want that to happen to me.
I’m a self-proclaimed misanthrope. I covet solitude for the most part and I can go weeks without really getting the urge to have one-on-one time with another human being. This is partly because I live with a person and I get enough time there, partly because as the years have gone past most of the things that I sought after in other human beings I mostly found in myself, and partly because I have been hurt so many times and so frequently by others that on a base level it’s generally not an enjoyable experience for me. This isn’t something that should engender pity in anyone – it’s just the way it is.
It’s difficult to be human, but we all have very important jobs perpetuating the human race, and making ourselves better to contribute to the betterment of all humankind and ultimately the universe, probably shouldn’t be an easy job. Whether you’re a corporate executive, a coal-miner, or a kid who dropped out of college so he can fish all day and roleplay a werewolf on an IRC channel at night, it doesn’t matter. Your task is still critical – be human.
I used to be anti-meditation. Whenever someone suggested meditation as a method of relaxation, I imagined sitting cross-legged on the floor in some expensive studio, dragon blood incense filling the room and soft chimes blowing as a chirpy voice commanded “Breathe in. Focus on the magic inner being…”. It was another facsimile of peace, something that “spiritual” white people did to make them feel better about themselves. It was right up there with laughable suggestions that warm baths, sunlight, and chocolate would cure me of a lifelong depression wrought from trauma. (Those things do help, but not in the way that most people simplify it. I might write a post about that later.)
The first time I meditated – really meditated – with posture straight, mind fully focused on the breath and the countdown, I realized the purpose wasn’t to relax at all.
I haven’t written anything in nearly two weeks. I needed to take a break, but sometimes even when I feel like I don’t have the energy to write the engines keep burning. It makes it difficult to accomplish the goal of relaxation when you’re ready to spring at any time. I could sit down with a beer and a pizza and watch “Rich Kids of Instagram” on youtube to try to relax, but my shoulders would feel the tension of work unfinished and when I pressed my thighs together I’d feel the roughness of a match ready to ignite. Then I’d dream of upheaval, the hours would go by as I “relaxed” and then I’d haul my body as it smoked to my computer, to feel I was even more tired than I was before.
For one of my essays I wrote for my UT admissions (I did get accepted, by the way, but California called to me instead) I wrote about how important it was to have playtime, not just in a philosophical sense, or that it’s “nice to take care of yourself”, but because of mental processes that are taking place when the brain is disengaged from its task. Something called the default mode network, which is only active when you’re not focused, solidifies memory and enhances creativity. It’s not noble to work yourself to death, it’s inherently foolish. Think of the brain as bicameral, bifurcated. It needs dreams and waking, night and day, elation and sadness, stress and relaxation.
It’s easy to forget, that every process is purposeful.
Even the ones we don’t want.
Sometimes I wake and cling to a cup of coffee because I feel like if I don’t have something to hold onto, I’ll be thrown off the Earth.
Some days there is no center to me.
I drink gin and brush my hair and I try to force the Californian sunlight to make me into something better than myself.
Donald Rumsfeld, former secretary of state, coined the phrase “Unknown unknowns.” There are known unknowns, things we don’t know, and unknown unknowns, things we don’t even know that we don’t know.
I know that I could improve upon my Spanish, I know that I write too much about crazy mothers and small-town prophets, I know that I panic and freeze in moments of crisis, I can snap at people I love when I feel irritable, I don’t take enough time to appreciate consciousness.
I can work on these things, because I know that they’re there.
But I also know there’s a dark side I can’t yet comprehend just behind me, something mysterious, a void glinting in the shape of my shadow.
And that -thing- whatever it is, might be crucial to the years coming forward.
Except, I don’t know what it is.
That’s where the default mode network becomes crucial. It fills in blank gaps, makes connections that you cannot while you’re stuck staring intensely at a problem.
I know that once I started actually searching for the answers then I found them – epiphany upon epiphany unearthed themselves, like a shower of rainbows that came bursting from my dirty clawing fingernails. Even when I’m not working, the subconsciousness is set upon the answers. There are things I know now that a year ago would have been incomprehensible to me, that if someone had explained them to me I wouldn’t have understood, not until I felt their shape.
I think one of the most difficult things to write about is a character experiencing epiphany. Knowing something you didn’t know before, because all the pieces that you’ve acquired throughout the time before have suddenly converged into a full understanding. Written poorly, it can seem like magic, like the writer trying to force a plot point forward, shoving the character through a hole in the pages. That’s because epiphany isn’t really a conscious process. It’s something underwater and deep, but still, crucial to our understanding.
But oftentimes, it’s really the only way to learn – great effort yielding nothing but dirt and more dirt, and then suddenly-
Jewels and blood, showering you with resplendence, gnosis.
I want to learn how to write about that moment. I think it’s one of the most beautiful human experiences.
And I want more of it for myself.
To turn the unknown unknowns at least into known unknowns. That’s all I’m asking for now.
Tomorrow I go back to write, back to the page with all its mysterious terrors, turning over stones. The perpetual questing machine. Maybe it will yield nothing – but searching always has a way of turning up more answers than inertia – doesn’t it?i
Those fantasies of happiness used to always be so far away, in a future that I knew I’d never get to.
They were reclusive fantasies, hermit-like, in bubbles of isolation that had the gray edges of a dreary afternoon. I’d live in Oklahoma or Iceland, writing and raising sheep, eating alone in diners to the whispers of strangers who’d be frightened of my wild hair and my dream-shot eyes and the way I never quite answered questions how they wanted me to. There was no real romance, no money or prestige, or feelings of satisfaction. Just me, a computer, maybe someone I loved, coffee and a moon.
See, even in my fantasies I wasn’t really happy. I just imagined I’d gotten to the point where my heart could slow down to a familiar rhythm, and I wasn’t spending most nights scratching at my inner thighs and waking up with a gasp from a nightmare in which I couldn’t breathe.
We took our dogs out today. And Robert said “Baby, what are we?” as we were in the car, as Pris pushed herself up onto the arm-rests as if she was trying to press her nose against the windshield.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“We’re going to the beach with our dogs on the weekend,” he said, as if he can’t quite believe it.
Maybe I’m imagining that there’s a new kind of vibration in the car with us. A tentative hesitancy, that we’re right on the cusp of a transition. That maybe we just get to be happy, that we can live instead of surviving, trying to tie together blood vessels with our teeth just to gain another second. I know that I’m not the only one who feels it.
Three years ago, I never imagined I’d be taking dogs to the beach, or that my heart possessed enough space to love so much. Or that I’d wake up like I was on a precipice with my body pounding, a new lightness that I’m unsure of, like little pieces are finally flaking off of the hard dense ball that I’ve carried inside my chest my entire life.
I think, I’ve never wanted anything more.
I think, in a few years maybe that density will no longer define who I am.
It’s a new kind of terror.
Nobody writes horror books about opening up your heart after 9000 days of living like a crustacean, keeping your softness and your blue blood inside untouched.
About learning to love again after all those days spent wondering how you could reduce your feeling and your empathy because -fuck- you felt so much and it hurt so much and god, how does anyone just exist without pressing their throat into glass and their hands to their faces and turning away inside, inside, hide, don’t look or touch because if anything comes inside it’ll destroy whatever floating fragments of you that are left.
About finally looking up from the floor you’re crouching on and seeing the patterns in the ceiling and on the woodgrain and realizing how much time you’ve spent refusing to look, and just how much there is to see that you were missing. That you exist in a world that is more than gray edges, bad dreams, Bukowski fiction, and whiskey burn. Infinitely more.
There is no horror fiction about crying while building a bookshelf from Ikea, finally realizing you can look at the pieces in your hands, that you’re not turning away from your own knowledge, and when your boyfriend asks you what’s wrong you say, “This is the happiest day of my life.”
When he laughs and says, “It’s going to get so much better, in ways you can’t even imagine.”
Not believing him, but then a day passes, and another, and then it’s been a whole year and you realize he’s right, that happiness has a depth you are only beginning to explore.
Sometimes I actually look people in the eyes now and I want to reel back because of how much information is contained there. Entire full humans, like me. Two consciousnesses intersecting, acknowledging each other. They had been there the whole time, and I’d never even realized.
The waves of the Pacific Ocean go further than my comprehension.
I cry, because of how scared I am in this unfamiliar world. Robert catches me doing it all the time, realizing that I’m happy, that look of fear like I’ve woken up from sleepwalking, into a room I don’t recognize. He sees the whole transition.
“It’s okay,” he says, and he doesn’t have to explain. “You get to have this.”
He’s on the edge of the water, looking out, and so are the dogs, playing right up to the edge of the rocks. It’s cool from ocean spray and all my sense are humming. Happiness is not Iceland in forty years, in interminable space. It’s happening in real time, here, and so I must teach myself to keep being
That’s my family, I think, and if a thought could touch you that one would be an embrace that burns.
The act of writing day to day is such an isolating experience. I rarely leave my little den except to take my puppies to the park, or maybe go to the grocery store to pick up more chicken jerky and k-cups. Mostly I enjoy my quiet. It gives me the focus to take the everyday deep-dives into the snarled web of my consciousness, and occasionally bring back something useful. But it can also be derealizing – you can lose touch with reality, with the idea that what you’re doing has any use or value. Live too long in a dream, and the dream begins to warp you.
The moments when you can actually see the effect that your writing has on the outside world are rare. Going into a reading and meeting with other writers often seems to give me shellshock. Everything is actualized and real. You get to see the writers themselves, projecting forth the creations they made inside their isolated neurological soup. This past Friday I was asked to participate in Laura Lee Bahr’s “Bahr Crawl,” in which she travels across the country taking part in readings with other bizarro authors.
I read an except from my short story, Skin Suits, which will be out this year in A Breath from The Sky from Martian Migraine Press. You can see my transformation – from the protagonist in black, to the suit of “Sara” in the blue fur. I hadn’t really practiced my transition – so I think there were a few seconds where everyone thought I was stripping in the middle of my reading. Gabino Iglesias said he thought I’d finally snapped.
Laura read from her short story collection Angel Meat, out from Fungasm Press this year. Everytime I step into a room with Laura, she seems to make the air brighter. She’s radiant and vulnerable and open. I think the cover of her new collection manages to accurately capture her likeness
I crawled out of my cavern the other day to talk to J David Osborne on his podcast, The JDO Show. We talk about working on videogames, different game narratives, horror movies, my time with a group of vindictive witches, near-death experiences, gnosticism, Philip K. Dick, augmented reality, and why life isn’t as bad as we seem to think it is.