Disclaimer: This unedited, rough draft material is a year-long project in response to our 2004 theme: pilgrimage. It is meant to be a dialogue between myself and my fellow Mammoths and any of you who happen along. It is intentionally not polished, nor is it finished. Charlie Buchman Ellis
ďI sense youíre slipping into melancholy.Ē Kate slipped me a piece of paper this morning with this sentence on it, written in my hand.
A year or so ago, as I left analysis yet again, I asked John Desteian what I might do when I wasnít seeing him. How could I stay as aware as possible?
The problem, for me anyhow, is the gradual slide toward the Dark Sun. It begins like the frog in boiling water, only this time the water grows cooler, cooler, cooler. Cold. By the time I become aware of the chill itís already close to ice-up.
ďDecide on a sentence or phrase Kate can say if she senses you becoming sad, headed toward melancholia. Give it to her and ask her to use when she feels it necessary.Ē
And so, a good boy when it comes to assignments, I went home, wrote out my sentence and handed it to Kate. Now, almost a year later, it has come back to me.
I had no idea. It struck me hard, out of dark field.
As part of my opthamology visits, I get a visual field test once a year. Iíve mentioned it here, Iím sure. You sit on a stool, clicker in hand, patch over one eye like an aging pirate, and press the button when lights appear at various points in your field of vision. This tests for vision loss otherwise compensated for by your optic nerve and not obvious to you until itís too late to remedy. Put together too many such patches and you end up seeing through a very small part of your possible visual field.
Seems like a psyche dark field test would be a good thing to have. Sit down, press a buzzer, look for blind spots. Get a remedy.
In a sense Kate has performed as my visual field test for melancholy. Sheís right. I knew it the minute she handed me the piece of paper, the weight of the room sank in toward my center, I felt myself move away, far away. My chest grew still, and I turned to inner sight. There, in my inner sanctuary I saw me, sitting slope shouldered, head in hands. Not crying, not in despair. Just...blue. Dark blue. Melancholic. Sort of the thinker not thinking.
Dare I also tell you I felt a brief moment of joy, too? Hello, darkness, my old friend, Iíve come to be with you again... I was, and am, glad to feel this way. Partly because it means the Zoloft has given me a decent level for a good long stretch, but also, because it has not interfered with my primary psychic processes, and this melancholy is a part of me. It helps me grind down through the gears, brake the truck for steep curves and declines ahead. If I go with it, I donít have to use an emergency exit, but I can ride this engine of psychic change all the way down and steer it up the next mountain. Weíll see. More later.
Later. This Great Dismal Swamp exists in me to collate ragged edges, consolidate thinking, and gather energy for the next creative venture. So, in the sense that it presages a creative time ahead, Iím glad to see it come.
Still, it functions in part by drawing me inward, turning my face away from the world and into my own interior. It also heightens my defenses, especially critical intelligence, while it dampens my energy. The effect of this last is to make me edgy, picky, ornery while I lose the necessary psychic energy to calm those sensibilities (they exist all the time.) and use them wisely.
My sisterís imminent arrival may be the trigger for this slide (slide, hmm. Not quite right, too slippery and on the butt.) no, not slide, this peregrenatio into melancholy. She presents a true puzzle for me: family, but not family I know well. Iím her elder by 5 years and our paths never crossed in school, nor, really, that much at home. She became a mini-mom and I became an anti-Dad so the years after Momís death pushed further apart rather than brought us closer together.
I see her a lot in this phase of life, a rapprochement occasioned as much by Northwest Airlineís convenient status as both the primary US airline to Asia and a hometown team. This makes getting to Minnesota from Singapore easy.
We have in common a love of the academic life, yet sheís into applied linguistics while I still roam the halls of theory and philosophy.
These things are not easy to trace down to their roots, if indeed they have discernible roots, but Iíve never cared for Mary much. I really canít say why. Just donít.
Now, in the normal course of things. No big deal. We simply wouldnít cross paths much, if at all. But, as the irony often goes, weíre family.
I am the eldest brother in a family where both parents are dead. Where I come from culturally, that makes me at least nominally responsible for both Mark and Mary, a responsibility that ends...well, never. I accept it as anyone accepts a cultural dictum, not because it makes emotional sense, but because it makes lineal and familial sense.
Like anyone stuck between a relative held in lukewarm esteem and the brute fact of family responsibility, I have conflict. Unresolved, and, frankly, I suspect, unresolvable conflict.
I cannot, through therapy or otherwise, grow to like someone I donít like. I can still love her and accept my responsibility to her. And I do. Ergo. Inner conflict.
The melancholy, however, if Maryís visit has triggered it (Iím not sure thatís true, either.) is not Maryís, but mine. Mary is Mary. Just who she is. I am the one who must paddle a pirogue through the great white cedars of my soul.
The Gothic part of me is happy back here in the land of mist and Spanish moss and tombstones on high ground in the Great Dismal Swamp. The rest of me is along for the ride.
Maryís here. I brought her in the from the airport, all the while my body sank into the truck, a sort of malaise in which my flesh grows heavier, massier, and takes me down, pulling with it my emotional center, taking it down, so I ride below my emotional center of gravity, a sort of low rider effect. I look up at the world from down here, so solid and firm, compact, yet smaller than I was. Not less. Perhaps even more. Massier after all.
I find my attention drifts away from driving, not good, certain thoughts begin to reverberate, clang around, in and out, no keeping to themselves as good little thoughts should. What thoughts? I canít recall now. But they were persistent.
I donít want to talk, to interact, but Mary has flown 12,000 or so miles to sit in this truck with me, so, hey. It is the polite thing to do.
This journey is so physical; the sadness, the weight, the grief inhabit my every pore, give the additional mass that pulls me toward the earth, away from the light.
So, the persona engages. Keeps the conversation going. Oh, really? Gum in the pharmacy now? Yes, the dogs are fine. This is my sister, some part of me keeps saying. Your sister, for godís sake. Embrace her. Sheís one of the few who has long history with you; the only one other than Mark who shares genes with you.
We talk. I drift in and out of the conversation, speaking from down low, then shifting, either the mass becomes lighter for a moment and I bob to the surface, or I can be two things at once, melancholy and engaged in the moment. What God speaks through me now? Whoís taking me down? Is it Proserpine? Inanna? Hades?
And who is my guide? I suppose Iíd best lay an offering at the foot of Hermes, the psychopomp. I need a guide now, someone I can trust to help me on the trail. In some ways this is the pilgrimage, the big one. This oscillation from outer life to inner depths has an exact simulacrum in the oscillation from life to death.
Melancholia and its darker cousin clinical depression have more than a nodding acquaintance with death. Suicide, of course. But terminal illness often includes a struggle with depression. The depressed state, as it drains energy away, turns all thoughts inward, makes the world heavier, draws us toward the earth. And the earth, as William Cullen Bryant pointed out in his poem Thanatopsis, is nothing if not a mass grave.
Right now, I donít feel as burdened, and Iím not sure why. Maryís here now. My suspicion is that this melancholy had a good head of steam up before Mary came, and I hadnít noticed it. It could be the whole mother complex, family complex, father complex, the good son complex. Geez, I guess it could be any of those. It might also, it occurs to me, just be the way my inner solar system achieves balance, and the melancholy planet has moved again between my Self and the sun.
I suppose you could see this as working on Ericksonís 8th Stage, grappling with the tension between despair and self-acceptance. Could be.
Or, it may be my Self readjusting my psychic life to meet new challenges or to prepare for new opportunities.
Or, Hillmanís perspective: some God has awakened and chosen now to assert their claim on resources. If so, I need to name the God and find out what they want.
Nothing achieves 100% penetration, at least not at this stage. The melancholy cannot invade my feelings for Joseph, returned yesterday from Chicago with his new lady friend, Bridgit, who has accepted a 1st grade teaching job in Lincoln Park, a great neighborhood. He works at the St. Paul Gym, reads physics texts to get ahead, runs, lifts weights...a far cry from January (I hope and pray.).
Still, after I dropped him off after lunch with Mary, I felt the gray eminence rise up. I took Mary over to an appointment with her financial advisor at 28th and Chicago, then zipped up Chicago to Washington, hunting for the new home of Big Brain Comics. I found it, next to the building where the Loft, Milkweed Press, and several literati related organizations now live. They have an excellent coffee bar and the atmosphere is easy, welcoming.
Now Big Brain is a literary establishment, too, but one Iíd ignored until two or three months ago. I decided to see what so many kids (not Joseph, but young adults like him) find attractive about the graphic novel.
Now I know. Theyíre fun, grown up, smart, hip, and interesting to both read and see. Big Brain hasnít moved yet, but they will be there soon, just east of the Open Book.
Then I floated over to the art supply store on Lyndale where I found a mechanical pencil, a pen, and pencil sharpener.
Across the street from the art supply store is the Eye of Horus, a magikal shop which seems to focus on Gay magicks. It was closed today. Next to it is the center for indoor gardening, where, at least putatively, they are all about growing ferns and lettuce and orchids, while many of their products contain not so veiled references to the indoor gardenerís crop of choice: Mary Jane.
I love the confluence of energy: art, magik, indoor gardens. Cities seem to breed convergence, a source of synergy, new dynamics.
Onto 28th for a dash back east toward the financial advisor, but first, Uncle Hugos and Uncle Edgars. In my mind, a great way to use timeósupplies for the road.
Next evening now and Iím in the clear, heavy place still. Direct results of Kateís intervention are:
1. Raised awareness of my feelings.
2. Take better care of myself
3. Made an appointment with Desteian
When Iím in this twilight place, I cry more easily, find myself moved by art and news stories and puppies. My energy flows more turgidly; itís not gone, just different. I can sense apathy reaching up with all its hands to stop my forward motion, make me sit, just sit.
Saw John. Felt reassured just seeing him again, realized Mary was not the trigger, most likely, except in a tangential way. Like most of us, I would like to have a family, a normal nuclear family from which I could draw support and to which I could give it. Didnít happen. Mom died; Dad and I fell out; Mary and Mark moved to Southeast Asia. Oh, well...
Still, Jon, Joseph, Kate and I have a wonderful nuclear family, mutually supportive and warm. Also, I have always had a supportive and caring extended family, first cousins in particular. Still, deep in the recesses of my heart I must yearn for Mom and Dad standing beside the bungalow, arms spread wide to welcome son and wife and children back for a visit.
I know this canít happen; still, it would have been something to have a safety net during my young adult years. This is part of the melancholy I think, but only part, and not, I suspect, most.
My energy is still low; I feel sick again, like I did last week, only this week I donít believe I have a virus; this week itís some emotional bug, dormant for a while, but now, like those verdammit rose chafers, coming up to feed on my self-esteem.
My lilium are wonderful. I went out to the arboretum last fall to the Midwest Lily Fancier show and bought lilies bred by folks around the region. Theyíre blooming right now and they excite me. Bright pinks, hot yellows, freckled reds, a delicate white bowed toward the earth, and one, unopened yet, soaring five feet or so into the air. Three years ago we put in raised beds with Jonís help; two years ago, I filled them with a mixture of compost and sphangum moss; last year, I did soil tests and amended them according to the Uís recommendations.
Now we have a lily bed, a squash and bell pepper bed, an herb bed, a shade bed with impatiens, dicentra, and cicumfuga, a peony bed with hemerocallis and daffodils, and a blueberry bed with marigolds and snakeroot. The remaining bed will get transformed sometime in the next couple of weeks into an iris bed. Iím going to take another stab at creating a happy home for iris. I can growíem, get beautiful flowers, but I have a hell of a time with soft rot.
The gardening is soothing.
Kate thinks I may be suffering from fatigue. I suppose itís possible. Iíve been up and down to Itasca, digging and planting in the garden, making preparations for Kateís party, getting ready for Mary and now chauffeuring her around the city. Josephís had a big summer with Brigit, his lady love, moving to Chicago to work in Lincoln Park. Iíve also kept up my aerobic and resistance schedule, which should help, but who knows?
Anyhow, John Desteian and I will have another go at it next week, this time analyzing a dream. I had a doozy of a nightmare last night. Geez.
This is all for this week. A couple of weeks of, what? Fatigue, melancholy, illness...blah. See you on the ancient trail.