The past few days has sent me tumbling down yet another rabbit-hole of existential despair, which is a kind of suffering more pointless than digging up dirt and patting it down again and digging up dirt and patting it down again and again and again in the same spot– and each time, it gets harder and harder to clamber out.
Sometimes, I get stuck just before I reach the opening, the sky a blue lid above my head, which is both frightening and highly irritating. Sometimes, I stay down there, in the dark, with the madness scurrying around me like a nest of ants, for what seems like forever, chewing on dirt and worms as I think.
I do not wish for a great hand to descend from the skies, parting clouds, and hand me a message, typed up neatly on a sheet of paper, telling me what everything is all about. That is not the answer I am looking for: it is altogether too easy, too ludicrous, too human a way of dealing with things. What I want is to grab something, hold it very tightly, close to my heart, like a talisman, something that can wash away all needless thinking and needless pining and fill me with a sensation from head to toe that is like the way a dandelion feels, blowing in the wind. I do not think dandelions think. There we go, after all my philosophizing, I have come upon a solution: I wish to be a dandelion. But perhaps, if I am the universe, or at least a part of it, the way a leaf is a part of a tree, then I am the dandelion already, which only leaves me more befuddled than before.
But, all trivialities aside, these depressive episodes do bother me a great deal. They make me miserable, because reality becomes like water, and my mind like a hand, trying to grasp it, and never succeeding. All that would be bearable – I have born it, a hundred times, before, and that is how you know you will overcome something – if this recent bout did not call into question something which has been a rock and an anchor and an almost-talisman in my life: namely, fiction. Or storytelling, whether in the form of books or movies or artwork: the human creativity that once allowed us to sketch hunting battles on roughened cave walls writ large.
Once upon a time, which is to say, a week or two ago, the power of creativity and imagination, like fishing lines hooked into a great beast of Divinity, tugging me along happy as could be, kept the despair at bay. Art seemed to come from somewhere beyond ourselves; images so often flash upon my inner mind’s eye, without my knowing where they come from, that I was sure they stemmed from a Divine source. The process of creation can also be rather mysterious, like when it sometimes feel like something other than you is making the words appear on the page. Some writers speak of the books they are writing as already existing, out there in ether, with them simply being the medium which the work is expressing itself through, a conduit. But that sense of transcendence has come to an end. For imagination, creativity, the pinnacles of literary and artistic creation, are truly no more than a grand offshoot of the human creature’s ability to form connections between disparate ideas – and beautiful and delightful and wondrous as they are, it is only beautiful and delightful and wondrous to ourselves, and there is no true magic in it. Books were magical for me as a child; as an adult, I read or watch a film, and find I cannot get lost in it.
Art is the conversion of the million facets of human existence, by shaping and twisting them around, by mashing bits and pieces together, cutting off and re-attaching others, into something new. A house is just a house, yes, but, because we like to think, and we are creative creatures, we wonder what would happen if the house had wings or legs, or was alive and could look at us, or what kind of strange family might inhabit it. Or we move the house several fathoms below the ocean, or several miles into the sky to plonk it onto a cloud. It is wish fulfilment: we look at the world around us, and wish for something more exciting and interesting than the reality which exists before our very eyes at this very moment: and thus movies and books and paintings are born.
And fun though that might be, it is not magical, nor divine, nor anything particularly transcendent; it does not beat back existential despair with a stick, and only further entrenches it. All fantasy is these days is something that hearkens back to folklore. Ancient people, before science and instruments and men and women who liked to measure and analyse, believed thunder were the gods expressing their anger, or that the world rested squarely on a turtle the size of a milky way’s back. They were stories people believed – but all that existed was the belief. Maybe, even now, science does not truly and objectively look at the universe, and has for the past century or so been merely creating a new kind of folklore that our human minds can understand.
Which makes life, as a writer, very difficult. To write, you must, at the very least, believe your own stories to be worthy and meaningful – but with this recent revelation, I am beginning to doubt that. When you realise you know nothing about anything, you begin to wonder if anything is worth doing. So for the past week or so, not only have I been not posting on this blog, and not writing anything, I have also been spending hours looking out the window, trying to convince myself not to kill myself. It has not been fun. I do hope you have been spending your time more nicely and wisely than I.
In a past post, I wrote of accepting that I will never understand anything, and I still stand by this technique for overcoming existential depression. But sometimes, your brain will find it hard to accept acceptance. Like a child pointing at the sky, it wants answers. And the longer times passes without any answers falling out of the mouth of an unfortunate nearby adult, the more despondent and confused and irritable the child grows. Unfortunately, unlike myself, and probably you, children are much better at distraction and living in the present.
I have no doubt I shall eventually return to writing again; fantasy is in my blood, regardless of how hollow it starts to seem. Recently, to help myself climb out of his hole, I have been reminding myself very hard of the joy I experienced reading books as a child, and the promise I made to myself, a little girl tucked in a library corner, that one day I would write and publish books that would one day make a child smile, and laugh, as all the authors of every book I have read have done for me.
I still stand by that. I will not self-destruct if I have something to live for, a hard core at my centre. I would keep on creating stories, even if everyone I loved died and the world crumbled to pieces, or I was jailed, tortured, ostracized. I would use my own blood to write them down, if for some reason I had no pencils or paper, or simply tuck them away inside my head; if all the books and world were burnt down to cinders and I the only creature left on the planet, I would still tell myself a story, in the emptiness, speaking out loud, until my breath perished. And then perhaps I would sing to myself; songs are just stories in a more nebulous form.
Because stories, even if they are nothing, even if they are meaningless, even if they only exist in my head and only matter to myself and other humans, are all that I have, and without them, I would be something emptier than nothing.