Calvin and Hobbes – January 09, 1987 – via GoComics
Yesterday, I spent 60 dollars on groceries,
took the bus home,
carried both bags with two good arms back to my studio apartment
and cooked myself dinner.
You and I may have different definitions of a good day.
This week, I paid my rent and my credit card bill,
worked 60 hours between my two jobs,
only saw the sun on my cigarette breaks
and slept like a rock.
Flossed in the morning,
locked my door,
and remembered to buy eggs.
My mother is proud of me.
It is not the kind of pride she brags about at the golf course.
She doesn’t combat topics like, ”My daughter got into Yale”
with, ”Oh yeah, my daughter remembered to buy eggs”
But she is proud.
See, she remembers what came before this.
The weeks where I forgot how to use my muscles,
how I would stay as silent as a thick fog for weeks.
She thought each phone call from an unknown number was the notice of my suicide.
These were the bad days.
My life was a gift that I wanted to return.
My head was a house of leaking faucets and burnt-out lightbulbs.
Depression, is a good lover.
So attentive; has this innate way of making everything about you.
And it is easy to forget that your bedroom is not the world,
That the dark shadows your pain casts is not mood-lighting.
It is easier to stay in this abusive relationship than fix the problems it has created.
Today, I slept in until 10,
cleaned every dish I own,
fought with the bank,
took care of paperwork.
You and I might have different definitions of adulthood.
I don’t work for salary, I didn’t graduate from college,
but I don’t speak for others anymore,
and I don’t regret anything I can’t genuinely apologize for.
And my mother is proud of me.
I burned down a house of depression,
I painted over murals of greyscale,
and it was hard to rewrite my life into one I wanted to live
But today, I want to live.
I didn’t salivate over sharp knives,
or envy the boy who tossed himself off the Brooklyn bridge.
I just cleaned my bathroom,
did the laundry,
called my brother.
Told him, “it was a good day.
I’ve not spent much time on the water the last few years. I guess I could blame it on work, but that’s too easy. Perhaps part of it is the conflict I feel between doing something I’ve loved and the consequences of that thing. There’s a part of me that knows that trout are “lower” animals, but I guess the bleeding-heart, tree-hugging liberal in me can’t help but notice the survival instinct these beautiful creatures display when a shadow crosses their water. Maybe it’s just Disney-esque anthropomorphism in action, but I can’t get it out of my head. Perhaps nobody expresses it better than this –
“…For them, it is not a game, and certainly not a dance. On some days I feel it’s hypocritical to profess love for these creatures while endangering and abusing them so wantonly; better to enjoy the thrill of the sport honestly, kill what I catch, and stop fishing when I’ve had a surfeit of killing. On other days I do dearly enjoy holding them in the water, gentling them as they regain breath and balance and command of their muscles, then watching them swim away. The dilemma remains unresolved.
“Yet each man kills the thing he loves,” wrote Oscar Wilde, and I keep wondering how a person of Wilde’s urban and cerebral predilections knew so goddamn much about trout fishing.
“Why do you live in Montana?” people ask. For the trout, I answer. “Oh, you’re one of those fanatical fisherman types?” No, not so much anymore, I say. It’s just a matter of knowing that they’re here.” – David Quammen – “Wild Thoughts from Wild Places”, 1998
To shamelessly borrow from another – “The black dog has been used as a metaphor for depression from classical mythology through medieval folklore to Churchill. It acts as a symbol to externalize moods and thoughts that are difficult to communicate…”
I doubt it would come as a surprise to those closest to me, and perhaps not to those that have spent any time with me, but I battle with depression. It’s been a life-long battle, beginning as early as I can remember.
I’d never heard depression called the black dog until a few years ago, but it seems to me a fitting metaphor for the spectre that’s always been with me. I like “black dog”, because it just is what it is. It has no malice or intent, just what you take from it, or let it be. The black dog is just always there, and he’s part of who I am.
For me, depression is like (what I understand of) being an alcoholic. They say if you’re an alcoholic, you’re always an alcoholic – there is no cure, and you’re always in recovery. There will be bad days, and there will be glorious ones. Cherish the good days, and try to remember what made them good. One day at a time.
The images are from “I Had A Black Dog” (Living With a Black Dog in the US), which is available on Amazon.
Although it’s been a while since I’ve been in the stream, I fancy thinking of myself as a fly fisherman. I’d fished with my family when I was a kid, tossing earthworms into murky water and waiting for the red and white bobber to move. I’d seen fly fishing a little on TV and thought it interesting and somehow exotic. But then again, growing up in a dying midwestern town, a lot of things from away seemed interesting and exotic.
After moving to North Carolina in ’97, we spent a lot of time exploring our new home on the weekends. It was on one of these outings that I watched a fly fisherman making short, delicate casts to tiny fish under the cover of a rhododendron thicket. I was hypnotized, watching him work the water, moving from one pool to the next. This was different than the fly fishing I’d seen on Saturday afternoon TV, with their long, floating casts to big fish on some wide-open western river. It was somehow more personal, more intimate.
Fishing the small wild streams in the southern Appalachian mountains is not about distance and power. It’s about stealth and skill. It’s about hiking an hour back in to a stream you can hop across. Most of the time it’s short flip or roll casts into a pool, but sometimes it opens up a little and you can do some casting like most people associate with fly fishing. The rhythm and grace of a fly line in the air – back and forth, and then settling gently to the water, is simply intoxicating. I don’t know that I’ve ever done anything that’s brought me such a feeling of peace and focus.
“In my family, there was no clear division between religion and fly fishing.” – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It, 1976
If there’s a country music dictionary, you’ll find both these guys’ pictures under “troubled genius”. Townes Van Zandt is a songwriting legend who battled depression and drugs for much of his life. He died on New Years Day 1997 at the age of 52. Blaze Foley faced his own demons, but left us with a song catalog that includes “Clay Pigeons” and “If I Could Only Fly”. He was shot and killed in 1989.
Story has it that a few times, when Townes would lose his place or struggle for the words in his song, Blaze would slip onstage and help his friend find his way again.