He wrote simply and cleanly about the experience of depression. A fishing trip, camping by a river. A compelling look at the psyche achieved through the reportage of objects. The eye engaged. The reader follows. Trout holding on the pebbly bottom in the current by the pilings of a bridge, Nick looking down. A certain starkness to it, loneliness. There could be happier things to be doing, a stroll with your girl, or with your sister, who's on your side. Okay, now what. Keep busy, make camp, check things off one by one. Time moving slowly, a literary innovation. We follow along, even through complete avoidance, mutual with the author, until the end, just a quick peek, the line "fishing in the swamp would be tragic." What does that even mean? In our world we take care of things, going on-line, remembering a password. What concrete landscape could we attach our inner lives to? The mind messes with you, as any reader of words can plainly see, only, or best countered by the wisdom of an old writer, speaking through the context of Hamlet, "nothing is but thinking makes it so." And you do see scale from the heights of a bridge. The size of a fish, magnified by the watery lens, compared to our own sized bodies. The fish sees things its own way, equally.
Depression. Seems like an abstract term. Touchy-feely. Not real. Molly-coddling. Shrug and soldier on. Arms distance. How would you know you're depressed when you have only your own inner experiences to go on. What indicator, what litmus test? You started to read slowly. You're being a drama queen. How do you take the term out of the superstitions, out of the unreal, to let it take it's honest claim? What level of it? Garden variety, harmless, something you're in some control over, through diet and exercise.
Lincoln had it. One of the better books I've read, about his melancholy. You could see where words too, making meaning, would have its attraction for him. "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, this mighty scourge of war might speedily pass away." Half way through life, lost politically, looking for meaning, finding it in something, the half free, half slave house divided against it self thing. A depression would grow in you a certain weary kindness. An equal kindly view, considerate of the struggles of life, aimed evenly at the workmen and washerwomen, leaf blower crewmen and cleaning ladies, bum restaurant drop-outs, tavern people, mail recipients. The crafty cockiness fading to a creaturely understanding, how does it feel to move one's bones.
A walk home from the therapist on an overcast day for Christopher Columbus. Eliot's Preludes in the mind. "Six o'clock, the burnt out ends of smoky days."
Writing about depression is not solipsism, nor self-enchantment, not Narcissism. A great equalizer. Similar to facing mortality. To get out of the woods and to help others becomes something of the same thing.
That year, yes, it left a legacy. The year depression came. When literature gained a more crucial importance for me, a scientific effort over territory I knew, when the instinct of affection toward anything embraced the quality of a sadness to it, the quality of anything being fun being a private matter. When the meaning of things expanded. When the notion of any particular concept, say that of college leading to success, became enshrouded, one having to ask, but what is success anyway, what constitutes it, a cloud of seriousness come drifting in over all things. Art was about exploring the dark true states of the mind, about acknowledging them, about removing the candy coating from daily existence. One needed no special event, no grade school textbook tension, man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. himself, to feel the tension of survival. And it seemed like there wasn't much but a few poets and philosophers attempting at least to make sense, to make shape of the basic subtext to human life, the nakedness, the unhappiness, the wish to sleep, the stress, the varying moods. For if we adults are in fact as children then who amongst us can bring us comfort and guidance? And we are children.
Home acknowledges homelessness, love acknowledges the saddest most unprotected vulnerable mode of emotional lives, everything with a point involves pointlessness, work acknowledges a desire for employment at all other things, on and on.
Is this the voice Melville tried to summon, through Ahab, of 'striking through the mask,' the wound giving purpose? Yet, we probably wouldn't say that Ahab is 'a sweet guy,' no, but Melville is for creating him for us, (an act for which he was not particularly rewarded, the readers of the day, modernized, not wanting to look at such a portrait, whereas in Shakespeare's time it would have been different.)
My own opening depression coincided with my study of literature, with Twain, with Sherwood Anderson, and then that little book of Hemingway from early in his career, In Our Time. And then what was shrugged off to the side in the daily politeness of society and the sort of fraternity world of college, life taken lightly, find the group to which you belong, was exposed as real and true and the essence of life. Mind-blowing, as they say, the darkness of Dostoevsky coming to a golden leafy campus of thinkers and movers and shakers. Works which were not thinking at all, but observational, with a wild raw energy, capable of transporting. It was as if one were suddenly commanded to stop and listen to what the Old Testament took for God, the commands not being so sanguine and pleasant.
Literature was a way of naming all this, such things. Literature was like returning to what whales were actually saying to each other, freed from the forced conversations, from the forced thoughts of the human mind thinking it could be intelligent enough to figure everything out in such terms. Literature was a returning to the things one could not say, an admission, an honesty, therefore a great relief, even as literature is never really tacitly shared, or at least often beyond a like in daily life, outside of the safe preserves. "I like Hemingway," what does that mean anyway?
Perhaps to acknowledge such things awakens us to the need to take care of organic being we walk around in, opening us to the practice of yoga and its spiritual meditative breath and energy flow aspects, thus easing the troubled and troubling quality of mind.
But it will always remain somewhat awkward, uncomfortable perhaps, for some, to admit, to reveal, to explore the nervous anxious side, the 'depressed' side of the emotional life.