Thursday, 17 January 2013


I don't know what I believe in. That's probably a feeling rather than a reasoned appraisal, but perhaps that's even why it calls for being broken down.

Because I do definitely believe in expressing your feelings. If it isn't then it as least feels like the most recent addition to the ideological arsenal, or perhaps promotion, and has yet to have been truly checked out against repercussions in the world of action that for some people seems to pass for all of life.

My precious stability, that I had never taken for granted and had in fact always eyed warily, is more or less completely gone. But this is a stability that has had less to do with emotions (or as deeply and directly), than with ideology.

I don't know if I believe in analytical journaling. I don't know if I believe in blogging to four people. I don't know if I believe in cataloguing events, or the mood and dysfunctional thoughts journals. I don't know if I believe in my idea for a fantasy story. Some of these things raise more antagonism than others, but I'm suspicious towards all also because they are part of a counterintuitive drive to express my emotions.

I've been fighting a struggle. I've been measuring progress, on-and-off, since journaling began until letting it go a little with the spontaneity with Ella. It's still there in the background, and occasionally I've returned to it but I've not really updated it. I don't know if I believe in it either. I'm no longer sure I'm doing a good thing by trying to engage with the world, to integrate myself in it.

I don't know what is a good reaction to anxiety. I used to have a tonne of opinions. I don't remember them and I don't know if I'd still accept them. I don't know how important it is for me to make pretend I'm independent. I don't know how important a social life is, and where the distinction exactly is between that and friendships.

I probably started this in a better vein. I believe in expressing myself. I believe in love. I believe in fairness. I believe in intellectual independence, and in the dangers that lie in letting your ideology be determined by your surroundings. I believe in historical study, as well as in art, and individualism in general, as means to assist in identifying these dangers and avoiding them.

I believe I am sick, but I also believe that this sickness arises out of a socio-political phenomenon it is mistakenly conflated with. I believe that I perfectly healthily feel a variety of things more intensely than is appropriate in polite society. I believe in my right to be this person, because he is me.

I believe in some kind of interconnectedness of all things – some kind of metaphysical reality that justly attracts the devotional emotions of the religious but doesn't necessarily countenance – or isn't necessarily reconcilable with – the moral prescriptions they associate with it. I believe that what I have so far understood of the Tao Te Ching, comes very close to creating a coherent and compelling conception of meaning. Walking in the Tao – embracing simplicity, emptiness, and a pigheaded refusal to defer to more rational, "sophisticated" methods of going about things – inherently brings you closer to the world, and makes you a more harmonic part of it. The theory is that as people in the world become more "one" in this way, the world will come closer and closer to its harmonic ideal, or what the monotheists might call closer to God. I don't know how distinctions between humans and other animals factor into this. I don't know what that implies about death. But I do feel a sense of mission, and am doubtful about death being the end of absolutely everything. Something else is going on in a human life beyond chemical reactions and neurotransmissions.

I don't believe in the Protestant work ethic. I am unequivocally opposed to the notion of wage-slavery, though I realise there are not better ways around at the moment for me to get my livelihood. I don't believe in success. I don't believe in the pursuit of all fields of knowledge as equally important. I believe in the importance of doing people good; I suspect I might be able to contribute something in the form of written messages to the public, whether it be as a historian or as a novelist. I also believe it's okay to just find a job you're comfortable in and to try and do people good in more general ways. I believe in my right to leisure, and to not be overworked (as two separate rights).

I believe my depression. I don't want to deny outright the possibility that psychiatrists have found out useful things about depression, though I'm doubtful, but with me it seems fairly clear that it's an indication I'm going down a road that would lead to an almost certain and probably suicidal midlife crisis. I believe it's telling me my belief system is fucked up. Last time around, I fingered tribalism, traditionalist obedience, and competition (or winnerism, I suppose), as full-fledged members in the axis of evil, there joining adolescence favourites such as conformism and moral relativism. I believe it may be time for another detoxification.

I think it might have something to do with the more elusive ideology of competition – that the elite deserve their place and the downtrodden deserve theirs and that we should strive to join this blessed elite and ensure that this striving is perpetuated. It's pervasive and perversive, turning human relations into a kind of game where the stakes may be high but the attitude towards them frivolous, at least by the winners. All's fair in love, business, war, and politics, especially when what really matters is who wins rather than what is achieved. I am fully prepared to be considered a loser in all these games, but I have never fully considered my attitude toward actually becoming a player.

Losing in things is easy. Allowing rejections to hurt you is hard. Especially when the cause of the rejection is your hurt. Pain is required to demonstrate its reasonableness. Its tolerance in the face of willpower. If your pain is judged to in fact be of manageable levels, you're not a person in pain, you're an idiot. If your pain is judged to stem from unimpressive sources, it's not actually agony you're feeling, it's stupidity. I'm relatively okay with taking hits at my intelligence, because I feel fairly secure in it and the people implying this mainly seem very strangely impolite, but having my pain denied is soul-crushing. I cannot stop myself from giving credence to the idea. If a tree falls and crushes a man in the forest and no one is around to see it, does he still feel pain?

I believe in emotions. I believe emotions are all there is to people. Everything else is tacked on. I believe that every human interaction that does not deal in genuine emotion is a huge missed opportunity to do something that is not profoundly false. Everything else is a diversion; everything else is technicalities. Necessary, perhaps, but not meaningful.

I believe that the sick need care, and I believe that I am sick enough to justify far more intensive care than I am getting, and far greater leeway for recovery. But it's probably a stretch to expect emotional disorders to be treated properly before emotions themselves are.

I believe that belief has turned more into a motif than into the systematic kind of exposition I had in mind, but in retrospect I'm not sure the problem is a collision of values. It's the demands of a drastic lifestyle change. It's the question of how to go about expressing pain. Again I don't know how to wrap this up. That might be a good place to start. An expression of pain that doesn't pretend to fully explain itself.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Mist and Faith

So, thinking analytically about things dispels the mist. Feeling your way through gathers it. Feeling secure in a life shrouded in mist is having faith.

That's the aspect of having faith that always made sense in a religious context. Of course, dishonestly tied to it was the less sensible notion of accepting a very particular dogma, much of it to do with ethics that had little to do with what made intuitive sense.

What does faith in the misty life really entail? What does Daoism "require"? One of the recurring motifs is the need to emulate the Dao of heaven rather than the Dao of men. It's the differenc e between "going with the flow" as conformism and believing in a meaning to life that justifies and defuses inconvenience and discomfort. The postmodern atmosphere we live in makes people uncomfortable with concrete talk about "meaning", but pretty much everybody believe in the transcendence, so to speak, of self-respect, or love, and the sacrifices that are obviously worth making for their sakes. If we venture a little further out, the braver might agree on self-expression too.

All three of these things entail a show of faith that is not necessarily logically sound, or at least one that does not live up to the standards of strict exercise of criticism otherwise expected of educated and intelligent people. It's a question not of intelligence but of courage; not of weeding out lies but of asserting truth.
Faith implies a conviction that it is worth it, one way or another. Without knowing where the chips will fall, without even knowing you're in the right. Frankly, the combination between the critical attitude towards ideology and the uncritical towards emotions, people and myself confuses me, and the confusion is a large part of what frightens me. These attitudes do bleed into each other, though I undoubtedly err on the side of criticism more often. Becoming secular probably didn't help.

It's always depressing to hear of artists joining causes with reactionary forces - like Dali and Fascism, or the Romantics and nationalism. Anybody and religion. I think it might have to do (well, sometimes) with a feeling that, again, this darkness retains more room for expression and emotional vitality than the stale and conformist rationalism of political correctness. I have no idea how to wrap this up. I'm experiencing trouble not making the opposite mistake. Fascists are too scary.

Monday, 7 January 2013

The Dark Recesses

It occurred to me that it is not an obvious choice of words to call these things dark. They're painful, frightening, different, sufficiently new so as to be as yet unknown. They're real - they're violently alive - but they're darkened.

Exploring darkness is exploring the forbidden. The desire to escape light is the desire to escape this repression. It's an attempt to escape and to some extent subvert emotional orthodoxy.

In principle I think things should be done independently of their shading, but it's difficult these days to feel the value of the accepted. It feels like it's corrupted by its association with conventions. I feel like I'm drowning in this fucking light far more than I am engulfed by darkness. The whole focus of the attempt at healing seems distorted. Psychiatric help is meant to bring your emotions back in line with your life, but it would make much more sense to bring your life in line with your emotions. It would make perfect, intuitive sense to everyone if this concept of a "diseased" emotionality did not exist. You can't have wrong emotions. Having wrong emotions is like being the wrong person. You can only have a wrong way of relating to yourself and to the world.

And the world can have a wrong way of relating to you. The darkness is imposed by it, inspired by it. The next step after acknowledging and living in darkness is to turn the lights on. When you look at what you don't understand without preconceptions, you see not darkness but the unfamiliar. I guess I need to rely on people to accept me as such, and it doesn't seem like too much of a safe bet.

Life is scary at the moment because it exposes me, inasmuch as it is lived. Clinical depression is not an ideal time to start being emotionally expressive. These emotions are even more challenging than the usual. I'm not used to being failed, to finding out for certain people are shit. Getting out there without any role-playing feels tantamount to a declaration of war on a frankly unknown mass of people. And the fact is I've never understood how people could feel secure that their lives won't fall to pieces without appropriately calculating their moves. How far is the distance between a social paranoiac and a legitimate pariah? In a world that manages itself so stupidly and arbitrarily, where are you supposed to get genuine self-confidence from?

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Darkness Invisible

A few months ago I picked up Styron's Darkness Visible. It's a short book, but I'm a slow reader, so I was surprised to find myself reading it through in one sleepless night. I was disappointed. It's a succinct, no-nonsense account of an abrupt, extreme, psychotic and suicidal depressive episode experienced by an apparently unsentimental as well as "accomplished" old writer, and as such might serve as a good counter-argument to people doubting the validity of clinical depression in general or their own experience of it as a serious disease. What it conspicuously lacked, in its irritatingly laconic prose, reminding me of how bored I was reading Hemingway, was a vision of darkness.

More recently I tried to read Paradise Lost. I got bored of that pretty quickly. Pretty much as soon as I came across the phrase "darkness visible" and saw that it wasn't likely to play a major part in the poem. I've got Dante's Inferno lying around somewhere, so we'll see how that goes.

In spite of myself I feel a need to apologise for the apparent morbidity of this preoccupation, but I'm going to acknowledge the feeling rather than act on it. I think darkness is a major unacknowledged feature of clinical depression, disappointingly absent from my admittedly non-methodical ventures into its literature. A drive for darkness, I should say, because as well as being an overwhelming and almost unendurable reality, it also becomes a seductive promise and almost an object of yearning in its too complete disappearance or withdrawal. I think much of the widespread rumination about death has to do with this aura rather than (at least rather than exclusively) exasperation with life. I'm convinced that the tendency to stay in bed, to neglect yourself, has to do with some kind of suppressed fantasy of hitting rock bottom and thereby achieving some kind of release from the vapid mundanity of brightly flashing everyday fakery.

I'm vaguely familiar with a Freudian concept of a "death drive" but I really don't think this is it, at least not at its core. I think it's to do with an acknowledgement of an underlying and pervasive feature of reality as well as an appeal to mystery.

In a post that it almost three fucking years old and makes me feel like a dinosaur, I suggested that the appeal of the Greek Gods, to which from this distance I can also add that of the wrathful, fairly ruthless and terrifying Old Testament God, had exactly to do with the apparently paradoxical moral ambiguity, with the sense of danger and dark secrets. If nothing else, it suggests a human need to cultivate this kind of sinister adventurism, to tell creepy German fairy tales to shocked and exhilarated little kids.

In fact, we don't need to go very far to find evidence of this need. We can see it in black humour, in the strange fact that so many people willfully seek out movies that will make them scared or sad, in the fact that so-called more discriminating viewers will derive immense pleasure from such deeply dark and pessimistic TV shows as The Sopranos and The Wire. It helps explain to me why I get so irritated (and sometimes a little depressed) by the loud, aggressive chirpiness of all those anonymously worry-free sitcoms hatefully and eternally emblemised for me by my mortal enemy "Friends" for some reason.

It's alluded to absolutely brilliantly, I think, in Dexter's "Dark Passenger", which must be hidden at all costs if he is to stand a chance of fitting into society. It's echoed in the new Doctor Who's Doctor's shady and tragic (and suppressed) recent past. It's exemplified in Hamlet's bearing, despite all the moralising. The war on personality is also a war on darkness.

Much of this darkness revolves around the amoral. One obvious contrast with my life is that I'm a nice guy. I'm quite okay with being a nice guy, and I intend to keep on at it, and don't particularly want to hurt people, though I probably am a little overly anxious to avoid hurting them. On the other hand, much of morality is a crock of shit. There is no essential difference between the dynamics of the adult citizenry condemning a criminal for wrongdoing and the teenage group condemning a kid for the wrong haircut. I know because I had the educational privilege of growing up around a strangely deeply shallowly religious peer-group where to swear or smoke or dress immodestly was considered uncool.

If I wanted to create a representative image of this phenomenon, it might be of a group of Texans of deep moral conviction, draping their white bodies in white robes and pointed hats, off to lynch a black guy for sexually contaminating a pure member of their community in a love affair. It's all an infantile, obstinately simplistic conflation of colours and images, designed to keep everything as much the same as possible by means of any available sophistry and intimidation. The end result is all-around dehumanisation.

Part of the mysterious seduction of depression is that its darkness does not represent nothingness exactly. It's heavy to carry around, a kind of vacuum - occasionally it reminds me of The Nothing in The Neverending Story - it's a piercing hollowness that screams of the absence of something else, something meaningful that exists but is not at hand - that is at risk of not having any room for itself around and between all the buckets of bullshit that flood your insides.

It's not a question of overcoming depression. It's a question of integrating its lessons. I think depression, in its very sabotage of "functioning", is a cry out to be recognised as a person for your emotions rather than for your productivity; for your capacity for truth rather than your ability to satisfy others. A sad, thoughtful, and meaningful life is better, I am convinced, and ultimately happier, than a cheerful, mindless and insipid cruise towards death. It all hinges on the question of ultimate meaning. I can't say that I know what it is but I do feel it exists. And I feel that the attempt to limit my emotional horizon is robbing me of my opportunity of pursuing it.

It's probably significant that darkness and pain are where creativity comes from. Something happens, in that act of creation, of uncompromising truth. It's worthwhile giving it credit, rather than deciding you're smarter than your emotions and trying to engineer them towards winning some meaningless competition. I don't want to fucking play.