A Writer’s Calling

A Writer’s Calling

You should not expect a return on your love.

The idea that you deserve anything in life leads to disappointment.

How many times must we suffer disappointment before we make peace with the idea that it’s a sorry part of life? It’s our lot. We expect so much from others and fine things from ourselves that never materialize. Briefly we visit our higher selves in art, but when the last page is turned, we are alone with ourselves. Over a cup of coffee, we drink the melancholia of life back in. For me it hits every day promptly at three in the afternoon.

“Unlike depression, melancholy does not have a specific cause. It is an aspect of temperament, perhaps genetically based. One may emerge from the hypo, as Lincoln did, but melancholy is an indelible part of one’s nature.”

Doris Kearns Goodwin

By five I am myself again, but by now I know that the cloud will be my visitor, more reliable than anything else I keep friendship with. And I do keep this melancholy spirit as a close friend and advisor. For all of the fleeting happiness I experience it is the joyless moments of deep repose that nudge me toward my writing, chasing the tail of that cure for the longing that is always just out of reach. Beyond the beyonds as a friend used to say.

“One colour. One word. So many shades. The color of African skin, of shadow on snow, of a jay’s throat, the color of saxophones at dusk, of orbiting police lights smeared across tenement windows, of a flame’s intestines, of the faint tracery of veins visible beneath the ghost-flesh of her forearm’s underside, of loneliness, of melancholy. The blues.”

Alan Moore

I once hoped that fixing other people and stacks of self-help books would do the trick, but even those moments of purpose and inspiration were shadows of the real thing, the real purpose. They never got me any closer to satisfying the longing. Is this because beneath the “improvements” and heroics lurked the monster of self-importance?

Beauty, truth and goodness, the longings are for these three things.

These three things are the sirens calling me to the page to explore their features in the mild, blue eyes of an ancestor I know I’ve met on a different plain of existence. Again, just out of reach. The mystics say the dead are all very near us, the people who once shared our same longings, when we are open to them.

How do we square bravery in battle with the carnage of death? A child’s intensity of love for a mother who tied her in electrical tape to a chair and gagged her? Creation is so beautiful. A fox scampers through my garden, its stunning red coat flashing in the sun, to tear one of my chickens to shreds.

How can I love a chicken and a fox? An abusive mother and her shattered child? In writing I somehow can. Maybe because as an artist you are also imitating God. Trees sway silver and birds flit just outside my window and in public parks where sad runaways do lewd things with men held in high regard.

In art, in nature, in humanity there are moments of hope, generosity and goodness, flashes of brilliance and an invitation to explore the longing for something we feel we’ve been promised at the birth of our existence. It’s just out of reach, but as writers and artists and people with perception we believe in what is not yet seen, see in fogged up mirrors a part of some great whole and serve up in moments of recognition and compassion a taste of the food that will one day quench our longings.

8 responses to “A Writer’s Calling”

  1. As ever I am reinvigorated by the humanity of your eloquence. I used Keats (an important philosopher and accidental pyschotherapist?) in a blog series long ago, ostensibly about the link between poetry and painting, but you make the distinction between melancholy and depression much sharper. Feeling melancholy – our awareness to the natural shocks of heartbreak and grief – is part of our human estate; we’d be less than human not to feel the feel of not to feel it; depression is an illness unbearable without compassionate, well-informed intervention.

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    • You are so right about depression! When you are in the thick of it, it feels impossible that you were ever out of it or could ever be again. Anxiety is a kissing cousin. There is so much pain in those states of being. Sometimes professionals help and sometimes a higher power. I think poets and artists help too. I love hearing from you, Pippa!

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    • Yes. 🙂 This is kind of weird, but I had a dream and you were in it last night. I don’t remember what it was about but as I was walking the dogs this morning it popped into my head. Hope you are doing well!

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      • Perhaps it was because we were discussing what happens “next.” Just buried my mom on Friday — reunited with my dad on what would have been his 100th birthday. So now they are seeing God fact to face.

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      • Oh, I’m sorry for your loss! What a weird “coincidence” about the birthday! There is so much more to this universe than we know. Losing our parents is so heartbreaking though. Even if we know they had a good life and all of that. 😦

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  2. Yes — sad — but also something that connects us all — understanding the sorrow. As for “much more” — reminds me of the line from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” — “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

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    • My husband’s husband just died at the end of last week. Earlier in the week my husband had a dream that he was calling a help desk and his brother picked up the phone. My husband asked why he was working at the help desk.
      “Because I no longer have a job, so I’ve been sent to help you.” Weird, right?

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