Monday, March 21, 2011

IndieInk Writing Challenge: "Shout"

It is IndieInk Writing Challenge time again, that time of week where people you don't know ask you things you don't understand in hopes that you will produce something you couldn't have done on your own. Feel free to join the party!

My challenge was issued by the aptly named Sunshine, who writes here and asks "What is one thing you definitely could live without for the rest of your life? (Something you hate, you're tired of, and would be happy if you never had to deal with again.)" My challenge went out to LiLu, who will answer it here.

"Shout, shout, let it all out-
These are the things I can do without-"

Tears for Fears, "Shout"

What can I do without? Lord, where to start? Like most people, I have a laundry list of people, institutions, groups, concepts, practices, theories, and laws I would readily condemn to the ash heap of history, had I dominion over time and space. (A short summary: Sarah Palin, vegetables, unnecessary stop signs, hair loss, the New York Yankees.) That's an easy, jokey way to answer a challenge, and, while I've never been one to turn from the easy way out, that doesn't seem right somehow.

I have tended to lean fictional in these Challenges so far, and while I am pretty sure I could make that work, that just doesn't feel right either. The answer sprung to mind as soon as I read the challenge, and though it makes me distinctly uncomfortable, the thing I really should be writing at is nagging at me. So therefore, to quiet that voice, I will write the piece my brain is telling me to write, despite my misgivings. This might be the most personal piece you've ever seen here, so strap in.

I write. Like a lot of writers, I am melancholic. Negative, pessimistic, glass half empty. Cynical, world weary, beaten down. I have believed for a long time my late father had untreated depression, and indeed, one could argue I'm actually depressed, too. I'm not going to say you're entirely wrong. I am currently not being treated for depression.

I have felt more or less the way I do now for almost 30 years, dating almost exactly to the death of a friend in high school. While certainly in part genetic, I feel pretty strongly that was the precipitating factor in my temperament becoming what it is today. I hesitate very much to admit this, but a small part of my being this way is both habit- I've always been this way, and I don't know any other way to be- and choice- being this way gives me advantages that I don't want to give up.

That- instinctive, instant cynicism, melancholy, and depressive tendencies- is what I think I could live without. To accept things at face value, just punching a clock, working hard, and enjoying my weekends, to be able to just watch a stupid sitcom and not think, think, think about Japan and my health and my son's future and my bills and relationships I'm ignoring and where my life is headed and what it all means and what it's like to be dead and what's that ache I just felt?

What is it like to be like this? If you're not this way, I think describing it is kind of like trying to explain what labor feels like to someone without a uterus. It's a cautious life- you feel your way along like someone testing for land mines with their toe. In my wife's memorable phrase, you assume the worst- you're seldom disappointed, and when you are, it's a pleasant surprise. You assume plans are going to fail, your efforts will go unrewarded, your mail will not be delivered.

It hurts. It feels like everything and everyone is arrayed against you. You see your existence as a cosmic joke. You see the size and weight of existence, and your own puny weight leaning again Shakespeare, Darwin, and even Katy Perry, and you feel foolish for even trying. And you select information- your friends and family and coworkers can tell you that you are valued until they are blue in the face, and you don't believe it. You rule out the good news, and you see those who love you as victims of the shell game. You've managed to seem competent and funny and lovable to them, and you know you're really not.
A bride is a future divorcee, a baby is just going to grow up and leave you alone. Nature is out to kill you. There is a scene in the Simpsons when Bart goes to leave the building he's in, and as soon as the door opens, a sunny, warm day turns instantly into a dark, rainy maelstrom. When you're melancholic, it's always raining, and there's always a dark side.

There's another side, though. Melancholics understand other melancholics. They won't tell you to "suck it up", and they won't tell you "it's not that bad" or "the grass is always greener" or any of the other stupid cliches people use. They won't tell you it's OK, because it's not, but they'll sit there and listen to you, because they know how bad it hurts to be ignored.

"I believe with Schopenhauer that one of the strongest motives that lead men to art and science is to escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one's own ever-shifting desires."
-Albert Einstein

I think melancholia makes me write, makes me understand (or try to) other people and be able to sympathize with them and write about them. I'm functioning (well, sort of), which makes me think I'm not really depressed. As hard as it can be, I think being melancholic makes me a better writer, and a better person. So even though I'm supposed to be telling you about something I want to get rid of, and even though there are times I would love dearly to just turn my brain off and watch reality TV- that's not what I am. And on balance, melancholy gives more than it takes.


  1. Thank you for being so honest...I really like how you describe yourself as melancholic and not depressed. I agree that it is okay (and even--gasp!--a little bit normal) to be melancholic.

  2. Very personal indeed. Thanks for sharing. I believe that our feelings affect and change the way we think. When you are angry, our mind is very effective finding ways to hurt others. When you are happy, your mind is very effective looking at the bright side of things. In the same way, when you are depressed, your mind is very effective picturing us as looser and having no hope. All these are feeling affecting the way we think and are state of mind.

    Luckily, I believe it works both ways. In a similar manner that our feelings affect our thoughts, our thoughts affect our feelings. If someone is depressed nobody but oneself can change that. It is an internal decision.

    Do an exercise. How a happy person would look and think about the world and events. Those are the thoughts you need have in your mind. Truncate other thoughts. I don’t pretend to be a professional on the topic but this worked when I was depressed for four or five years. It doesn’t work instantly but depressed time percentage start dropping from 100% of the time, to a manageable percent….

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  4. What I found most interesting was that you chose to write about your "melancholia" as the one thing you would give up but you wouldn't actually give it up. That's how it is though, we are who we are and while there may be things about us that we don't quite like, they play a fundamental role in shaping whom we've become. We cannot part with them for in so doing, we part with ourselves. It takes a great amount of courage to recognize that and even more to give it a voice.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  5. I am ridiculously impressed.

    I have to admit, I really wasn't looking for anything too deep in this prompt, because it was my first one to issue and I was feeling some inadequacies about the idea, but you rose above and beyond anything I could or did expect.

    (I could live without the New York Yankees, too.)

  6. Great post, Michael. Insightful, honest and thought-provoking. Thanks for taking the risk to share something so personal. It was well worth it IMO.

  7. Surely the melancholy makes you a better and more creative writer, though. I think you see that, too; in which case, you're looking on the bright side. :). Very brave post and superbly written. Very clear, connected thoughts when your mind was probably jumbled and full of doubt.

  8. This was a great response. Definitely personal. But incredibly real. Thanks for sharing.


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