It's an unseasonably warm winter's evening in January in New York, the newly minted year of 2012. This is where I'm sitting as I type this. This chair was given to me by my college friend Gail Evans, who had been my roommate Vicki's previous roommate and who had left some thrift store furniture in the apartment when she'd graduated, and on a visit back to Blacksburg, I'd asked her if she ever wanted it back. "Oh, that green chair. It's from the 1930s. I love that chair." She paused and reflected in that way she had, seeing a point beyond and yet also purely in the moment. She said, "No. If you don't want it, you can take it back to my mom's thrift store." I wanted it. I've been sitting in it ever since. From that apartment in B'burg to the Place to Montgomery St. to Church St. above Edna's beauty shop to the Stokeses' farm to my parents' shed to Spriggs Road to storage and to Queens: this chair is my home.
Prior to this sit, Miss O’ had been lying in bed today and would not have risen, except she was surprised by the appearance of the exterminator (forgetting that it was indeed the first Saturday of the month); made perplexed and a bit worried by an inexplicable bill from Columbia University Pathology (note: a lab service, all was explained); and irritated by her own lethargy to the point of trying to eat something. Finally, after reading a novel, scanning YouTube, drinking two glasses of red wine, napping, and eating the last of the holiday peanut M & M’s supplied by her mom in the bus travel lunch pack, this writer is forcing herself to type out a blogpost while sitting with her laptop in the green chair Gail Evans gave her in 1984, still in her flannel pajamas (Miss O’, not Gail, and not since 1984; blue plaid, unripped), and decides she must tackle the story of her depression.
Ah, yes: Miss O’ suffers from depression. That gadabout, lunatic, free-wheeling, academic hard-ass you either loved or hated goes in and out of depressions. Acting classes are handy for oh so many reasons, and one of the biggest is “faking it” day in and day out on the job and in the universe. That depressions just get in the goddamned way of everything cannot be overstated. That they are useful is, weirdly, a byproduct, for the creative payoff to an episode of Holly Golightly’s mean reds is very often a work of art. Or a credible attempt at same.
As a challenge to myself, I am typing directly into this blog thing, rather than crafting the piece, because it isn't going to be very long (rest assured), but also because if I don't just post something I feel I'll never write again. Depression does that. You get up and open the laptop and you face a blank page that suddenly feels like the big blank of your life and mind and there you are, not existing. So all you can do is start typing. The magic of it is that words begin appearing, and it's as if I'd been invisible and started fading back in to my own lifescape.
Here's what is troubling me this day in 2012: America has just gone loudly, horridly stupid. It's nothing new, it's just so LOUD. Right wing calls to go back to 1812, deny progress, bury the facts of life, stuff the media full of bullshit statistics--those siren calls to end engagement with real issues and let go let God--just make me, well, go blank. Blank out. I also had a Facebook meltdown a couple of months back. Facebook is like the big reunion party you go to, and it's fun, you know, for four or five hours and you're catching up and it's amazing, sort of, seeing all these acts of your life shaping up into one giant play, performed on a site, and the party's gone on a while, and you think, "Wow, that was cool," and you go to the door to leave, and the host says, "You can't leave." And I sort of fell apart.
It's not that Miss O' doesn't love reconnecting and seeing those faces everchanging in the big cyber book. It's not that. It's the profound responsibility of it all--the recognition that there's this place I'm supposed to reach out to, and I get to where I feel I'm drowning in it. My friend Jen has a wonderful blog, http://boymommynyc.blogspot.com/, and she wrote a post recently called, "Facebook, I Wish I Could Quit You." Her point of view is slightly different, and wonderful, and it got me thinking about my own way of using that space. I'm still not sure what it's for, for me.
Here's what Facebook did, in a proactive way: For years, partly because of my own unpredictable states of mind, partly from my upbringing, and also because of being a public school teacher, I have been terrified of going "public"--with writing, acting, or any sharing of a personal creative act that did not involve coaching kids to be artists. As an artist friend said to me last week, "I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings." What does it mean to publish? to distribute a film or video? to perform live? Why is it okay when other people do it, but not when we do? That sort of thing. And Facebook let me dip a virtual toe into a public space. I've attempted this blog. I allowed myself to be filmed and put up on a YouTube site telling stories. I let myself be filmed again last week.
I am in the process of writing the one person show I always said I'd do, "The Miss O' Show," about my life as a teacher. I'm also working on a piece about men and why I don't have one. I am seriously thinking about performing again.
So out of these depressions, as I say, something emerges in the creative way of things. To tie this into the educational themes of previous posts, to try to test any human being in a "standard" way is a crock, really, because not everyone is going to be exactly positioned to "pass" at the same time. One thing I absolutely love about the current field of lunatic Republican presidential candidates is that not one of them is "standard" issue. Changeable, stupefying, and fucking terrifying, yes, but in no way cookie-cutter.
So their very loud, mystifying presence begs the question: Is individuality for its own sake useful? When we require leadership in any field, is the reckless individual the one we need to hold a society together? Looking at this field of candidates, I would say no. And then what of the artist as individual? The artist in me wonders sincerely if it is possible for a society to travel fully by the same moral compass and still see its artists keeping artistic integrity. I do not know. I doubt we'll ever have to find out. Hence the depressions.
And yet bear them we can, and if we can, we must, as A. E. Housman said. So I'll continue to use writing as my own compass, to navigate in and out of my story, try to land a piece of writing or two and see where it gets me. That's really all I wanted to say. Let me hear from you, too.