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We (Don’t) Know How

We know how to feel every blow, and roll

With the punches now, glance off the ice and snow

Roll down the knoll to the cold soil, stand and feel the wind blow

.

We learned how to love as we go, and know

That sometimes you gotta fight, until it turns out alright

Not in spite of the world but in sight of the end, when it’s all light.

.

I held myself together so long, but then pieces sloughed right off;

But you were there to sweep me up and then I knew a greater love.

When it hurts the most you begin to see for the first time.

.

This song doesn’t flow like it should, it rocks and rolls–

Skips too fast like a frightened doe; oh but how you love me so,

Even though I might do better but I don’t.

Let’s get in this boat and we will row.

.

Let’s go find the world and make it beautiful:

Heal the wounds and then in the lull

We will sing God is merciful, who brought us is this far

.

Take off the mask and lay it down.

What is love but you and me? What is love but unity 

In the face of adversity and the overwhelming hoards of destiny?  

Shedding shackles and we shall be free to seek the refuge of the stormy seas!

.

I’ve learned hard how to let go, but it’s not that time

Now it’s time to burn so bright; leave the shadows for the morning light

In perfect semblance of Jesus Christ,

So I know that we have arrived

When I’m alive and no longer blind,

When I’m alive and no longer mind.

.

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Thanks for reading! These are the lyrics to a song I wrote last week. Like/Share/Comment at will! 

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Is Depression Evil? On the Dark Side of the Coin

God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why

God goes. Belonging, to every riving thing he’s made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into a stillness where

God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made
there is given one shade
shaped exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under a man the only man to see

God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows,
apart from what man knows,

God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.

––Christian Wiman, “Every Riven Thing”, in Every Riven Thing, 2010.

Joy’s trick is to supply
Dry lips with what can cool and slake,
Leaving them dumbstruck also with an ache
Nothing can satisfy.

––From Richard Wilbur, “Hamlen Brook”, 1987, in Collected Poems: 1943-2003, 2004.

Try to remember this: what you project
Is what you perceive; what you perceive
With any passion, be it love or terror,
May take on whims and powers of its own.

––From Richard Wilbur, “Walking to Sleep” 1969, ibid.

I Love My Depression

I love my depression. That is a lie; but I am past wholly loathing its existence, or at least I have been for some months now. God knows human moods are always a pendulum swing away from extreme—as inescapable and inevitable as they are temporary. Depression comes and it goes, sometimes like a slow, bone-dry summer in Texas, unending and unendurable, except that it is (or must be), and sometimes like the mild fortnight of Fall in the same state of my childhood onward.

Read those poems again. They are meant to be weighty, so let their burdens sink down upon you. You are unsure whether God belonging “to every riven thing he’s made” is comforting or altogether unsettling. Or whether Joy is something to long for or to dread. Or whether we should live lives full of emotion or be always a little guarded.

It’s both. It’s both. It’s both.

It’s both?

There is a sense of frustration that inevitably arises within us when someone answers a question with, “Yes and no,” but also a sense that such an answer is probably the truth. Truth, when we dig down into it, will resist to the end our attempts to place it on one side or the other, to assign it a label, a box, a denomination, a division; indeed, it even resists and transcends our attempts to claim that there are in fact two sides at all, instead of a million, or none. Yes, there are definite characteristics of truth; to deny that is to deny the possibility of any reasonableness or meaning whatsoever and is thus self-defeating. The truth is absolute. And yet that absolute is seen shining at the bottom of a deep pool full of swirling, iridescent life and shadows of action that both assure and obscure its existence.

But I am waxing poetical.

In his documentary on Bipolar Disorder, Stephen Fry, who himself suffers from the disorder, asks others he interviews something along the lines of, “If you had a big red button, and if you pushed that button you could get rid of your illness, would you push that button?” Surprisingly, many people, though not all, answer No.

No?

I will let you discover their personal reasons for yourself (see link at the end). Anyone who has struggled with mental illness has asked themselves this question, or at least has been asked. For me, a young man who struggles both with depression and with that equally distressing calling called Art (not to mention my Seminary calling), there is a growing sense in which I would not be so quick to seek a depression-ectomy.

Two Sides of a Coin

Why would I not want to get rid of it? Because depression is not a self-contained thing. Much like any other way in which we express and understand ourselves, whether in joyful rapture and endless chatter or through tears and silence, or a mix of both, depression is a mode in which we can live. And like these other modes, much of what creates our moods or comportments toward the world and life is external, and sometimes uncontrollably random. On some days, we may just as soon sneeze from allergies as suddenly be happy because of circumstance. Other days, these ways of acting (joy, fear, alertness) can arise from what we know, what we believe, our faith or lack of it, our sense of hope or dearth of meaning.

This ability to change moods comes not from some sort of evil capriciousness, but from a sensitivity, sometimes an over-sensitivity, to our lives: our inward life (spiritual life, emotional life, intellectual life, etc), our interactions with others, our interactions with important events and with the mundane and ritual, our interactions with God. Along with our natural sensitivities, we have ready-worn paths which were trod in our brains before our birth, which channel our energies in specific directions and which may both make sense to us and altogether surprise us, or (you know it’s coming) both.

These paths in large part define who we are, either through our acceptance of or resistance to them. I know that the more sensitive I am to myself and what is around me, the more apt I am to become depressed. It is as if in order to experience life most fully, I must be willing to risk more.

But there is another sense in which my depression is one side of a coin and hope is the other; sensitivity is what turns the coin from perspective to perspective and the coin itself is creativity, in the most general sense of the term. Everyone is creative: making something new out of what existed before. And here I abide, perched upon the thin edge of this coin, feeling it sway and twist under my feet as I open myself to what’s around me, feeling at times the threatening wind of fear come up to tempt me to shut down; but to shut down is the same thing as to fall headlong into the dark side of this coin, into depression. To live I must, well, live. Keep going. Keep risking. Keep believing.

We abide in this strange time flux, the crucifixion of Christ on the one hand and the resurrection on the other. At the crucifixion we hold our breath with the onlookers, unsure whether our suffering, as His suffering, is total defeat or if there is some greater victory to be achieved through it. We look for assurance; there is none. We can neither give into doubt nor give into hope and are torn asunder by the friction and tension that vibrates our bones and yet are simultaneously excited by it, as that same deep pool of truth is shaken and we catch another glimpse of meaning and understanding, or at least of empathy for the sufferer, that is, the human. Other times we find ourselves buried and enclosed, wholly numb to everything and helpless to loose the bindings which constrict us. I lived for years here. And then we come unexpectedly and all of a sudden to the resurrection, where we, with Christ, have overcome and we find our faith and hope embodied, fleshed out, moving around––our ideas, once so vague, now live and breathe and astound us as we feel their realness. It is human life to feel all of these, to a greater and lesser extent, as we move through life, living one season to another, Spring to Summer to Fall to Winter to Spring again just when we had almost given up.

To say hope and depression are two sides of my coin is to say this: I am acutely and constantly aware of the struggle between despair and hope, between faith in God and doubt in everything, between feeling and apathy, between powerfulness and powerlessness, and all of the other truths which appear to us at times as two distinct things, but which are all, in reality, instrumental to the human life. Each side, the hope and the terror, fill out the vague and embody the truth; indeed, shadow is necessary in any painting to give a sense of depth and reality, of truth. A painting may just as well be too light as too dark and thereby lose its realness.

I would not give up my depression because by it I have been brought and am being brought to a fuller understanding of the human, of the contingent, as Wiman would say. It teaches me that all humans are right now in this state of contingency and that through accepting our contingency we are more apt to see each other for what we are, both powerful and creative and in total desperation and need––all simultaneously. It is in realization of our need where we come to experience the joy of others, and of God; it is in the creative pursuit where we learn to lean on God and others as we risk much in order to live much. It is in the acceptance of human contingency, the acceptance as perfect guide that moment Christ himself hung in contingency at the mercy of God the Father, that we have a uniting hope of moving from crucifixion to resurrection; all that is left for the transition is to give up all false hope of total power over ourselves and over our ability to change us and everything around us. The neural pathways of our minds were trod before we were born, leaving us in contingency, leaving us human.

But human is not so bad a place to be.

God used depression to teach me humanity, and it is in this understanding of humanity I find the material to create, to explore, to risk.

And I would not trade that for the world.

Comment below and let me know if you agree and if you too struggle with mental illness!

G.Flatt

For More Information:
1. Stephen Fry, The Secret Life of Manic Depression, on Youtube: http://youtu.be/rGDl6-lyfMY
2. An Interview with Christian Wiman, https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/interview-christian-wiman ; also read his book on poetry, faith and doubt: My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer.
3. My past blogs, “When Catching A Cold Becomes Your Fault” and “Mental Health Awareness and Art: From a Depression Addict.”

Mental Health Awareness and Art: From a Depression Addict

“shipwreck”

and gasping as one nearly drowned I come
      again
      to myself in mundane places,
having traveled to universal, starlit spaces beyond spaces where
silence is a tense exultation and not
the mute, forgotten, ordinary
      quiet of one’s often emptiness from which comes no
      art, no
      song, no
      sight, nothing but a
      longing for electric potentialities which will not rid the life of the
clutter but,
at least,
      organize meaningful minutes with mandolin;
      chords ascend and break through emotion
      transcend the splendor of the ocean and crash
and clang in roiling waves into steel hull of a now toppled ship at sea,
      all salty soldiers and sailors shouting and skidding sidelong into
foamy freedom
even as they come to be through my words.
Should I apologize?

Clouds part as red sky pushes forth taking first crying breath and lights the evening
      afire.
All of my wreckage strewn about I quickly
      clean with another typing,
      swiping motion
as the sea captain stands up now on sandy beach and dusts himself off cheerfully
after having a more exciting moment,
hearing mandolin cooing cooly behind
dense green ferns of wide, spiny leaves and dripping dew,
calling him to other worlds
where dreams, like sirens,
dine surreptitiously on desires.

.
.
.
Silence is very important for me, not only as a time to reflect and to pray, but also as a sort of meter of my mood. Having now been over a year out of a serious depression which took much more than that of my life, I have learned to be especially sensitive to how I am doing. When I am really doing well, even the small and seemingly insignificant silences find meaning and purpose as God meets me in a whisper and I am able to write and to hold fast to a sure hope. When I am doing poorly, silence is terrible and poses to me the choice of either staying in the silence and falling into the depression which is truly just a drug or bandage for pain and is a lie no matter how good it may feel at the time; or I can move away from the silence, find close friends and/or music (I actually play guitar, not mandolin) or sports (I love rock climbing with my girlfriend, even though I’m pitiful) or something else.

What is difficult is knowing that, for me, it is in the silence where I am most able to write and to think clearly. But that means I have to be in a good place, not in depression. Artists, especially those who struggle with mental illness, must be extraordinarily careful not to sacrifice their own well being for the sake of being able to write, to paint, to create music, et cetera. We think, “I have to have the intense experience of what I went through to write well, to keep people interested, to be authentic. That’s the only time I can really create good art.” This is utterly false, even though it is invoked so often in our culture.

Drawing inspiration constantly from pain and anger is self-destructive; art should use the pain to create beauty and health from that, otherwise it’s not really creation as much as it is an overwhelming expression of those issues. While it is vital for us to work through issues in different ways, even and especially for some artistic ways, that can’t be where we stay forever. There will come a time when we need to move on to better things and it is important to recognize when it is time for us to move on. To move on from the “shipwreck” moments that we think give us the best art we will ever make, give us the connections which are the most intense. In truth, this is the illness (like sirens) preying upon our desires for love and connection, for hope and clarity. We begin to sacrifice relationships (even fake salty sailors) for the sake of what we want to do.

Instead, it is in the well moments when we are able to see the simple and the ordinary as absolutely beautiful and inspirational. Every person is him or herself a wellspring of beauty obscured by a cloud of dust and smut which they have accumulated throughout life, from the actions of others and from their own actions as well. It is wonderful to be able to see through that and help him or her see through that as well. Artists need to be perceptive, not just emotive. And good perspective comes from standing in the light, not standing in the darkness.

There are so many people who blog and by so doing begin to work through their pain. I did this for a time, in my own way. But I fear for the people blogging when this working out goes on for years and years without any signs of light breaking in. I’m not saying those of us who struggle with mental illness are ever “cured”. Like I said, I still struggle all of the time. But there is more hope than depression these days.

Recently I have been able to begin writing again after two years of not producing much. I had to focus on getting to where I needed to be emotionally and spiritually before I was really able to create again.

This is my simple prayer for the others who blog through their struggles: do not let your art, popularity, desire to extreme emotions, or unhealthy methods of finding inspiration keep you from getting better, from seeking the help you honestly need to seek. If we are not honest with ourselves, how can we ever hope to create art (or anything, I use art in an extraordinarily general sense) for others which is authentic or honest?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” -Jesus Christ

Marana Tha

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I will
      wait
as a thousand rivers
      run dry
as our lonesome star
      sends out its final
      flame
as this idea of love
      lingers on and grows
      gradually, becoming
      concrete
as you and I are shaped by its
      intensity and shining
      silence and kindness
as a seed falls
      forgotten from towering
      tree onto bed of river
      run dry a thousand years
      yet in the future
as I wait still
      soaking up your bounty,
      becoming
      beautiful and mature
as heaven meets earth
      early in the dawning
      daybreak before cockerel
      crows but breathes in fragrant,
      fresh air
as I joyfully suffer
      sweetly violent purges,
      pointing towards hope renewed,
      resurrection of all souls
as You come in cool breezes
      breathing life abundant,
      absent no more

a walk in the dark

I leave out
soul tucked into a
      chilled heart socket
like a down coat breast pocket that it’s still too warm to wear in Texas
into a fall evening on a Wednesday
as the last of a sun’s rays
diminish with my mood.

I walk
      circles
around the most familiar buildings
of my city block
hemmed in by new condos
and the other side of the street where they don’t go.
     We don’t
     need railroad
tracks any more,
just simple streets
and lots of walls and gates and chains.
So it goes.

I proceed
     deaf
to the world with my ears plugged by better sounds
than real life and glugging cars and jogging peds
     a bicycle nearly runs away with my right arm.
I would’ve been upset,

     but I’m not
     alone
by chance meeting of moderate probabilities
if I really stopped to think about it and get a feel of these things
but I don’t
so we submit to life’s whims and walk the same dim road
          neon lights flickering
          hidden crickets start to sing in the weeds below my feet
          by the cigarettes and bottle caps
because where else have I to go?
I wish to God that you people could stop having somewhere to go
and live like a river flowing
knowing
it’s course by simply living it out
seeing no future but making it all the same,
not having to stand out.
If the water brook turns a bend it’s never seen before
     does it, terrified,
give up on its life?
Would you?

How are
     you?
Not a question from a stranger
but even stranger
that it’s an honest question and so deserves
     my utmost respect
and the truth, like all honesty deserves in turn
because only it honestly can deal with the truth and not get burned
but from the other side of the street you stalk
     cautiously
hiding behind a naked bush
     fruitless mass of twigs
so couth, put together, tie, watch, nice shoes
     and a blindfold –
all the things your friends wear –
but you’re friends aren’t honest.

The conversation somehow turns round three times to
          food
because who doesn’t like to eat?
     Talitha Koum,
     give the girl some food.
Everything tastes better when you’ve forgotten what it’s like to live
and someone wakes you up
with the truth.
He’s honest.

Beneath veiled conversation
     an undercurrent
exists and takes precedent
when we run away from the hesitant talk
and speak up desires that he wants to build a church
     back home
for all the beautiful broken glass lives crushed under our feet which we all know
is him, me and you behind the bush –
didn’t you have somewhere to go?

Speak the truth and the bush will
     phoof!
burn but not be
consumed,
just like honest conversation which can’t die
—I’m alive—
because even in the silence
of city crickets and graffiti walls and locked halls and cars and bikes,
     lives
being lived speak for themselves,
seek the truth and nothing else,
— no matter the hell that bursts forth —
I’m walking the same direction
As honesty
          Incarnate Philosophy
So honestly
     Can you try tell me
     or stoop to sell me
that I can do whatever I want on my own,
travel this life kicking solo,
irrespective of truth and honesty,
and all my friends’ lives and possibilities,
and forgetting to pick up after me,
after all that sticky, stinking mess of me,
and be fine?

We speak the truth
     goodnight
and I go into my room and turn out the lights
that outside
have turned off three hours ago,
but to my eyes my room was on fire
inside my heart
where even night couldn’t be dark
in the face of love,
truth,
honesty,
but honestly,
     goodnight.

Persistence: thou art the ocean

Persistence: thou art the ocean

I shout against the ocean but it rumbles all the same. Against persistence resistance crumbles away like rocks to salt and is swallowed up only to float on the face, like a tear from an eye across a soft cheek as it enters the mouth, and then drifts toward the inward parts, falling at last and collecting on a floor so distant from the sun that it knows nothing but cool darkness for a million years and a lifetime. But what is the sea without the salt? Caressed and cared for in the belly of the beast as it never was by the wind and rain that beat it night and day it finds peace in constant movement – resistance as rocks is so hard, but melts against an undying persistence; love is the only eternal thing as it never finds itself devoid of that skillfully wrought reality which it can pull to itself and love, pulling in and refining and letting go again more beauteous than before and promising a longed-for, safe return in a not too, yet much too, distant future; and all the hate and sadness of the rocks do, like rocks, become the salt and earthiness of the whole story.
The rocks are silent because they have learned their lesson well, as tiny and torn apart specks floating and breathing in and out with the movement of the ocean itself as the earth also breaths in and out, its broad chest and shoulders expanding in telltale rhythm; all we can do is listen and passively respond — yet what is the sea without the salt? A billion years in the belly of an omnipotent beast as salt becomes earth and earth itself churns and churns in its fiery heart and at last sends up the salts who have made peace with their existence without resistance up to the top to find life and breath anew. The rocks take their mighty places and stand like imposing towers for man to marvel at with ignorant envy, but they have a secret – they fold willingly under eternal persistence, from wind and rain and waves and even life itself as it takes root and draws upon the silent salts to find new and beautiful existence as a flower in its first and last day of bloom, both perfect and momentary, though the salts know that as they have flowed from rock to salt to earth to land to flower — and as they again are pulled back to the sea — they know that it was all really worth it. Beauty even in a moment flows up from that which is eternal and has roots that extend far beyond our land to the land and world that is God Himself as he breathes in and out and gives himself, like the salt, to life and beauty, momentary and eternal, solid and ephemeral. He overpowers all in time but does not destroy it wholly instead giving it true meaning as it learns to breathe only with him, the persistent One.
Thou art the ocean. I am a rock.
Teach me, O Teacher, to be the salt.

A Small Reflection on “Persistence: thou art the ocean”

I am quieter now than I once was but stronger than I’ve ever been. A cloud covers the sun and I rejoice as my eyes take ease; the sun comes out again and I rejoice because without it there is no life for me nor thee, my beloved.
There are many things I want to be for me and for you and for all the me’s which think they are real but aren’t but are in fact fake selves which I construct but which only give way to despair and self-hatred in time, and it’s the end of time which determines the now. The ocean has made peace with the end of time and is more than content to be and to do its daily work, to be just what it is. Overwrought and overthought, my peace lacks simplicity and contentedness, but when the stream of my life becomes this series of rapids and time is so in fact ephemeral then perspective is lost and wanders so far from the sea and the end of things. The persistent Almighty never ceases nor becomes hard to find but we ourselves run to inward parts or, if we cannot run or see that, truly, the sea comes to all, we put our faces to the sand and pray it does not come and drown us. We learn soon or we learn too late that we are praying to a fiction when the true sea is right behind our backs calling its persistent call in waves which are watery whispers, not to be mistaken for feeble cries, for that which can whisper we find can shout and will shout at a time of storms with our face in the sand submitting in the wrong direction, to our selves, not respecting the persistent eternal. Our hearts are rock and because we are all fools we think that it is rock which is eternal, but it is the waves which beat the rock as it crumbles before its God that endure.
If you are still rock then to you this is cruel. But how can it be that that which is most true could be cruel when eternity is a love which even now is beckoning before the rolling thunder above the breaking tide? But if you are me which was selfish stone; if you are me which was dissolved to salt and sank over a million years to a place of frozen submission beyond despair, yet with no light; if you are me which was churned by a fire which relinquished me and you of the grime I clung to; if you are me who graciously and once again was deposited on the earth as stone; if you are me then nothing eternal sounds cruel but only truthful and loving and deserving of my life which in reality is not my own – for all momentary beauty has its roots in something else, for nothing ephemeral plants itself but is planted and gives praises for its salty dirt whether that dirt breathes long life or whether it chokes the flower before its blossom, because no matter how short,
All that is life is a gift.
All that is love refines as it lifts.
All that is life is a gift.

Persistent One whose waters do sift,
Who are we to say
that life was not meant to be this way?

It is the only Way: the Truth, the Life.