28 January 2018

Wherein the Author Manages to Write While Depressed and Addresses Said Depression

Alexander Hamilton, a biography of whom is briefly mentioned in this post.
I’ve been depressed all morning. I wasn’t sure how to modify the word depressed in that first sentence. Very seemed trite but also insufficient. Extremely could have worked but seemed too dramatic. Morbidly was just too much, although it could apply. Anyway its been bad. (Again I eschewed modifying the word bad.)

There were ants all over. We’ve started a period in which no rain is on the horizon. We were out of milk. The missus has a cold. The internet is full of the sad, the ridiculous, the infuriating and the ignorant. People continue to refuse to see the world the way I do. Too many want more guns, less taxes for the rich, immigrants exiled and Trump made king. There is too much sexual harassment and there is the ongoing vilification of the innocent Woody Allen. His defenders, such as me, seem to be vastly outnumbered although we do hold a monopoly on the facts. Like that he’s been found innocent and it was believed his accuser was coached into making the spurious charges and the poor girl has grown up believing them.

It’s unusual for me to be able to write when I’m this depressed but I’ll not question that this time is an exception and instead take advantage of it as best I can.

So this is what the depression is like. Everything makes me sad. My normal state is sad and nothing I think of makes me feel any better and often makes me feel worse. Movies? Sad. Wife? Sad. Daughters? Sad. Work? Sad. Retirement? Sad. Music? Sad. Going to basketball game this afternoon? Sad. Trip to NY in the Spring? Sad. Running? Sad. Happiness? N/A.

Reading is problematical when depressed. I’m currently working my way through Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton (I think it would make for a great musical). Under the heavy cloak of depression I can manage a page or two before the mind goes numb with melancholia. I had had slightly better luck with the Sunday NY Times, but was unable to read articles of any significant length.

Walking to the store to get milk was easy enough — that is, once I managed to get motivated enough to dress then walk out the door. I could have wiled away a couple of hours watching a film but the effort required to decide on which one to watch proved too much. I considered turning on the TV but the very notion of television depressed me.

One thing I’ve proven adept at doing during this depression is staring at the floor. Not that I can tell you anything I saw or least of all anything that I pondered. The depressed state does not lend itself to creating or retaining memories. It’s akin to having an excruciating physical pain in that all that you can think about is how miserable you are.

I was not depressed yesterday. I was for part of Friday. Thursday, I’m not sure. I think that was one of the days during which happiness and depression were having a tug of war within my soul. That’s an unpleasant situation to deal with. You can practically feel warring factions within you trying to claim possession. As a consequence you are gleeful one second and morbid the next. Within a minute your emotions run the gamut several times. Within an hour you’re like a non stop yo yo. Events can tip the balance one way or another and then back again. The slightest bad news gives victory to the depression while a bit of good news will send you into happy land. I don’t recommend going through life this way. Indeed in 12 step programs one learns to live at an even keel. Getting too high can lead to nasty falls and getting too low can be hard to dig out of.

As I pause now and again while writing this I’m enveloped in depression. However somehow my fingers take control and resume typing and words emerge that manage to make sense together. I don’t know how it all works and indeed often it doesn’t. But I’m lucky now to be managing to write although it is left to anyone who might happen to read this to determine if it is anything worthwhile.

I do take solace in knowing that this will pass and I’ll be skipping merrily down the lane again. Then again as things have been going I also realize that subsequent to that happy event I’ll doubtless once again be dragging my feet down that same lane in a state of great mental anguish. I can only hope that someday the depression will leave me completely and that day will precede my death but quite a long while.

Well, I’ve managed to write this much so there’s perhaps hope that this accomplishment will lead to an upswing in my mood. Nowadays you just never know.

24 January 2018

And So It Ended -- A Doomed Love Story

Ivor stood at the doorway desperately wondering what he should say or do. Melissa, his beloved Melissa, sat on the bed sobbing. Why aren’t  I sobbing too, he thought. It’s not like I’m incapable of emotion and I’m probably feeling what she is feeling. Ivor put his hands on his hips. It felt too blasé for the moment. He leaned one shoulder against the door jamb. Too nonchalant. He put his hands on his knees, bending forward as if out of breath. Senseless. So Ivor stood in the middle of the doorway, perfectly framed. Melissa stopped sobbing and reached for a tissue from the bed stand. She blew her nose. Ivor was struck by how loud and snotty it sounded. So unlike the delicate woman Melissa was. Finally she looked at him through the tears in her eyes. The young woman’s face was contorted in anger. Ivor could feel his face fall as if in this moment he was defeated. It was over and she had won. Won what? This was not a game. This was their relationship. Their lives. Their future.

“What, what do you propose now?” She asked. “Go on as if nothing had happened? Not even talk about it?” Melissa had said the word “talk” as if spitting out something distasteful.

“No, I mean yes, that is we should most definitely talk about it,” Ivor meekly replied. His girlfriend had the upper hand. She was the dominant one. She would dictate terms. She would lead the conversation and she would emerge the satisfied party. It wasn’t fair. They were equally guilty. It was absurd for him to feel defeated and for her to act the aggrieved party.

Ivor walked toward her.

“Not too close,” Melissa practically barked the words. Ivor stopped in his tracks, then backed up to the doorway. He sighed deeply, sadly, profoundly. The young man couldn’t believe the situation he was in. Betrayed. A betrayer. The world seemed a perfectly marvelous place a few hours ago when he returned home a day early from a trip to visit his ailing mother. Ivor was looking forward to surprising Melissa, who he was sure was at home studying for mid terms. She’d been at home all right.

Ivor had parked on the street and walked softly to the door, opening the front door quietly. This would be a big surprise. He’d find her in their spare room pouring through her psychology books. Shoes off he tiptoed through the house, but he heard a most unexpected noise from the bedroom. It sent a shockwave through Ivor’s body when he realized it was the sounds Melissa made during love making, and that the bed springs were squeaking. He couldn’t believe it. She must be masturbating. Ivor opened the bedroom door slowly. Melissa was naked on all fours and a friend of theirs named Ron was humping her.

Upon catching his girlfriend in flagrante delicto, Ivor had dropped his backpack. The sound startled Melissa and Ron who quickly disengaged. Ron immediately scrambled to put his clothes on. Melissa buried her head in a pillow and Ivor stood limp. Not angry, not shocked, not hurt, just numb. No one said a word until Ron, having finished hastily dressing said, “if it’s any defense I only did this because you screwed Valerie.” Valerie was Ron’s girlfriend. Melissa sat up and tossed the pillow aside. “You cheated on me with Valerie?” She said in obvious anger and disgust.

Ron edged his way past Ivor and bolted out of the house. When he was gone Ivor finally spoke. “Just once,” he replied meekly.

“Once is plenty,” Melissa said, still angry.

“Wait a minute, you didn’t know that when you hopped into bed with Ron!”

Melissa turned bright red and could say nothing in response.

They’d cheated on each other. This is where our scene began.

The couple talked well into the night. They hugged, they cried, they eventually made love but mostly they talked. Ivor offered excuses for his infidelity and Melissa offered excuses for hers. They promised to be faithful. Over and over they promised. They apologized profusely. They spoke of how complex life in general was and relationships in particular. They talked about the pressures they were under as doctoral students. They recounted happy times. They nuzzled and cuddled and gave each other lots of quick kisses and shared a few long lingering kisses. It was past four o’clock when they fell asleep, exhausted.

In the following weeks Melissa and Ivor were both kept busy by their studies. While Melissa pursued a career in psychiatry, Ivor planned to be a history professor. They were both within a year of completing their Phds. But Melissa was nagged by the idea of Ivor having had carnal relations with her friend Valerie. She had trouble feeling comfortable around Valerie. Meanwhile Ivor could not get the image of his friend Ron screwing Melissa. “My god,” he would often think, “I actually saw them do it.” It began to sicken him.

Their relationship grew strained. There were no arguments, only a few petty differences here and there, but more troubling there was a coldness between them, if barely perceptible. The first few days after what they called their “confrontation” Ivor and Melissa made passionate love. It was as if they were desperate to convince one another that they were still a couple, that they still belonged to one another. Then the love making stopped and so did much of the affection they had enjoyed. They would kiss goodbye and hello perfunctorily.

A few months after their “confrontation” Ivor found himself longing for other women. This led to flirtations and eventually to some causal sexual encounters. Melissa started seeing Ron regularly after he broke up with Valerie. When their lease was up, their landlord informed them that he was selling the house and they’d have to move. Ivor and Melissa agreed — almost giddily — to live apart. Ivor found an apartment and Melissa moved in with Ron. Ivor stopped speaking to both Melissa and Ron.

Many years later Ivor was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. By this time he had been married and divorced twice. As he took stock of his life Ivor came to the conclusion that his one great love had been Melissa and that if he hadn’t come home early that night they might still be together. Melissa was living on the other side of the country. She’d never married and was now alone. Her psychiatry practice was thriving but her life felt empty for her never having found the perfect mate. Melissa often thought that Ivor had been her one true love and she wondered why they had never got past that night when Ivor came home early.

09 January 2018

My Top Ten Films of 2017 (Is Actually a Top Fifteen)

It was too good a year in films for a top ten so I had to expand my list to fifteen. I've also kept my usual number of six honorable mentions.

1. Personal Shopper (Assayas)
2. Phantom Thread (Anderson)
3. Call Me Be Your Name (Guadagnino)
4. The Florida Project (Baker) 
5. The Disaster Artist (Franco)
6. Wonder Wheel (Allen)
7. Columbus (Kogonada)
8. I, Tonya (Gillespie)
9. The Other Side of Hope (Kaurismaki)
10 . Get Out (Peele)
11. Lady MacBeth (Oldroyd)
12. The Shape of Water (del Toro)
13. A Ghost Story (Lowery)
14. Mudbound (Rees)
15. Lady Bird (Gerwig)

Honorable Mention: The Happiest Day in the Life of Oli Maki (Kuosmanen)God’s Own Country  (Lee);  T2 Trainspotting (Boyle)Baby Driver (Wright); Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri  (McDonagh): The Ornithologist (Rodrigues)

Best Actor: * Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) Also Praiseworthy: Richard Gere (Norman), Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour), James Franco (The Disaster Artist)
Best Actress: Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) Also Praiseworthy: Frances MacDormand (Three Billboards), Margot Robbie (I, Tonya), Brooklyn Prince (Florida Project)
Best Supporting Actor: Willem Dafoe (Florida Project) Also Praiseworthy: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards), Garrett Hedlund (Mudbound)
Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney (I,Tonya) Also Praiseworthy: Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird), Catherine Keener (Get Out)

* Note: in the nine years I've posted my top ten films list, the person I selected as best actor has gone on to win the Best Actor Oscar seven times. I think it'll be seven of ten after this year as Oldman seems a lock.

08 January 2018

When All Signs Point to Jumping -- The Story of A Young Man in Despair

They say you’ve got to live each moment or appreciate each moment, I forget which, maybe both, but I’ve had a lot of moments in my life I wouldn’t wish on anyone.  So many in fact that I find myself standing on a bridge ready to jump to my death. You see, I’m in one of those awful moments right not and the worst thing is that it feels like more horror is in store for me. I’ve got no escape, it’s just too painful.

Things started to get really bad the day I saw grandma sitting in a chair in my bedroom. She’d been dead for five years yet there she was plain as day. Didn’t say a word, just leaned forward on her cane and stared at me. I’d been asleep so naturally people think I was just dreaming but I was sure as shit wide awake when I saw grandma. I even pinched myself.

I stared back at grandma for a few seconds but then had to look away because the whole situation was really freaking me out. I was 16 at the time and going through a lot. I was living in a dysfunctional family in which I seemed to be the only normal person. I neither needed nor wanted to be seeing dead people, relative or not. Fact is I never much cared for grandma. She was mean as sin to everyone, including me. She picked on dad all the time and as much as said that she was disappointed that her daughter (my mom) had married the poor bastard. She was no nicer to mom or my sisters (one older, one younger). Every Christmas and birthday she gave me underwear or socks. “I hope they fit,” she would snarl. I’ve no idea why she was so bitter.

Grandma couldn’t bother trying to have a conversation with me or my sisters. The most I remember her ever saying to me was “how’s school?” Then she’d look away like she couldn’t give a damn what I said. So anyway there was grandma — or her ghost, I mean —sitting in my bedroom giving me the evil eye, which come to think of it is the only kind of eye she ever gave. After awhile I couldn’t stand it any longer and got up to take a piss then get a cookie. When I came back to bed she was gone.

I saw grandma a few more times over the years, always at night and always when I was alone. After her first visit I stopped mentioning it to anyone because whoever I told just acted like I was crazy. Little did they know….

Making it to high school graduation was the highlight of my life, well that and getting accepted to a university several hundred miles away from home. Getting out of the house was going to be  — I was sure — the greatest goddamned event of my life. Mom was drunk half the time and argued with dad three quarters of the time. Dad was a spineless worm who never stood up for himself and, though he hated mom’s drinking, never lifted a finger to stop it. My older sister was a drug addict and my parents were too stupid to be able to tell. She was still living at home when I left, going to community college and working as a waitress. She had a series of loser boyfriends who variously cheated on her, hit her or stole from her. Most of them were doing drugs with her too. My little sister was no picnic either. She had attention deficit disorder, was dyslexic and struggled with weight problems. She was always in trouble at school and barely passed her classes. When I got out she was just about to start high school and it was evident that she’d bring more woe to the family.

Happy as I was as I wrapped up high school I was also dealing with anxiety issues. I was pretty much anxious about everything — girls in particular. I was at least as horny as any other heterosexual male but was scared to death of so much as talking to a girl. When one talked to me I stammered — that is if I could think of anything to say. Most of my friends had a girlfriend and had gotten laid by graduation but I hadn’t been so much as kissed. Some of my friends suggested trying liquid courage so that I could talk to girls but having seen my own mother half in the bag so many times I was repulsed by the very thought of alcohol.

My anxiety was present even when girls weren’t around. I’d get anxious before tests, even ones I’d studied for and knew would be easy. I played tennis on the school team and would get anxious before matches. What really made me anxious though was going home. The last few minutes before I reached the house, whether walking, on my bike, on a bus or in car, I’d turn into a nervous wreck. I just never knew what I was going to face when I walked through the door. There was usually a fight, either my parents were at it or my sisters, or mom was too drunk to function or one of my older sister’s deadbeat boyfriends was in the house. I spent as much time in my room as possible even though people were always trying to draw me into their drama. I loved my sisters and parents but only in the perfunctory way you’re supposed to, I guess what I’m saying is that deep down I hated them.

The happiest day of my life was when I left for college. I had a friend, Craig, with a car who was going to the same university so we drove up together. It was my liberation day. The only thing I dreaded was coming home for Thanksgiving, but that was a few months off and  meanwhile I could live a stress free life. Or so I thought.

In college I may not have been living in a dysfunctional family but I was still living in a crazy, fucked up world over populated by morons and jerks. Take for instance my roommates in the dorm. They were foul-mouthed, messy, inconsiderate jerks who didn’t seem to care a wit about classes. I did. I understood that there would be parties and such on Friday and Saturday nights but these guys were at it all the time. It wasn’t just that their noise sometimes woke me up or kept me up, it was just being in the presence of such louts that hit too close to home for me. My anxiety returned.

Stupid roommates wasn’t all. The temptations of young, often intelligent, and sometimes very cute women were everywhere and I was still too scared to approach any one of them. I walked around with a boner half the time and it was driving me crazy. Literally. My nerves were shot, whether from unnecessarily worrying about classes or stressing out about phone calls from home or having to deal with all the morons in the dorm. I soon discovered that more than half the freshman males in the school were — in my opinion — idiots. All they cared about was girls, sports and getting high. They were obnoxious and ill-informed. If they had any views on issues of the day they were either terribly misguided or rife with prejudice. The best any could do was regurgitate their parents’ opinions. I was sick of the whole scene by the second month of school. Was there any place in the world that I could be comfortable and happy and free of stress? It didn’t seem so.

My reaction to the world I was living in was to add something to my anxiety: depression. When I wasn’t focused on school work or wasn’t playing tennis I was either depressed or anxious or both. I even developed a twitch in my face which was obvious enough that some of the rubes in the dorm made fun of me for it. As you can imagine that just made me feel worse. The only source of happiness I could find, the only hope I had, was to get an apartment for my sophomore year. Then, I reasoned, I’d at least be away from the morons in the dorm. Really though it was cold comfort. There was a whole semester and a half to get through yet not to mention summer at home. At times it seemed an eternity.

In early November of my freshman year everything changed. One Friday night I decided to got to a party because Craig and my one friend in the dorm, Tom, were so insistent and I decided that I could do with a night out. Hell, I had to try something. Of course I was my usual anxious self about it all day and was a jangle of nerves as I got dressed to go. As we walked to the house where the party was you’d have thought I was on my way to be executed. It was all I could do to walk. The whole world flipped when we walked in and Craig handed me a cold beer. I’d never had a sip of alcohol and had no intention of starting, I’d seen what it did to mom. “It’s just a beer,” Tom said. “One lousy beer has very little booze in it, if you don’t like it, don’t have another.”

That reasoning was hard to argue with. I took a sip. It tasted okay. I took a few more sips and enjoyed them as well. By the time I finished the bottle I noticed that my anxiety was virtually gone. One more, I reckoned, would wipe out the anxiety and maybe I could have a good time. It sure did. By the time I was half way through my third beer I struck up a conversation with a cute girl. It was like the most natural thing in the world to talk with her. Soon we were dancing, something I’d never done before.

Later I talked and danced with several other girls the last of whom I took a walk with. We even exchanged phone numbers. After the party broke up I walked her home. She kissed me good night. Right on the lips.

I’d had five beers all night and somehow knew that was my limit. I’d discovered a magic formula an elixir that loosened my tongue and eased my anxiety. In reality my feet touched the ground as I walked back to the dorm that night, but I never felt them.

It turned out that a few beers was not really the answer to all my problems. I couldn’t nor did I want to, drink all the time and so still had to deal with anxiety. However I developed — even without so much as a drop — the confidence to talk to girls and was soon going out on dates. Some of which included a few beers and some of which were sober affairs. Meanwhile I survived Thanksgiving and Christmas at home knowing that my stays were temporary and also because I hung out with old high school friends and even called a couple of the girls I graduated who were in town from college too. One girl I called even confessed she’d had a crush on me for years.

When school resumed in January I felt pretty darn good. A few weeks later when I lost my virginity and got my first steady girlfriend, Norah, I was on top of the world. I didn’t stay long.

First there were visits from grandma. Right in my damn dorm room. She’d pull up a chair, often just as I was going to sleep, and stare at me. It was like life was taking a great big shit on my birthday cake. I’d try to close my eyes and ignore her but something would compel to look and she’d still be there with that awful glare. Eventually I’d doze off, of course, so as unnerving as grandma’s visits were they were hardly debilitating. More serious was the full on return of my anxiety and what was worse, anxiety attacks and later panic attacks. Anytime I was outside I was vulnerable to an attack that would leave me out of breath, exhausted and scared for my sanity.

In the Spring I made the tennis team and I was rocking a 4.0 and had Norah was still my girlfriend. You’d think I was pretty damn happy. But the anxiety and the attacks persisted and depression came back and in full force. The tennis season went well, I maintained my perfect GPA and was falling in love. But I was miserable. Plus I was facing a summer in the hell hole that was my family home. At Norah’s urging, (I confided in her completely) I saw a counselor on campus who referred me to psychiatrist who would treated me on a sliding scale. He said I was likely suffering from a form of PTSD because of my screwed up childhood. After a few visits he prescribed some medications, one for depression and another for anxiety. They helped. Initially. Perhaps even better was when I managed to get a Summer job at the campus library that included housing. I wouldn’t have to go home for more than one weekend visit.

I was lonely during the Summer with my girlfriend and pals away but the meds were doing their job and I loved working in the library and having a place to myself. In my off hours I’d play tennis, or read or go for long walks, it all started our great but few weeks into the summer my depression returned and grandma started to visit again.

My shrink tried some other meds and although the panic and anxiety were under control the depression kept getting worse. Nothing helped. As Fall approached I found an apartment for a friend and I to share and Norah got a place a few blocks away. On the surface everything seemed fine.

But here I am today in January at the start of the second semester of sophomore year. I was home for the holidays. My older sister was in jail, busted for selling cocaine. My younger sister was a total mess, failing classes and constantly getting into trouble at school. Mom was still drinking and dad was telling me he was going to divorce her. My visit was a return to hell.

My depression is constant no matter what meds we try and I even get panic attacks still. Norah and I broke up. Well, she broke up with me, her reasons were vague but it seems certain she met another guy who she likes more. And yes, grandma still visits from time to time as mean and ugly as ever.

So I’ve had it. Sure I’m only 20 but I can’t take the pain. There has been so much heartache and disappointment and unhappiness in my life and it seems that it will just continue for as long as I’m alive. Why go through it? Everything is hopeless. What good is being a college tennis player and getting a degree and having friends if there’s so much suffering and misery that goes along with it? What if things go wrong? What if something bad happens? If I feel this bad when on the surface all is well, imagine my life if I hit some bad luck. If I told anyone or called a suicide hotline they’d tell me to stick out, things will get better, I have a lot going for, the usual bullshit. But I can’t see it. I can’t feel it. This pain has a sense of permanence to it. It is unyielding and malignant. When there’s no escape, what choice does a person have?

So I think I’ll probably jump. Well, okay, maybe not this time, maybe not today. But I can’t say for sure I won’t soon. Wouldn’t you?