This is Part Two of a post I began yesterday. Click here to read Part One.
The words of the fire resonated with me so deeply. I have been so depressed for the past few months. I feel like the whole year has been a year of writing, but the past few months have been failure, a holding pattern preventing me from moving forward. I spent the first eight months of the year pouring my heart into Darkwater, writing it and editing it and honing it. And then I pulled the trigger, and submitted it to publishers. And then I just began to wait. Almost four months I’ve been waiting, hoping that each email notification I receive is an email from a publisher. I know there’s more work to do on the book, but I can’t do it until and unless a publisher chooses to work with me, and my editor tells me what she wants. And so I wait, sitting on my hands. I haven’t been writing much of anything in this time. I have allowed myself to drift so far from healthy. I haven’t been writing, or reading, or walking. I’ve been playing an awful lot of video games. I think they’re a numbing agent. They’ve helped me to not feel much of anything.
And I’ve been pondering suicide. Not precisely considering it, more pondering it. The depression I’ve been in this fall has been so different from my last big one, two years ago, which also led me in the same direction. Two years ago, it manifested as a very sharp, cutting emotional pain, a pain that named itself guilt. This guilt became a knife-blade that sliced into me, so that it felt impossible to think about anything else. The guilt became a compass pointing me toward death, convinced that I would be doing the world a favor to get rid of myself. But that’s not how I’ve been feeling this fall. Now it’s much more of a dull ache, a melancholia of meaninglessness. I’m not running toward death to end the pain – I can live with this pain. This time, it’s more that I’m unsure what difference it would make if I lived or died. I’ve been pondering suicide more out of boredom and fatigue than pain. But oddly the guilt has come in a different way. I’ve had a lot of memories from across my whole life pop up, memories of times when I felt guilty. And also some memories of times when I didn’t feel guilty, but now I found a reason I should have felt guilty. It’s like I have a free-floating guilty feeling, and I’m trying to find something to lash it to.
I feel like I’m facing the existential maw. Existentialist philosopher Albert Camus wrote, “There is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that.” That’s where I have been the past few months, wondering if there is any meaning to make life worth living? Existential philosophy would encourage me to make my own meaning. I know this. But I just can’t be bothered.
And traditional Christian faith would encourage me to find my meaning in God. But my faith in God is not the type of faith that solves this. In my case, I can believe in God, and yet also believe there is no purpose for me. Is that a contradiction? Or maybe a dialectic? I don’t know. I guess I could go read some Kierkegaard or Tillich and find out. But again, I can’t be bothered. I’m too tired. I’m too distracted. I’m too caught up in the question: would there really be a point to even exploring it? Eh, maybe, but it’s not worth the trouble. That’s been my inner mantra this season: Is there really a point? Eh, maybe, but it’s not worth the trouble.
Out at the fire, I thought about this. And I realized that I have actually been searching for meaning in one place, placing my self-worth right in that one basket, which is the publication of Darkwater. And since I have absolutely no idea right now when, or even if, it will be published, I am in this holding pattern. But if my writing were like this fire, then I could look at it differently. This fire could burn through documents and linens without issue. It just wasn’t a roaring campfire, due to things outside my control. So I changed my perspective, and focused on what I needed to do. I decided to burn up the financial documents that I didn’t need anymore, and also burn up what needed to be burned from the church. I decided to focus on that, pay attention to that, and not worry about the other things. And I did. It was a very pleasant burning experience from that point on. It was especially fun and satisfying to drape the linens over the hot coals, and watch them self-ignite.
And if the metaphor holds, then I can do this with my writing as well. I wonder if I can let go of my focus on getting my book published, and focus instead on continuing to write, both about my own past, and about things at the church. Certainly I still do a lot of church writing after all – I’ve written eleven sermons in December, if nothing else. And perhaps there’s more writing to be done about my past. After all, the primary purpose for writing the essays that became Darkwater was processing. Maybe there are more essays, more blog posts, I can write, or maybe I can just journal. I wonder if perhaps burning is a good metaphor for what writing looks like for me: a violent metamorphosis from one state to another (linens/paper to ash, or memories to narrative) that releases a powerful amount of energy, heat, and light in the process. Is my writing a process like burning? Maybe. And is being published really the most important part of it? No. it would be a nice thing, but it isn’t the purpose.
I have given in to the Dark Voice so much these past few months. He wants me to embrace the meaninglessness as it is, and not fight against it. I believe God wants the opposite. I think God wants me to dive deep into it, fight it for all I’m worth, and come out the other side with a sense of purpose and insight. Darkwater is, on one level, the story of those two voices warring I my head. The manuscript may be done, but the war continues. I think I’m finally getting close to listening to God on this one. But I’ll need guts to do it. Hopefully the Holy Spirit will light my heart on fire.