This is the first summer vacation in a long while which I’m not spending in the US with my parents. The reason is mostly financial: If only the journey were as affordable as, say, simply going on a trip out of town. (Valencia, Negros Oriental, for example, where the annual national writers’ workshop will be held a week hence. Since I became a poetry fellow in 2008, I had been coming by yearly to visit, in an ultimately vain attempt to recapture the magic of my first workshop.)
As things stand, my summer plans are open. I thought I’d use the time to Organize My Life. By which I mean, set my priorities and fix my budget for the next five years, or something like that. I have not been fulfilling my creative writing goals despite the time and resources I’ve been putting into them. Perhaps I’m not doing enough; perhaps a drastic change is called for. But definitely I need a solid strategy to write more efficiently and prolifically, and less painfully, somehow.
Lately, tendrils of despair had wound tightly around my heart. It may be my current circumstances, it may be my nature; likely it’s both. I found myself googling the life of David Foster Wallace, famed and talented American writer, dead by his own hand at 46. He had struggled with depression all his life—trying all kinds of medication and treatment, seeing many doctors, going to various hospitals and institutions, and surviving several suicide attempts. Through it all he managed to write prodigiously, finishing at least two novels, one of which is Infinite Jest. A posthumous work, The Pale King, was one of the finalists for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize. He had also finished several short story and essay collections. Not bad for a life that did not see 50.
From what I read, part of the reason why he had killed himself is that he had stopped taking his medication, believing that it was preventing his next novel from coming out of him. This is tragic: I don’t believe that depression in any way helps one to write. It must have been the side-effects of his medication, not the medication itself, that Wallace had needed to put an end to.
The desire to write, and the talent to do so, are not enough to produce something. The ability to actually write is a necessary condition, which is predicated on something as simple and taken-for-granted as mental health. As someone who’s had her own struggles with depression, I can say that it is not something to romanticize, for it hobbles the soul. Any artist who is prone to it must find a way either to overcome it or to live with it. But on the other hand, who could blame the suicide? The following passage from Infinite Jest is Wallace’s attempt to describe the suicidal state of mind:
“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in who Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. The terror of falling from a great height is still as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and “Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
I found the above passage via Good Reads, not having read Wallace’s works myself, at least not yet.
Speaking of reading (and Good Reads), and to proceed to lighter things, this bookworm has been steadily munching through the pages of some of the best novels of the 21st century, as listed in the website. But as I shared in my last post, I haven’t been reading so much as listening: I have discovered audio books. It actually solves the problem of my heretofore unscalable to-be-read pile. I’ve made a quite a dent in my library of Great Books that Are Unread by Me. Thankfully, no matter how many more I consume, I have every faith that I’d never run out of great reads. For one thing, there’s the backlist of classics, and as we are reading, more are being written. Yay!
All this is part of the ongoing love affair with fiction. I haven’t been writing poetry: I find it difficult switching between prose and poetry modes. Fiction writing is a bigger challenge, at least for me. You have larger canvas, which demands a larger life. In terms of my poetics, I’ve always gravitated toward beauty for its own sake: the beauty of imagery, the beauty of sound. I find though that writing a story is less an aesthetic endeavor than an ethical one. Here is a world that demands courage, or gets at beauty through courage. It is not enough to praise the world. You have to be a better person.