I had the most awful dreams last night, I woke up sweating and shaking, went downstairs so as not to awaken Maria and sat by the fire with Flo. I felt myself slipping into a hole, the dark place. Into the Whirlwind, I call it, after the great memoir of the same name. The novelist Robertson Davies, who suffered terribly from depression, used to say the Black Dog came to visit him from time to time. He sounded flip about it, but I could tell from his writing that it wasn't.
Anxiety was usually my poison, not depression, but the Black Dog nearly ate me alive at the other farm, and every now and then, he comes to pay me a visit. The visits are short, there is too much stuff in my life going on to dwell in dark places. It was a tough winter, for sure, we lost Simon, Lenore and Frieda within a few weeks of one another.
We are dealing with some financial realities, we are facing them squarely. A few years ago, I was visited at once by a bunch of different storms, by divorce, the recession, a farm we have not been able to sell, and the revolutionary changes facing publishing. We have been working hard to deal with all of these things, but we are doing well. For someone who had plenty of money since he was 20, it has been a change.
We are dealing with all of these things together, we will not quit until they are all resolved. This is a new circumstance for me, I have not trusted many people or been close to many. Maria and I are so much a couple, it is hard to imagine tackling all of this without her. I tried for years to deal with them all by myself. We are dealing with them ourselves, we are not seeking help or asking for any. I want to be a whole human being, Maria does as well, we mean to take care of ourselves. That is the point, really.
But I can't help but get discouraged sometimes, and wonder what my life is really worth, in America we learn to measure success by money, not love or satisfaction or meaning.
I do not wish to measure my life by money, I decided when these crises hit that I would forego all of the money I was supposed to have, let go of the money I had saved, live a different kind of life in exchange for love and creativity. I do not regret it, not for a second. But it gets me down once in awhile, there are some difficult moments. I am beginning to get older, I am beginning to feel older.
Joseph Campbell says this can be a gentle and loving part of life, I feel that. You finally know something, even though it is often too late to use it. And if you can't use it, you can share it with those who wish to listen. I suppose when the Black Dog comes I feel vulnerable, I feel a spiritual fatigue. There are a lot of miserable and angry people out there, anger is infectious sometimes.
Every day the Google ads – devilish things, they know everything about me – pop up asking me if I have saved enough money for retirement, or have enough to tide me through life's many ups and downs.
I do not, I wish they would leave me alone. I've met a lot of people in hospice work who had saved up a lot of money and ended up giving it all to the government or a nursing home. I'll take a different path. Aging is not about surrendering life for me, it is about appreciating it in a new and loving and wiser way.
Some of you may recall that this blog nearly saved my life a few years back – along with a wonderful therapist in Saratoga. When I was falling apart and mired in depression, I wrote a short paper book about it called "Out Of The Shadows." I wanted to help other people. The book sold out, it is out of print and I don't wish to print any more, I get requests for it almost every day. That is not how I wish to define myself, I have moved on from that painful time.
It was not that long ago. I have worked hard and come far, in many ways, the blog is a record of that journey, something to record my life honestly and leave a record behind.
I was shattered when my life fell apart, and Maria helped me put the pieces back together. I have no doubt that I would not be alive today if I had not met her. I remember that I was terrified to tell my tough therapist about Maria, I had made so many bad decisions and was such a mess, and she never let me get away with a thing. I was sure she would tell me that the relationship was a bad idea. Maria is younger than I am, and we were both emerging from shocking and painful divorces. Not a good time for new relationships.
She sensed that I was holding something back, I finally told her the truth, that I was falling in love with Maria. She smiled and nodded, and said "I fully support your relationship with Maria, it sounds nourishing and very healthy. That's why you moved up here, to find her. That is what you have been looking for. " it was the beginning of my return to life, I knew I would be all right after that, the world became lighter and brighter. And I got the girl, the best ending for any story.
These days, I am rarely either anxious or depressed, but I have learned that it is not only a bad thing when the Black Dog comes. It can be cleansing and nourishing and beautiful and lonely, all at the same time. Red and I went to the gym, it was peaceful and quiet, we were the only ones there. I read a novel – "My Sunshine Away" by M.O. Walsh – on my Iphone as I biked, I listened to Leonard Cohen sing "Amen" and "Come Healing."
I have often been lonely in my life, it is, in many ways, a comforting and healing state for me. Sometimes I need it.
I closed my eyes and listened to the heat come on in the drafty gym. I biked for 30 minutes, then walked on the treadmill for another 45 minutes. I was tired and sore, but all of those things – Red, the novel, the music, the workout – make me feel better in bits and pieces. I know how to do that now. The Black Dog rarely stays around too long these days, he mostly just wanders through my life a bit. I don't push him away or resent him, he is a part of me and a part of what it means to be a human being.
I came home and peeked at Maria's studio, it was all lit up, we texted each other and she was happy, she had been helpful to a friend – nothing makes her happier – and sold out all of the wonderful Crow potholders she made yesterday. People gobbled them up, I knew she was busy finishing them. I put my earbuds on and listened to Sheryl Crow and made a white clam pizza – multi-grain dough (warmed at 475) with Ricotta cheese, tomato, spinach and white clams on tomato sauce (w/garlic.) The crust was just right, the pizza was delicious.
When it was done, I texted her and we sat in the dining room by candlelight and caught up on the day. And of course, I needed to write about this on my blog, my living memoir, my great work. Just like I wrote about it when I thought it would kill me. Tonight, I know it won't.
Tonight, we'll watch "House of Cards" for the first time on an Ipad and eat some cheese popcorn, now my only vice. We've gotten rid of our cable tv. I had a funny feeling and looked outside at our snow-filled world and I thought I saw the Black Dog rushing down one of the paths we dug in the snow, it was just a flash, he does not seem to want to come into the house. Perhaps he knows Flo will hiss at him and swat him across the nose.