Depression Confession

I'm writing this in church, but later I'll post it to the blog; the traditional place of confession meets the modern, the holy meets the tacky.

I've been depressed since Christmas. The pneumonia probably didn't set a great tone for the year, and the outbreak of new fighting in Gaza hardly lifts the spirits. Frankly, missing worship at my own church on Christmas Eve due to an ice storm didn't help. But some time has passed, and these explanations aren't enough to justify my depression.

So let me confess: In two areas of my life, the better I'm getting, the further I get from good enough. The calendar year has turned over, I've finished another revolution around the sun, and these artificial goalposts I've chosen are now just a bit further from my fingertips.

One of these goals is the publication of the novels I write. Why should that be so important to me? I wonder if anyone has done any research on the relationship between the ages at which we choose our arbitrary, external goals and the power they hold over us. I'd bet that part of the reason publishing has such a hold on me is precisely because I started so young, writing my first full length novel at 14. Sure, it was crappy, but the experience provided space to fabricate this elaborate fantasy of how my life would be when people were finally reading books I'd written. As I've grown the fantasy has eroded, except for the hard pit at its center; I would be happy and fulfilled. Now, both as a hobbyist and as a teacher of creative writing, I have the time and means to work on my craft. My writing improves with every revision. I'm getting better. But every set-back, every rejection, every second guess of each word in that ineffective query letter pushes that goal off just a bit further. This becomes my dream deferred.

As challenging as that might be, sitting in secret in front of my computer on a Friday night, it only punctuates a week where I wade in these deferred dreams. Just as I hone my writing craft, as a teacher I'm polishing my courses, tweaking my lessons, refining my delivery. But it seems my students are less and less motivated. I try to tell myself this is a product of my own age; the human impulse toward conservatism and despair that compels us to dismiss the next generation as lazy, immoral, in every way inferior to our own. I won't buy into that. I'm too liberal, I suppose, adhering too much to Kennedy's axiom that "We have come too far, we have sacrificed too much, to disdain the future now." I refuse to blame the kids completely, but I do think they've been inundated by a consumerist culture that tells them their futures will be provided, shrink wrapped and deeply discounted, by the local big-box store. It's my job, in part, to teach them that they will have to work harder and yearn for greater things, or they will find themselves trapped in a kind a caste misery they can't yet appreciate. But I can't seem to manage. Now, as our economy slips into the full depths of the Bush Depression, I'm so fearful for these kids. In years past I worried because they incorrectly expected that they could achieve their parents' lifestyle with only their parents' level of education. Now it's going to be so much worse for them. I don't know how to convey that to them. And if I despair because of my ambition toward a fantasy, am I fit to push them to dream?

And now the next stage of a confession: The guilt. What right do I have to feel depressed? My marriage is happy, my son is wonderful, I have a roof over my head, my belly is full... How presumptuous to even allow myself these feelings. On an intellectual level, I know one doesn't earn the right to an irrational state. Paige, who is getting her masters in counseling, assures me there's no reason to feel guilty about feeling depressed. Still, just as I developed a neurotic sense that publishing would make me feel fulfilled, I also learned that one should not complain of hunger when children are starving in Africa, and, by extension, that one shouldn't complain of depression when the world seems to be going to hell in a hand basket.

Of course, I'm not catholic, so I wasn't taught to keep it in the confessional booth, and my parents weren't Nostradamus, so I wasn't taught not to blog about it. So I have the guilt, but I still broadcast the confession.

And Paige is right about this, too; it does feel good to get it out.

Nine days left of the Bush administration. Maybe my depression will lift soon.