The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘depression’

Tickle the Feline Ivories, and Other News

July 17, 2015 | by

catpiano

Illustration of the cat piano from La Nature, vol. 11, 1883.

  • Earlier this year, Donald Antrim gave a commencement speech at Woodberry Forest School. His subject was “the unprotected life” and coping with its devastations. For years after a long suicidal depression, he said, “I did not write. It was enough to be restored, and I deeply and sincerely regretted ever writing at all. I’d seen what it could do, what my own choices, my own work, had done to me. I was afraid of what I might write, and afraid, too, that, were I to sit down to it, were I to try, I would only learn that I was broken, and that it was no longer possible for me to bring out a word.”
  • Time was, if you didn’t like any of the real musical instruments out there in the world, you’d just make one up in writing. The rich history of “fictophones”—imaginary musical instruments—includes Francis Bacon’s pluperfect sound-houses (“where we practice and demonstrate all sounds and their generation”), the tublo cochleato (an enormous French horn-ish megaphone thing for amplifying the voice), and the torturetron (an organ that sends spikes into the sides of anyone near it, thus adding their pained groans to its own sounds). Best of all, though, is the cat piano, “a set of cats arrayed as sound-producing elements to be activated by the fingers,” which dates to the sixteenth century and was rumored to have cured an Italian prince of his melancholia.
  • Information overload is often depicted as one of the most tragic fates of the media age, anathema to all who prize the human condition. But it could be pretty good for poets, who can drown themselves in the “information sublime”: “Poets have not been passive victims of the proliferation of information, but rather have actively participated in—sometimes benefiting from, sometimes implicitly advocating, sometimes resisting—that proliferation … Poetries of information overload—by which I mean poetries and poems that relate either formally or historically to information saturation—demonstrate an extraordinary range of innovative responses to changing technological conditions.”
  • Today in the shifting sands of interlingual communication: German phrases have begun to yield to their English equivalents in interesting, not to say insidious, ways. “Germans are noticing that English is changing their fixed phrases, and even grammar. In English, something ‘makes sense.’ For Germans, though, ‘es hat Sinn’ (it has sense) or ‘es ist sinvoll’ (it’s sensible). The German is actually more logical. How, as in English, is something sensible actually making sense? The question is unanswerable; language is weird, and idioms especially. But nonetheless, many Germans are starting to say es macht Sinn, a loan-translation straight from English. Germans are proud of being thoughtful and logical; the idea that making sense is something they would have to borrow from the English might give a traditionalist the shivers.”
  • New York has a long, sad history of demolishing architectural wonders: the original Penn Station, the Roxy Theatre, St. John’s Church, the City Hall Post Office. The establishment, in 1965, of the Landmarks Preservation Commission did something to stop the destruction, but it was late in coming—a new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, “Saving Place: 50 Years of New York City Landmarks,” reminds of all that’s been lost.

Fun, Games

June 2, 2015 | by

Unknown painter, Melancholia (detail), 1528.

It’ll be just lovely for you to play—it’ll be so hard. And there’s so much more fun when it is hard!
―Eleanor H. Porter, Pollyanna

As regular readers of this space know, I try to see the silver linings in things. The other day, I was Pollyanna-ing around, trying to Glad Game a fit of depression, as is my wont. What’s good about this experience? I thought. And on the face of it, that’s a tricky one: it’s hard to find much to love about those days when you wake up filled with a vague, enervating dread and simultaneously want not to exist and to wonder how anyone, anywhere, has ever had the energy to go on a self-destructive tear.

When you are overcome with guilt and shame. When you know that the next days will be given over to wrestling your brain into some semblance of normalcy, and that the effort will take everything you have. And that there’s no bravery or triumph in overcoming it, because to do so is only to regain normalcy—and if you’ve done your job right, no one will know there was ever anything wrong. Read More »

The Totalitarian Tank Engine, and Other News

May 13, 2015 | by

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Thomas: a thinly veiled work of socialist realism? Image via the Telegraph

  • As Thomas the Tank Engine turns seventy, it’s worth asking: What’s this talking train’s political agenda? A thoughtless pushover, fearful of going off the rails and fixed on his cohort’s industriousness, “Thomas resembles one of those preposterous idealized figures of Stalinist propaganda. Face radiant with a dream of heightened productivity. In fact, Stalin would probably have approved of Thomas, who always does what the Fat Controller tells him and strongly disapproves of other engines who step out of line.”
  • If society seems increasingly illiterate to you, person of letters, remember that society relies less on literacy every year: “Most human beings worldwide would rather talk than read. Reading and writing are late inventions in the human story; widespread literacy in most places is only a few centuries old. And the fact that in black-and-white pictures of a commuter train almost every passenger is reading was an artifact of the technological state of things at the time. Today, most of those people’s equivalents are either talking on their phone or listening to music on it. Their forebears in those pictures would have been as well, if there had been devices to allow it.”
  • Piero di Cosimo is remembered most for his religious paintings, but he also made “startlingly vivid portraits of individualsHe gave himself the same tests, again and again, though he did not always pass them: for example, depicting feet, which he did in an elegantly detailed manner, down to their splayed toes.”
  • “When I began my first novel … I asked my colleague whether writing fiction caused manic-depression or merely mimicked the symptoms of manic-depression. He answered, ‘Yes,’ a cleverly enigmatic but also oddly confirming response.”
  • Want a euphemism for motherfucker? Try melon-farmer, mother-fouler, or motorcycle, and have a nice day.

Elder Abuse

March 11, 2015 | by

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Alexander Orlowski, Head of an Old Man in a Fur Hat, 1815.

For something that inhibits creativity, depression inspires a lot of metaphors. You can read about it likened to a vine-covered house or a black dog or a dreary balloon, or see it portrayed as a lowering cloud. Maybe because it’s a state so characterized by its lacks—of joy, of fun, of perspective, of energy, of hope, of self-love, of memory—people are eager to imbue it with substance.

When it hit me—in the abrupt way it does when you’ve forgotten to take your meds—I was on the subway. It was like being deluged by a tidal wave—no, make that a wave of slush from a passing taxi. The drear was powerful and immediately exhausting. I told myself it would pass. We all have our tricks. When things aren’t too bad, I can sometimes get myself to the dog run. The best thing to do is to help someone else, although this is easier to say when you’re not in the grip of it. When the prospect of dressing or bathing seems beyond contemplation, when keeping yourself from others seems like one of the few good things you can manage, the energy required in engaging with others is daunting. Read More »

Danke Schoen

November 3, 2014 | by

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A still from The Entertainer, 2005.

If I need to, I can date my periods of depression by the corresponding enthusiasms for terrible TV shows. Enthusiasms is maybe the wrong word: let’s say commitment to.

Now, at the best of times, I can be sucked into watching almost any show—give me a marathon and I’m yours for the next twenty episodes, and I genuinely mourn the passing of Most Eligible Dallas—but when I think of the other times, the bad times, my devotion had a different quality: resigned, enervated, yet obsessive. It was sort of coaxing a tepid crush out of boredom; with a little care and a lot of time, you can create something that approximates a genuine interest.

And I was willing to put in the time. There was my relatively respectable Upstairs Downstairs fixation after I moved into my parents’ house after college, when I’d spend my days crouching by the mail slot, waiting for the red Netflix envelopes to arrive with my fix. Even now, I see those weeks in 1970s BBC yellow. Less defensible was the obsession with the Australian soap McLeod’s Daughters, which could only be watched (a) during the day and (b) on Lifetime. This one crept up on me. Did I enter a McLeod’s Daughters contest to try to win a trip to the outback? Maybe. Let’s just say that when the booby prize, a faux-silver cowboy-boot key chain, arrived in the mail, it felt like a wake-up call.

But by any measure, the nadir came in the summer of 2005. I know the date because it was the one and only season of Wayne Newton’s The Entertainer, which aired on E!. Wayne Newton’s The Entertainer was part of the spate of copycat programs that followed the early success of American Idol, and the talent-show premise was similar. Ah, but here was the twist: The Entertainer was not restricted to singers—it sought to give exposure to all kinds of Vegas-style razzle-dazzle. As such The Entertainer was composed not merely of singers, but of ventriloquists, magicians—sorry, “illusionists”—and comedians, too, all vying for the grand prize: opening for “Mr. Vegas” himself. (Apparently Wayne Newton is called that, though I’m not sure by whom.) Read More »

The Notion of Family

October 7, 2014 | by

aToya Ruby Frazier, Aunt Midgie and Grandma Ruby, 2007, from The Notion of Family (Aperture, 2014)

Aunt Midgie and Grandma Ruby, 2007.

LaToya Frazier’s first monograph, The Notion of Family, documents the decline of Braddock, Pennsylvania—a once-prosperous steel-mill town that employed generations of African American workers—alongside the hardships of Frazier’s family, who grew up there. Issues of class and race underscore the mostly black-and-white photographs in the collection, which is arranged as a kind of family album: intimate, collaboratively produced portraits of Frazier and her mother in mirrors and on beds, are presented with derelict scenes of collapsed buildings, vacant lots, and boarded-up stores.

Frazier provides short texts with each image—wistful snippets of memory and anecdote merge with facts and statistics. Illness is nearly a constant. As Laura Wexler points out in an accompanying essay, Braddock’s hospital, which eventually housed the town’s only restaurant and therefore became its de facto meeting place, “is as much or more a fixture in this album and this family than the school, the factory, the library, the market, the taxi stand, the pawnshop, or any other institution.” Read More »

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