We are steadily moved – without our own effort or volition – toward the shortest day and longest night. Those of us who have opened ourselves to the natural cycles of the world may find ourselves with less energy – which is a delicate way of writing that we may feel fuckin’ depressed, and though we know that writing in any form is a way through anything, we may avoid it.
The New York Times ran an obituary of the writer, Bette Howland today. Check out her wonderful intelligent face. She was more than once depressed enough to try to kill herself with an overdose of pills. The Times doesn’t tell us in which season she made the attempt. It does say that she was staying in Saul Bellow’s apartment in Chicago – I lived in Chicago. I remember hunting for light throughout those gray wet winters. And I know too well how easily I succumb to an intimate connection in which the balance of power is not in my favor – and the guaranteed consequences of my give-away.
Here is part of Bettte Howland’s obituary, not so much focused on her depression – though I am tempted to wonder how much was caused by her connection with the ostensibly more powerful Mr. Bellow – but on his advice to her as a writer and depressive.
…Ms. Howland was making her way toward becoming a writer. In 1961 she met Bellow at a writers conference on Staten Island, and the letters her son found in a safe deposit box begin that year.
“I want to see you do well,” Bellow, who was 22 years older, wrote her in August 1961. “I believe in fact that you can go as far as you like in writing.”
But as a single mother with two young sons, she struggled, and in 1968 — while staying in Bellow’s Chicago apartment while he was traveling — she took an overdose of pills, a suicide attempt that resulted in her temporary confinement to a psychiatric ward.
It was advice she apparently took to heart. Her first book, “W-3” — named for the psychiatric wing of a Chicago hospital — was about the suicide attempt and its aftermath. It was published in 1974.
“For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin — real life,” she wrote. “But there was always some obstacle in the way. Something to be got through first, some unfinished business; time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life could begin. At last it had dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.”
I invite you to reflect on all of the above – and send us the writing which emerges.
Thank you, anonymous writer for responding to last week’s BTW on The Contract: I create this contract with my writing. Space. I will provide a comfortable and safe space to write. This space may be my desk but it’s not limited to this location. Time. My minimum commitment is daily morning pages. Three full notebook pages, each morning in the dark.