Tuesday, July 20, 2010


[the Wrathful, “those whom Anger defeated,” Canto VII, Circle 5; the post will make clear the relevance of this]

By that foul water, black from its very source,
we found a nightmare path among the rocks
and followed the dark stream along its course.

Beyond its rocky race and wild descent
the river floods and forms a marsh called Styx,
a dreary swampland, vaporous and malignant.

And I, intent on all our passage touched,
made out a swarm of spirits in that bog
savage with anger, naked, smile-besmutched.

They thumped at one another in that slime
with hands and feet, and they butted, and they bit
as if each would tear the other limb from limb.

And my kind Sage: “My son, behold the souls
of those who lived in wrath. And do you see
the broken surfaces of those water-holes

on every hand, boiling as if in pain?
There are souls beneath that water. Fixed in slime
they speak their piece, end it, and start again:

‘Sullen were we in the air made sweet by the Sun;
in the glory of his shining our hearts poured
a bitter smoke. Sullen were we begun;

sullen we lie forever in this ditch.’
This litany they gargle in their throats
as if they sang, but lacked the words and pitch.”

Then circling on along that filthy wallow,
we picked our way between the bank and fen,
keeping our eyes on those foul souls that swallow

the slime of Hell. And so at last we came
to foot of a Great Tower that has no name.

            ~ The Inferno, Canto VII, Circle 5,
            translated by John Ciardi

Sometimes it’s interesting to compare translations. Robert Pinsky’s version seems to me more melodious, but less powerful.

. . . We traveled across
To the circle’s farther edge, above the place

where a foaming spring spills over into a fosse.
The water was purple-black; we followed its current
Down a strange passage. This dismal watercourse

Descends the grayish slopes until its torrent
discharges into the marsh whose name is Styx.
Gazing intently, I saw there were people warrened

within that bog, all naked and muddy – with looks
of fury, striking each other: with a hand
but also with their heads, chests, feet, and backs,

teeth tearing piecemeal. My kindly master explained:
“These are the souls whom anger overcame.
My son, know also, that under the water are found

others, whose sighing makes these bubbles come
that pock the surface everywhere you look.
Lodged in the slime they say: ‘Once we were  grim

and sullen in the sweet air above, that took
a further gladness from the play of sun;
inside us, we bore acedia’s dismal smoke.

We have this black mire now to be sullen in.’
This canticle they gargle from the craw,
unable to speak whole words.” We traveled on

through a great arc of swamp between that slough
and the dry bank – all the while with eyes
turned toward those who swallow the muck below;

and then at length we came to a tower’s base.

            ~ translated by Robert Pinsky


In Canto VII, Dante makes Styx “a slough of despond” – a swamp rather than a river, at least in this circle of the Inferno. In the mud (muck, slime) of this swamp he places both the Wrathful and the Sullen. This pairing suggests that Dante regarded anger and depression as two sides of the same coin. The common modern view is that depression is anger turned inward. [image]

Reading the Inferno during the years when I still did depression, I was quite affected by the image of the sullen literally “stuck in the mud,” croaking the same dull words over and over. The image stayed with me, slowly doing its work of showing me that there was nothing noble about descending into that bog (during adolescence I picked up the idea that it was noble to suffer, admirable to be sad – for one thing, sad people looked more intelligent, sunk in thought – unlike those whose silly smile hinted at mindless happiness).

Gradually it occurred to me that Dante must mean the state of Despair, one of the Seven Deadly Sins. There is some controversy over the precise label of this cardinal sin. Wrath or Anger (Ira) is clear enough, but when it comes to “sullenness,” sometimes it’s classified as Sloth, sometimes as Acedia (which can be translated as “apathy”), and sometimes as Despair. I choose the last label as most powerful. That despair should be a deadly sin like pride or gluttony was disquieting, no matter how lapsed I was. Didn't Kierkegaard say that Despair, this acceptance of defeat in the past, present, and future, was the deadliest sin? And wasn’t that the sin against the Holy Spirit, the only kind that will not be forgiven?  

I could shrug off the teachings of the church, but it was more difficult to shrug off Dante. I knew that great writers were also great psychologists. What Dante showed through powerful imagery made me shudder. To point out the obvious, Dante sees chronic depressives as sinners, not as victims. That is very provocative right there. I don't think the shift toward the medical model has been entirely positive, except for the pharmaceutical industry. And it’s fabulous that Kathleen Norris has a new book out, and its topic is acedia (it would be too controversial to use the term chronic depression).

The pairing of anger and despair/depression also made sense. Already early on I found out that if someone managed to make me angry while I was depressed, I couldn’t afterwards slip back into depression no matter how much I wished to. I had to do something with that unwelcome influx of energy. I was forced to deal with life, with the world. Oh how I hated that!

For me yet another image for depression was a demon I called my Anti-Self, the part of me that wanted me to die. From demon it’s only a short hop to exorcism. Reading about exorcism, I came upon a statement that when the exorcism fails and the demon refuses to leave the victim, the exorcist must call upon an angel to come do battle with the demon, since an angel is more powerful than a demon.

My favorite angel was Uriel, the angel of light who is also the patron of the arts. It was all coming together.

In the image below, I know that Blake did not mean to represent Uriel battling the demon, but rather the false deity of the Old Testament creating Adam. But there is such a thing as a private meaning, different from that established by scholars, but having power for a particular person. When I saw this image, I thought of the battle between the angel and the demon. True, we don’t think of angels as bearded, but Uriel is the angel of the Face of God. The demon is coiled like a python, a snake of enormous strength. But we know that the angel is stronger yet. In Hölderlin’s uplifting words, “Where danger grows, that which will save us grows also.”

I was very lucky to have an angel to do battle with my demon; I had creative work to turn to. Such work is far from being pure joy, but each day can bring a little progress. “It is there for me” like a steady rhythm, and it brings all kinds of rewards. In fact, it’s not only creative work, but work in general – even housework can be healing. (Saint Anthony of the Desert healed his acedia when he followed the angel’s advice to keep busy plaiting rope.)

In simple words, don’t brood – work. Don’t ask what’s the point – just work. At long last, embarrassingly late in my life, I understood that overthinking was an addiction just like overeating (gluttony – we are back to the Seven Deadly Sins!). “Eating, Drinking, Overthinking.” I didn’t have to read the book – the title told me everything. I could hardly believe it could be that simple. It still feels like a miracle.

You may ask, but wasn’t work always there for me? It was – I had the ability to work hard since childhood. But before I made the commitment not to be depressed, I used to waste a lot of time brooding on all my failures and disappointments, having crying fits, wading into the marsh of Styx, there to rehearse the dull litany of the sullen. 

Dante uses the term "sad" (tristi) for the "sullen" and accidioso fummo – the smoke of acedia, a medieval term for apathy or “sloth.” This is a controversial post, because of my view that there is a large volitional element in depression (except for depression clearly caused by physical conditions such as being hypothyroid, menopausal, socially isolated, etc). There is also a huge self-centeredness to it. Perhaps Saint Augustine is right when he claims that all sins stem from pride, depression being an extremely disguised and inverted form of pride. One reason that it was so easy for me to descend into the mire of depression whenever I wanted to was that secretly I felt entitled to a “larger life,” a special destiny.”  If that’s not pride, what is?

(By way of a PS: 1. recent studies confirm that exercise – intense exercise in particular – is an excellent anti-depressant. 2. InWatermark, his wonderful book of essays about Venice, Joseph Brodsky writes: It is a virtue, I came to believe long ago, not to make a meal out of one’s emotional life. There’s always enough work to do, not to mention that there’s world enough outside.)
I realize that what I say is controversial, but, as always, I don't expect to have more than a handful of readers. I still think of my blog as a beautiful secret. 

Michael Peterson:

An important insight for anyone wanting to become psychologically adept, or able for soul-work, is to understand that we need to hear how others manage their travels across the soul. Yours is one tale, mine another, each tale as varied as fingerprints and snowflakes, both are important. We need to be like travelers exchanging travel tips and information about road conditions. I appreciate hearing your experience. Dante's experience is worth noting but I shy from simple explanations, knowing the complex relationships between the body's nervous and chemical systems. Weave these strands into the psychological system and we can stand slack-jawed, silently in awe humans function as more than statues. Trying to unravel the psyche, or soul, with certainty, isn't possible. I am wary of simple explanations because I know this -- depression is one way the unconscious speaks. Dreams are good, images, visions, intuition, the writing process -- and if the unconscious wants or feels its needs to use depression, I want to be open to this possibility. How do we know if our depression(s) is neurological or chemical or psychological or spiritual or?? I don't know. Experience and knowledge gathered over time can help. The bottom line is: I advocate patience with all psychic phenomena. Rarely does any psychic movement need to be understood immediately. Listening, patience, living in the present, honoring the self like a good host, these are all good components of soul-work.     

Thank you, Michael, for a fine comment. I don't object to anyone's "listening to depression." Nevertheless, in my own case, I am SOOOO happy to have decided to put an end to decades of that listening. I finally heard that those thoughts were not profound, as I supposed in adolescence. They were closer to repetitive garbage. I became embarrassed when I saw what garbage I kept recycling over and over. I'd been patient long enough, though "patient" isn't quite the word for such a waste of time, of life. Patiently listening to decades of chronic depression -- now there is an inferno! And what an escape from engaging with life's challenges. I'm not saying that this is everyone's case. It's interesting, however, that the term acedia is being resurrected.

And I am grateful to Dante for having helped me out of the Marsh of Styx, the Marsh of Death. He wasn't of course the only writer pointing the way, but the first jolt came from him (in Ciardi's translation). I am also particularly grateful to my best friend for having treated me with "tough love," and to another friend for her reminders about exercise; to yet another for stressing the need for more socializing; to a very special friend who happens to be a therapist for taking the time to present the findings on happiness and achievement; and to other supportive souls who knew I could climb out of the mud if I tried (I am still stunned when I ponder how easy it turned out to be) – and for their cheering me on when I announced my decision.

Basically, I agree with the position that you don’t get anywhere by asking, “What’s wrong with me?” You need to ask, “What’s right with me?” For decades, I asked the first question, and the Anti-Self/Depression would reply that I was worthless and it would be best if I died. Only when I began to listen to a different self (one I like to think of as Oriana, “the rising mind,” as Jane Hirshfield helped me translate the name) that assured me I had unique gifts to give, gifts I could give only if I made an effort to live, and live fully, that I could leave the marsh of Styx.


I was very interested in your thoughts on depression being like an addiction. Although I had an emotional and physical breakdown once, I still feel, and this is a personal philosophy, that depression is selfish.


This is a very valuable observation. Depression IS selfish -- or at least extremely self-centered, which ends up being the same thing, since the energy of the depressed person goes into brooding about herself; it does not go into being kind and loving toward others. When depressed, if I thought of others at all, it was about how so-and-so had hurt me.

There is mild chronic depression, which is bad enough, and then there is severe depression. In severe depression, thinking is completely irrational, so “listening to depression” is pointless. One might as well “listen to arthritis” rather than apply Penetran (a very effective salve, even when the pain is severe) and do the special physical-therapy exercises (also amazingly effective).

Recognizing that my depressed thoughts were pure irrational garbage was a very big step for me. I went through periods when my thinking, mainly about my past, was definitely delusional! To give one example, I couldn't -- I absolutely couldn't -- recall a single positive thing that ever happened in my life. Besides, one can go so far down that there is no thinking -- just stupor. Not a single thought crawling across the mind like a dying fly. Only sitting on the bed and staring at the wall for hours. It’s scary even to remember this.

Now that I can calmly think back about my depressive years, here is another surprise. The stage when I blamed America and my mother for all my misfortunes was actually a step forward for me! Before then, I blamed only myself, which increased self-loathing. Once I decided to drop depression, my attitude toward mother, America, and the world in general instantly became balanced. This restoration of rationality didn’t take any effort, since the healthy neural circuits already “knew” that nothing is black-or-white. (Oh, that's another thing about depressed cogitation – “shades of gray” are completely lost.)

To get back to your point about selfishness: yes, depression is selfish. It's also boring. Depression-caused thoughts are definitely not exciting.

To get more extreme, I think suicides are ultimately disappointing people. No matter what hits you, it's more INTERESTING to try to cope with it. Of course I understand all too well about pain, both physical and emotional, and about wanting to die in order to end that pain, but in retrospect that is not an interesting reaction. Trying to cope, no matter how bad the situation, is an adventure. Depression is similar to suicide in that you just sit there brooding instead of coping. The immobility is like death. Or even pointless, agitated mobility. I went through a phrase when I used to pace in circles, which only looks like an activity (fortunately it’s better for circulation).

I think I must have walked thousands of miles in the shoes of depression. At first depression was definitely not boring -- it was an unfolding drama, and the part of me that wasn't depressed, that was a witness, seemed fascinated to watch where this was going. The calm witness in me watched these hysterics – or that stupor – with ruthless curiosity. I am amazed how long it took before I finally knew it and said it: This is boring. It's boring, year after year, this mourning for the “larger life” I "should" have (my birthright, I guess) as opposed to my limited but lively real life. Finally, finally I said: depression is boring, and I don't want to do it anymore.

Note how little time Dante devotes to the sullen. Let’s face it: there is only so much to say. These are perhaps the most boring of all the inhabitants of Hell. 

Homer says we are like leaves on a tree whose trunk we cannot see, though dimly we know our autumn will come. We are of the moment. Woe to him who ignores the riches of that moment, preferring to contemplate his misfortunes, as though those were greater than anyone else’s. We are of the moment, and living well really is the only revenge. 
Wow, that's a fascinating and powerful piece of writing. I particularly like the Brodsky quote.
I don't know enough about the topic to have an informed view or professional opinion, but my suspicion – based on my own experiences, and what I know of those of others – is that there are probably lots of different phenomena that get lumped under the heading of "depression" nowadays. I would also guess that "depression," like happiness, is only partly a chemically induced brain state, and that a lot goes missing when we ignore its conceptual surroundings and the various circumstances that occasion it. And of course, these change over time, so it is almost certainly a mistake to treat acedia, despair, melancholy, existential angst, etc. as equivalent to each other and identical with whatever it is that anti-depressants are meant to cure. "Despair," for instance, seems to be a religious category (a sin), whereas that wasn't how the Romantic poets viewed melancholy, which wasn't a vice. 

There is nowadays a tendency to pathologize whatever responds to pharmaceuticals, but there is also a lot of horrible stuff going on in the world, and something in the vicinity of depression might sometimes be a perfectly rational response to it. Of course, none of this is to deny that there are real medical/psychological conditions from which people suffer for no redeeming purpose and that ought to be treated.

It does seem to me, though, that at least some of the forms of malaise that get labeled as “depression” do involve self-centeredness, and that sometimes the way out of the woods is to stop focusing on one's emotional state and start involving oneself in life. Put the other way around, happiness doesn’t strike me as a worthy or attainable goal to aim at, so much as something that supervenes on people who are doing what they take to be meaningful work in the world. 



Thank you for an excellent, well thought-out response. I agree that there are many types of depression. This post is concerned chiefly with chronic depression, whose symptoms strike me as identical with those of acedia. 

I wonder whether any form of depression is ever a rationalresponse – though it may be an inevitable NATURAL response when we are truly overwhelmed, without the emotional and conceptual support available to ardent religious believers, or those who have a truly effective life philosophy to protect them, or – and this is the most important point here, brought up in the post above – a meaningful task at hand (for instance, I was deeply impressed by an American surgeon after the recent Haiti earthquake – when I saw him on TV, totally concentrated, doing surgery at no fee, I thought he was the happiest man in the world; another and more common example wd be a mother who has to be strong for the sake of her children).

While it makes sense that happiness should not be a goal, but a by-product of  meaningful work, oddly enough, studies show that people who are most successful at work are those who were happy to begin with. The happiness came first, the success later. I had a fascinating interchange with a therapist-friend on that, with specific examples. (A mystical digression: "Be happy, and the beloved comes.") Maybe "happiness" is the wrong word; an attitude of contentment? Jack Gilbert's words, "It's too late for discontent" also had a deep impact on me.

Jack Gilbert also said, To make injustice the only / measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.  Chronic depressives tend to erect a whole system to defend their “right to be depressed,” and can easily cite all the evil in the world. There is an interesting parallel here with what one finds in pro-anorexia websites.

I have never experienced or witnessed any form of depression (I don’t mean transient melancholy, as at the sight of withering flowers) that wasn’t self-centered. People may have a genuine emotional response to the current genocide in Africa, but that response is not depression, especially not chronic depression. The depressives who say, "Of course I am depressed; look at the horrible things happening in the world," are trying to justify their low mood and non-involvement in life. It’s a socially acceptable mask for a negative mood and inaction (what Dante portrays as being stuck in the slime of the Marsh of Death). Whatever triggers depression is personal. Of course turning on the news doesn’t help, with all the bad stuff out there. But depression is not about caring for the suffering Africans; it's about the (often narcissistic) wound to the self/ego. Chronic depression and narcissism are usually two sides of the same coin (excluding conditions such as hypothyroidism, malnutrition, and so forth).
I can see that if this Dante/depression post got to a wider audience, it could grow to the length of a book! 

And eventually I’d be getting more comments that are apologia for depression, while I am firmly against depression, at least the kind of acedia that has a large volitional component . All I achieved I owe to my being obsessive-compulsive ("extreme effort"), more than any other kind of pathology. I don't think being a depressive ever helped me write, and I'm so glad to be done with that useless suffering. Now I am eager to explore happiness.
A lot of people couldn’t care less about the right to pursue happiness; they want the right to be depressed. The Declaration of Independence needs to be revised: “Life, liberty and the right to be depressed.” The right to sulk, to be sullen, to disengage from life and wallow in negative thoughts. A short period of that is only human. When it goes on for years, for decades, for practically the entire lifetime -- what a waste. (“It’s not just that youth is wasted on the young; it’s worse: life is wasted on people” – from the movie “Greenberg”)

Of course happiness needs to be defined, perhaps the way Freud did it: "Love and work." Love is only partly under our control, and the only love we can buy is a dog. Work is always there for us. It’s not always as meaningful and rewarding as we would like it to be, but any work, performed with attention, is healing. 
This knowledge wasn't new to me; I simply lacked the motivation to cease being depressed. Happiness didn't interest me and could never be my goal. But strength of character did interest me, and finally I understood that Nietzsche was wrong: What makes me happy makes me stronger. All those years, I was gradually traveling toward that fraction of a second that changed everything: the decision not to be depressed.
Only then the first stanza of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Carrion Comfort” became truly meaningful to me, and not just a brave but futile cry.  After a year and a half of never once sliding back into even mild depression, I know the power of making a commitment.

Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist – slack as they may be – these last strands of man
in me or, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.  

That "I can" makes all the difference. The core part of us that is not depressed, the Observer, the Witness, knows perfectly well that we can; but when we cling to depression, we don't want to. 

Note also that, like Dante, Hopkins does not mince words. Despair is “carrion comfort.” Everyone loves the alliteration, but in what sense is despair “comfort”? In my experience, it is comfort because it’s total acceptance of defeat in the past, present, and future ("I will always be defeated, and there's nothing I can do about it"); its siren song is “Struggle no more.” It is comfort because if we take refuge in it (I don’t mean transient despair, a part of life, but a chronic state of mind), it’s an escape from having to cope with reality.

As for the praise of melancholy by the Romantics, it can be innocuous, as in Keats’s lovely “Ode to Melancholy”:

She dwells with Beauty – Beauty that must die;
  And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
  Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips;
Ay, in the very temple of delight
  Veiled Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
  Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
  And be among her cloudy trophies hung.

Yes, flowers wither, leaves fall, a friend moves to another town; we go to a movie, the hero dies and we cry. That kind of transient melancholy is part of being human. There is a sweetness to this passing sorrow. It's not self-destructive. Some Romantic writers, alas, glorified self-centered sadness and even suicide as part of having a superior, artistic sensitivity, and being a superior person in general, an exceptional being for whom nothing that life could offer was good enough. We must not listen to the ravishing voices of those Sirens.  When it comes to mental health, it’s much better to listen to Dante, that giant, who says to your (acedic) face: you are wallowing in slime. And thus, for the lucky few, he saves what remains of your life. 


  1. I like what Michael says about the difficulty, near impossibility, of knowing what we need to know about the self, but I also thing that finding the simple words our individual selves will listen to and understand is also possible and necessary. I've seen it happen many times.

  2. Thank you, John. For me the right simple words have been of utmost importance -- their power to create a paradigm shift can be stunning. And once I experience a paradigm shift, for me there is simply no going back. That's one reason I am so grateful to great writers -- but also to friends who said simple things like, "With your talent, why don't you write poems rather than waste your time being depressed?"

  3. I also like what Michael said, but agree with John that each individual needs to find not only his own words but his own understanding of depression. Then we can begin to deal with it,which can odten be a long-term committment to the "Self." I do not believe depression is a form of inverted pride, of anger, or sullenes. It is what it is depending on the longivity of it and the genetic, medical make-up colluding with life events. To my understading there is a significent difference between depression, chronic depression and the grief process.
    They may be inter-related, but they are definately not the same; and rarely chosen to enhance our lives, or creativity. Kathleen Gilroy

  4. Thank you, Kathleen, for pointing out the individual differences, and each person's need for finding his own words, his own understanding -- as John also points out.

    For me the "inverted anger" insight about depression did work, though it doesn't have to be a universal case. I find it fascinating that Dante placed the Angry and the Depressed in the same place, in the mud of the marsh of Styx, except that the Depressed seem to be in worse shape, being stuck under the surface.

    I suspect that Dante's acedic sinners would in today's parlance be classified as chronic depressives. Chronic depression is indeed different from the kind of severe depression that can follow a deep loss, but is usually self-limiting, and after a while the person can function as before. Chronic depression, like chronic pain, can go on for years and years . . . There are better days and worse days, but it's always there, waiting to flare up at the slightest (sometimes ridiculously slight) provocation. To say it this doesn't enhance our lives is putting it mildly.

    At the same time, in my case at least, chronic depression served as an escape, so I wasn't motivated to try anti-depressants, for instance. For heaven's sake, they might work!

    Basically I always knew how to make myself happy, but I didn't feel motivated to do it. That fits the "sloth" part of acedia. To make an effort as slight as putting on the music I loved? You mean, I had to walk all the way to the stereo? No way.

    First, miraculously it seems, I decided that it was too late for suicide; then one morning it literally dawned on me that it was likewise too late for depression. And it had been so many years that I was finally tired and bored with my depression, so I made a conscious decision to be done with it. Once I was done with it, I was disgusted to have been in that swamp for such a long time. Fortunately I had so much to do that there was no time to waste contemplating my disgust. I moved on.

  5. Hello, Oriana, you invited my reaction, as that of a practicing Catholic.

    I just tried to post this and got a message that it was too long. I will cheat and post it in pieces. If this cheating is unacceptable to you, Oriana, please feel free to delete, of course.

    In the interests of full disclosure I should say that I don't, currently, attend mass, and there is a reason for that. The local Catholic church is hopelessly corrupt, financially, legally, ethically, morally, politically. Attending mass here feels too hypocritical.

    But I am a believing Christian, and having been raised Catholic, I keep to the forms, in my own way – praying the rosary daily, devotion to the saints, etc.

    I'm also not a good respondent because Dante doesn't work for me. I can see how well he worked for you, and I appreciate and honor that.

    My response is different. The Inferno strikes me as a very crude instrument addressing a very serious matter – sin and potentially appropriate responses to sin.

    The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is relatively mute on this matter, esp. in comparison to other traditions. Ancient Egyptian pharaohs knew exactly what they would confront in the afterlife: a negative confession: "I did not raise my voice, I did not steal," confessed before Osiris, recorded by Thoth; the deceased's heart was weighed in a scale against Maat's feather of truth. The afterlife was so well known that pharaohs knew exactly what to pack: eye makeup, camping gear, pets…

    The Islamic paradise is highly detailed, fruit-, virgin-, and water-filled fantasy for a desert warrior: http://www.flex.com/~jai/satyamevajayate/heaven.html

    But the Bible is more or less mute. We know that a poor, old widow who donates a "mite," small coin, and Dismas, an executed thief who repents on the cross, made it to heaven, whereas "a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day" goes to hell, while "a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores", sores that dogs used to lick, is carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. But that's it. We don't know if Lazarus had any use for eye makeup or camping gear, or his trusty canine companions.

    Paul was in heaven; the only account he sent back was that he "heard ineffable things, which no one may utter."

    The Bible's silence on these matters strikes me as much more sophisticated and appropriate than Dante's interminable A-B-A, B-C-B, C-D-C.

  6. Oriana, here's part two:

    Oriana, you wrote: "Dante sees chronic depressives as sinners, not as victims."

    Sweetheart, I could not agree more.

    I think my total blasphemy in regard to current understandings of victimhood is one of the many reasons I'm unpublishable.

    Victimhood is a cultural product, constructed by humans, and it is a choice. When rich people go on air and talk about how their depression was a cement block deposited into their souls by implacable chemicals and genes and the only way out was psychoanalysis and drugs, I just want to hurl.

    Real life just doesn't jive with that song and dance. There are people who face the exact same issues and choose life, to quote a despised and mocked line. (Spoken by on Old Testament prophet – Deuteronomy 30-19; mocked, inter alia, memorably, in "Trainspotting," a film celebrating skeevy Scottish heroin addicts.)

    The whole "depression is an unchanging, unchosen cement block" narrative jives with atheist worldviews: there's no such thing as free will. We are nothing but matter. There is no spirit, no soul, transcendent of flesh that can choose life. God is a liar. There is no free will to choose him. All we are is our chemicals, our matter, and if our matter has been cursed with depression, we must accept it.

    Oriana you wrote: "For me yet another image for depression was a demon I called my Anti-Self, the part of me that wanted me to die."

    I would call that Satan. I believe. I wonder if you've ever read or heard about Romeo Dallaire's encounter? He titled his book "Shake Hands with the Devil."

    Oriana: "the Anti-Self/Depression would reply that I was worthless and it would be best if I died"

    Oriana, as I see it, there are two choices. God – all that it is good – Psalm 16 – or the opposite of God, the absence of God. I call this "Satan" and I don't even use the word "entity" because I don't know exactly what Satan is.

    But I recognize his MO and this voice telling you that you ought to die is, to my mind, utterly Satanic.

    Why invest in such filth? It's worthless. It's the opposite of worth. It wants to destroy you. Me. Everything good on this planet.

    Its only power is the power we hand it. It has no other power.

    Viruses are a possible metaphor. Are viruses dead or alive? They only function when in their hosts, draining their life, poisoning the host's mechanism.

    No host, no virus. It's an inert bunch of incomplete, non-functional genetic material.

    Oriana, you wrote: "even housework can be healing"

    Idle hands are the devil's playmate.

    I once suffered from a long, horrible illness. It was especially horrible because I was poor in a rich country and unable to get medical care for that reason. And it was horrible because it was preceded by harassment by a university professor who was empowered because she was the right gender and the right race to be handed absolute power, and I was the "wrong ethnicity" on a university campus.

    One morning I woke up to realize that, because of this illness, I'd finally lost all hearing in one ear. I'd been gradually going deaf for years, but this was the final blow.

    I remember very clearly that I cleaned that day. I cleaned as part of a work exchange with my landlady. She expected me to clean that day, and I did.

    I couldn't go to the doctor – there was no doctor. I could cry, but what would be the point?

    I cleaned.

  7. Oriana: "At long last, embarrassingly late in my life, I understood that overthinking was an addiction just like overeating"

    Bingo. You realized it. Many never do.

    Oriana: "I had the ability to work hard since childhood"

    Sounds very Polish.

    Oriana: "This is a controversial post, because of my view that there is a large volitional element in depression"

    Yup. See above.

    Oriana: "Perhaps Saint Augustine is right when he claims that all sins stem from pride, depression being an extremely disguised and inverted form of pride. One reason that it was so easy for me to descend into the mire of depression whenever I wanted to was that secretly I felt entitled to a “larger life,” a special destiny.” If that’s not pride, what is?"

    Oriana, I think you are on the path of profundity here.

    For my book "Bieganski," which I hope you will immediately buy and read and review on Amazon, I read years' worth of material about atrocity. I didn't just read about the Holocaust or the Kielce pogrom; I don't believe that you can understand those atrocities until you put them in context of the Cambodian autogenocide, the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, Rwanda, etc.

    Many have tried to understand evil. One answer comes up frequently: narcissism. I don't know if it's the key. But many have hit upon narcissism as close to the key.

    In any case, narcissists insist on placing their own narrative as primary, and anything God manifests as secondary to that.

    There's a story that comes up in the Bible again and again. An old, presumably post menopausal woman giving birth. Mind: biblical populations lived in a primitive landscape. Concrete nouns and action verbs were all they had to communicate big ideas. Folklorists say that folktales don't waste time with words to express thought or mood, or with adjectives.

    The post menopausal woman who gives birth is, I think, the bible's way of saying that God can do anything he wants, including overcome nature and your own expectations. And we have to invest hope in that. And to fail to invest hope is to insist that our narrative trumps God's. Narcissism. Evil.

  8. Oriana: "I had unique gifts to give" Oriana, I think that that is the truest thing you wrote here. The bible emphasizes this over and over. Each of us is of enormous worth to God. Jewish commentators have said that God created the universe for each, individual human being. Christians are taught to believe that Christ died for each one of us uniquely. If you were the only soul lost in sin, Jesus would go through all that just for *you.*

    Oriana: "Recognizing that my depressed thoughts were pure irrational garbage was a very big step for me"

    Oriana, I LOVE this. I love it. Love it.

    I wonder if you've seen "Beautiful Mind." There is a great scene where Russell Crowe, as schizophrenic John Nash, rushes to tell his wife "They don't get old." He suddenly realized that his hallucinations don't age – a clue that they weren't real people.

    Oriana: "I think I must have walked thousands of miles in the shoes of depression"

    My heart goes out to you. You have suffered much. Please know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It may not shine in this lifetime.

    I'm fascinated by Bernadette Soubirous. Mary told her that her life would suck. I appreciate that honesty from an apparition. Her life did suck. It's almost unbearable contemplating what she went through. Mary's promise was this: you will have a happy afterlife. I can't even comment on this. It boggles my mind too much. I believe, as firmly as I believe in anything, that that is available to you, Oriana. And I believe that God's love we will experience when we drop this dispensation will so overwhelm the suffering we experienced here that it will be, as Jesus said in John 16,

    Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.

    When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world.

    So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.

    On that day you will not question me about anything. Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.

    Having said all that, I still stand up for the rights of people to end their own lives if they have reached their limit. But they have to reach their limit.

    I received an e-mail yesterday from a friend who had just attended the funeral of a young man who killed himself. My friend described many people being devastated by this "brilliant, gifted, sensitive young man ... The sadness is immeasurable" Me? I have no pity for that young man. He had so many gifts and so many supporters and he effed them all.

    When someone is completely alone, and is beyond his or her limit, then, okay, do it. And the God I believe in will be the God for that soul, as well.

    Oriana, I really like what you wrote here (and your other posts as well) and I'm glad you put it out there to be read.

    To paraphrase Blaise Pascal (pertinent to all these matters) I apologize for the length of this reply, but no time to make it shorter. It's going to be 100 once again today, and I think I'll probably keel over soon.

  9. Wow, Danusha, there is so much here . . . My ability to type is limited today, so I'll have to be to the point: a lesson from that strange bee sting (I was stung by a DEAD bee, which seems symbolic in a way I'm yet to see more fully).

    1) The VOLITIONAL COMPONENT. There is acute depression when something terrible happens, and there is chronic depression -- just as there is acute schizophrenia and chronic schizophrenia. The acute episode is, or seems, beyond control. But the chronic phrase, EVEN IN SCHIZOPHRENIA, does have a volitional component. I absolutely loved The Beautiful Mind, and how Nash achieved what seemed to be impossible -- how he turned the sane part of the brain to protect him from the effluvia of the insane brain circuits (or however we can put it in our inadequate understanding).

    2)NARCISSISM. In a culture of narcissism, you are going to see a lot of depression. Narcissism is also intertwined with emotional immaturity: if I can't have my toys, I'll just sulk, or hold my breath, or cry non-stop.

    3)IT WAS SURPRISINGLY EASY FOR ME TO QUIT DEPRESSION. I expected many slide-backs. I haven't experienced a single one. Work is so healing. Also music, which is processed by the "God area," the right temporal lobe (I typed "love"). There is indeed no picture of the afterlife in the bible, but oral and painterly tradition seem to say: there are angels, and they are making music.

    I translate "God" as "that which is the highest." And I can behave accordingly. My suffering has already dropped away (I was unhappy because I was depressed, and not the other way), so even if there is no happy afterlife, I fully anticipate my life to be a lot more rewarding than before, when I thought it was OK to indulge in depression. Dante (and others) helped me see that it was not OK.

  10. PS. Dante's value to us in our age is not that he presents a credible view of the afterlife. I greatly admire Pope John Paul's courage in having said, ex cathedra, that hell is not a place but rather a state of mind. Dante remains relevant because of his ability to render those states of mind in memorable images. The Sullen stuck in the mud of the Marsh of Death, croaking the same self-description over and over -- as I say, it was my first jolt, back in the years when I thought depression was a sign of superior intelligence and artistic sensitivity.

    The Carnal caught in a whirlwind is another memorable image, given to us by Dante long before terms such as "love addiction" (which I'd like to change to "romance addiction," to indicate infatuation rather than lasting love)came into use. Or the fortune tellers who walk with their heads on backward. Much of Dante's Inferno is still a relevant commentary on states of mind.

    "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you" -- this I read as "heaven is within us, and so is hell." And life constantly challenges us to choose.

  11. Good Sunday morning Oriana. I wonder if you have followed the Mel Gibson story. My latest blog post on that topic. Nothing to do with Polishness or God:


    Stung by a dead bee. You can't turn your back on these creatures for a minute!

    Ironically enough, my greatgrandfather and uncle in Slovakia were beekeepers, used to handle bees without gear -- I saw this.

    Me, I suffered anaphylaxis (spelling?) when stung by a bee recently. I didn't realize what was going on -- I just had trouble breathing, vomited, couldn't see well for some hours. I posted about this on the web and some kindly people clued me in to what was going on.

    So, now, I carry benadryl.

    I'm really glad Dante works for you. he obviously has worked for millions of readers for hundreds of years.

    I'm immune to his charms. I had to read him as a college student and felt like I was chewing my way through cardboard.

    I read both translations you posted, above, hoping that this might be the moment when I finally was alert to Dante's siren. alas, such was not to be.

    I got much more out of your own words than out of Dante's.

    One problem I have with him is the rigidity and permanence of his identifications and punishments.

    Ecclesiastes, 3 -- there's a time for everything. There's a time to be caught up in passion. There's a time to wallow in despair. There's a time to eat like a pig. There's a time to fight for your life.

    I'm wary of anyone who has never had one of those moments were life seems a meaningless slog, or who has never been head over heels in love, or who has never retreated to the couch after a heavy holiday meal.

    I think that sticking humans in a swamp forever because they were depressed ... the imagery just doesn't speak to me, and, frankly, neither does Dante's style.

    But your writing does speak to me. I also liked your poem about Grunwald.

  12. Dante speaks to me in terms of states of mind, not in any theological sense. He is of interest as a psychologist who speaks in images. Being chronically depressed is like wading through a swamp. Your body suddenly weighs 500 lbs, and the mud is very thick. Hence the slightest movement is very exhausting. Once you sit down, you have no will to get up. Besides, you weigh 500 lbs, so they'll have to use a crane!

    Which reminds me of the Teutonic Knights. Their armor was so heavy, a special crane had to be used to lift them onto a specially bred large horse that could carry such weight -- but would also sink down in a bog.

    That weight is the negative thoughts that paralyze a depressed person. We are wired to survive, and not to "get the most out of life." My programming for survival (e.g. how to get anywhere in Warsaw using streetcars, buses, trains, and/or just walking -- and being very modest and polite, a "girl from a good home") took place in Poland, and was suddenly useless in America, where, instead, I was supposed to have a car (compulsory!) and know how to "sell myself." But that is another saga.

    What promised land I found was exactly where it always was: in literature, in my inner life, in music and nature. As long as I don't emigrate from my real homeland, I am OK.

  13. Oriana, you wrote:

    "Being chronically depressed is like wading through a swamp. Your body suddenly weighs 500 lbs, and the mud is very thick. Hence the slightest movement is very exhausting. Once you sit down, you have no will to get up."

    In my experience of life (which is limited) the difference is not between people who weigh five hundred pounds, or are carrying five hundred pounds on their shoulders, and people who are not.

    Rather, the difference is between those who feel that way, and understand that as precluding getting up, and those who feel that way, and get up anyway.

    I just finished reading Rabbi Byron Sherwin's "Sparks Amidst the Ashes" -- I posted an amazon review. On page 110, Rabbi Sherwin writes about pride as stumbling block to spiritual development.

    "The Ba'al Shem Tov considered sadness and depression to be the reverse side of pride..."

  14. Yes, since this is the age of narcissism, it's also the age of depression. Throughout this post, I've been commenting on the self-centeredness of depression, on its frequent origin in narcissistic wounds. What a complicated being we are, to flip from pride into self-loathing . . . And as I said, for me it was progress when I started blaming both my mother and America for my misfortunes, because I not longer foolishly blamed myself for everything that went wrong with my life (while blind to what went right). Anger at mother and America was a way station toward a more balanced view.

    As soon as the 500-lbs person gets up -- a huge effort of will at first -- and becomes involved, truly involved, in work, in doing something, however humble, the healing begins.

    And I hope you noted my saying that depression is boring, and suicide is boring. How much more interesting to see someone cope with misfortune rather than succumb to it. Everything that has made humanity great is the opposite of depression and suicide.

    I love Baal Shem Tov's emphasis on joy as the way. That's the mystical paradox: "be happy, and the beloved comes."

  15. Hi, Oriana. In spite of everything i said, I'm not anti-suicide. I certainly think that there are situations where suicide makes sense. there are people who are alone, who are without resources, and who do face insurmountable, pointless suffering. For them, i say, go ahead.

    For the people who have friends and family and avenues ... I think it's probably against the rules, and I think that there are probably consequences in the afterlife. But that's just me.

  16. I can definitely see circumstances when suicide is the best solution, and can even be an act of altruism. When circumstances are not extreme, and this is precisely where it helps to have relatives who have survived concentration and labor camps, coping is always a more interesting solution than suicide. It doesn't have to be brilliant coping -- just muddling through is sometimes the best we can do. Suicide of a brilliant person who isn't terminally ill, crippled, or otherwise horribly afflicted, seems a terrible disappointment: what kind of example does it set for others, who might otherwise be inspired by that person? But I think I need another post, with a poem, to develop this -- how suicide is a social act.

    Meanwhile I continue to be amazed that the wounds I thought would never heal have healed when I stopped scratching at them through overthinking, and stepped right out of my hell into a much more pleasant place of engaging in various activities that I love doing. The miracle is that I finally got motivated to take that easy walk -- foreshadowed by a dream I had years before it got fulfilled. In the dream, the last of my concentration-camp dreams, I saw that the huge gate was open. The guards looked bored and uninterested in their job. I simply walked through the gate and kept on walking on a wide country road. The guards did not shoot, did not pursue me. I simply kept on walking, astonished that it was that easy, that simple.

    The way to hell is easy:
    the wide gates of Death
    stand open night and day --
    but to climb back into the light,
    that is the difficult task.

    ~ my somewhat free translation of Virgil. I still love that passage, except that I found this: the way to hell is indeed easy, but the way out of hell can be astonishingly easy as well!

  17. oriana, your most recent post resonates very much with a book I'm trying to publish now, a memoir of a relationship I had with a prominent atheist. I would so love to publish that book, of course, but I'd really love to hear your reaction to it. Say a prayer for me that I find a publisher.

  18. Wow, a prominent atheist! When I came to this country, I was severely warned that I must never call myself an atheist -- a social suicide. "Agnostic" was OK, but never, never "atheist." At 17, I came from one kind of censorship to another (I soon discovered that there were plenty of other opinions I also had to keep to myself, e.g. that there were some wonderful things about socialism). But times, they are a-changing, though I think the current militant atheism is an adolescent phase that will modulate into a more mature recognition that each person has his/her own individual faith (which need not be a faith in a supernatural being, but it's still things we "take on faith").

  19. Oriana, do you really think that being an atheist is social suicide? Most of my friends are atheists of one degree or another, and they all have very wide circles of friends.

    I think that America is comparable (but not identical) to the Poland I experienced, in terms of taboos on speech. In this country now, Political Correctness dominates, certainly in higher ed, and there are numerous truths one dare not speak. I don't even need to list them because everyone knows what they are.

    Very 1984.

    And the punishments can be as deadly. I know. From experience.

  20. Being an atheist is no longer social suicide. In fact it's almost as radical chic as being a Buddhist. But decades ago, to say "I don't believe in God" (meaning the Judeo-Christian deity)-- I was told never, never, never to say it: "You are not in Europe anymore."

    But the term needs examining, since atheist tend to be such passionate, gifted people, in love with art and ideas -- they just have a different spirituality.

    Already Nietzsche (and later Jung, whom nobody could describe as an atheist) said that it was a mistake to waste time arguing that God (again, the Judeo-Christian "god-image")doesn't exist; it was much more productive to examine the evolution of the concept/image of God. I much prefer insightful books that examine that evolution to strident atheist manifestos.

  21. P.S. That was quite an eye-opener: realizing that I came not from censorship to free speech, but from one system of propaganda to another. Of course I did appreciate what free speech I saw, e.g. diversity of openly expressed political opinion. It was the commercial propaganda that I found oppressive, and the social propaganda, more difficult to define, but at one time including obligatory religiosity, and doing everything "the American way." My first tiny rebellion was to drop my efforts at eating only with the right hand, and continuing to eat the European (and Canadian) way, knife in right hand, fork in left. This marked the opening of a more balanced attitude: there were things that I liked and was happy to adopt, and things I didn't like and wasn't going to do, e.g. I don't use the expression, "How are you?" -- esp when said in a slimy-sugary way. Another tiny thing, I know, but an opportunity to stand my ground. Only children (and I am a classic only child)are notorious people-pleasers, and oh, I have sinned that way many, many times. So even the tiniest acts of strength make me happy.

  22. PPS. Pondering the phrase "the pursuit of happiness," I can see that I am not quite ready for it. I still need to devote myself to the pursuit of strength. Working hard makes me happy, and whatever makes me happy makes me stronger. But music also makes me happy, and the beauty of nature. This seems like a short list, I know. But once I grow in strength, I think I'll be more daring in reaching out for experience, and I hope to learn about more varieties of happiness. For now, I'm pursuing strength; later, a huge project, an experiment in happiness.

  23. Oriana, re: "How are you?"

    I wrote a memoir, "Love Me More," and in it included this observation: Eastern European women, esp. Poles, do not smile gratuitously. At least not of my mother's generation, and she's the one who socialized me.

    I hate the American pressure to smile gratuitously.

    God bless America -- seriously -- I'm quite happy to be here -- but I don't smile gratuitously.

  24. Just got my copy of Robert Ellsberg's "Blessed Among All Women." I adored his "All Saints" and this is the sequel.

    When thinking about suicide, I have often felt that we are all connected, that we all owe each other something, and that our lives are assignments, and if we check out early, we don't complete our assignment. I have no rational reason to suspect this, but it's a feeling.


    the other day I was reading yet another Holocaust memoir, a picaresque one. The author was not in a camp, but bouncing around Europe, joining resistance groups, escaping by the skin of her teeth, hoping for papers to Palestine, hopes not working out. She – this woman on the page – despaired. I found myself insisting, with a furious urgency, "Don't do it. You and I will never meet. But if you can get through this without offing yourself, you will have won a victory for the good side, and for me." Though things never got any better, and even her life after the war turned out pretty sucky, she didn't give in to her despair, she did go on, and somehow, I felt strengthened, nourished, and vindicated.

    "Blessed Among All Women" opens with a quote from Etty Hillesum, who did perish in the Holocaust:

    "That is why I must try to live a good and faithful life to my last breath; so that those who come after me do not have to start all over again."

  25. Yes, knowing that others have managed to cope with even much worse is always uplifting. And maybe that's one reason why anyone's suicide (other than for easily understandable reasons, e.g. the last stage of a painful terminal illness)seems to hit harder than other kinds of death. It's as though we've personally failed (maybe because of the sense of connection), and also as though we've been attacked in a certain way, weakened just a little in our own struggle to live and be happy, in spite of the foreknowledge of aging and dying. Each person we interact with sends a "live" or "die" signal to us. That's one reason it's important to be good even to annoying strangers. We have more impact than we suspect. Suicide is definitely a social act, and that person sends us a "die" signal.

    Committing suicide can also be thought as "giving victory to the enemy." Simply persisting in despair is that too. I will never mock the old Polish ideal of dying with honor; it has a lot of personal meaning to me.

  26. Oriana, what you said, above, about suicide being a social act and suicides being hard to get over.

    Rachel Wetzsteon, a poet I knew, was helpful to me, took her own life in December, 2009.

    She and I were not close, but ... her presence mattered in my life. Her absence now matters in my life.

    We were in contact via email fall semester, 2009. I knew she was having a hard time. I offered ... whatever I had. And she ignored that offer.

    When I learned of her suicide, I cried a lot, and I felt a twinge of anger.

    And I still feel that anger, only it's grown sharper and more defined.

    It's not my focus. I keep her in my prayers.

    Just, fwiw.

  27. Intense anger -- rage -- was the greatest surprise in my reaction to the suicide that I had to cope with (and that coping continues for the rest of one's life, just in a milder form, in the background, as the brain tries to process the incomprehensible). "You idiot!" I was screaming inside. This subsided as the initial shock subsided, but the anger came and went like waves over several months.

    These days we have an additional factor that may contribute to suicide. A depressed person is often put on anti-depressants. Then it takes just a little alcohol, e.g. two glasses of wine at a holiday party, to create the kind of neurotoxicity that may result in a compelling suicidal impulse. I don't know enough about the poet you mention, but I know of another poet where that seemed to be the case.

    It's not the combination of alcohol and the antidepressant that is lethal, but the resulting brain dysfunction may lead to a lethal action.

    Aside from that, I wonder how many people are aware that alcoholism is often tied in with suicide. Again, I don't know about Rachel, and this is not meant to be a comment about her. It's a general, statistical observation. Much has been said about the ravages of alcoholism, but the frequency of suicide among alcoholics, and its impact on survivors, deserve more exploration.

    Speaking of prayer, I found a statement by Milosz that fascinates me: that it was easier for him to pray in English. I've pondered and pondered that -- I can't stand the new mass either in Polish or in English, but I can imagine praying in English. At first glance this may seem strange, since Polish remains for me the language of the heart, with more emotional impact. But in English I'm more adult, so it would be more like a special friendship, without childhood's hellfire ruining everything.

  28. This has been an amazing discussion, and I hope you don't mind my coming in here.

    I wanted to say that the suicides I've known have all been drinkers and most have been on anti-depressants. I wonder if cutting out the anti-depressants would have kept them alive. I knew many alcoholics when I was a child. My father was one and his friends were also, but I don't remember any of them committing suicide.

  29. Random comment, offered fwiw. I feel so outside any discussion of drugs because drugs do virtually nothing for me. I've tried marijuana, high grade morphine, cocaine, booze, nicotine, various local, obscure, village drugs-of-choice, and ... I just don't get the appeal, at all.

    I really, really wonder about drugs. I have to wonder if a good part of the experience is not what the user brings to it.

    OTOH, if I go, oh, three days without writing, i want to crawl out of my skin and scream and assault random passers by.

    And I have a similar relationship to old movies. When I was in Peace Corps, and out of reach of old movies ... it was a real challenge. I wanted to see an old movie as badly as I wanted to shower, if not more.

  30. To those who romanticize suicide, or secretly admire the "courage" that it takes, I want to repeat what a "tough-love" friend said to me: "He was probably drunk when he did it." With higher regions of the brain disabled, toxified, a septic cesspool, the Die! signal finds no opposition. And these days, with anti-depressants, it takes very little alcohol to produce neurotoxicity.

    To return to depression, it too has its own nasty neurochemistry, no drugs or alcohol needed. That's why "listening to depression" can be completely compromised by the fact that the brain is not functioning normally, and the thoughts it produces are illogical garbage, e.g. "I am worthless, I should kill myself, the world would be better off without me." Or: "Everything I've ever tried has been a failure; I am a complete failure." Cognitive therapy has had some success by revealing that those thoughts are not profound, as seems to the depressive, but are illogic and downright idiotic. I must say that "tough love" administered by a friend did help me. I can see how watching favorite old movies might also have an anti-depressive effect, since these are generally affirmative movies where goodness and love ultimately triumph, so they help support positive beliefs and trust in life. Also, love is presented as a beautiful, soulful experience, and not as a sleazy quickie.

    One thing I miss about Poland -- Poland as I remember it -- is the affection between the sexes, a kind of promiscuous eroticism of compliments and nuances and chivalry and hand-kissing, and likewise women knowing how to make a man feel like a king, that I think helped people of both sexes feel attractive. In terms of personal happiness, I have no doubt that I would have been happier if I'd stayed in Poland. By having become an immigrant, I gained a wider mentality and was traumatized enough to turn to poetry. I'm grateful for the gift(s), and try not to think about the price.

  31. Oriana, unconnected thoughts:

    Alcohol and suicide. I never thought of it before, but did a google search, and found webpages arguing for a connection between the two, including this one:

    Old movies: no, it's not the meaning that works for me, it's the beauty. For whatever reason, I find old movies very beautiful. Birds, as well. I really love birds and bird watching.

    For example, I really hated Woody allen's "Manhattan," a retro, black and white movie. But, when it first came out, before devices like DVDS or youtube made clips from movies easy to access, i sat through Manhattan twice to see the scene where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton sit near the Queensboro Bridge. It's just so beautiful it breaks my heart. you can see it here:


    About Poland and fliration. I thought of this paragraph from the essay linked below:

    But I dreaded leaving even the silly men who did not inhibit themselves in reminding us that we were women first to them, the teenage boys who would cruise up behind us, silently, in train stations, and take up our suitcases, and carry them to our compartments, and hardly pause for a surprised, "Thank you;" the tram passengers who, no matter how crowded it was, always saw the tired older woman -- the kind of woman who is invisible in America -- get on, loaded with packages, and would immediately rise to insist on giving her their seats; the friends who grasped our arms as we strolled through streets, holding on is if we were on the edge of a cliff and this grasp meant life; the farm houses where we slept as guests next to the owners under an intimate cloud of vodka.


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  33. Ah, that more communal aspect of life in Poland. There seems a greater connection between people, even complete strangers.

    There is a deep connection between loneliness and depression. For me, America and loneliness have been synonyms from the start. Email has been a great blessing, creating more contact with kindred minds.

  34. P.S. The tired older woman -- did you notice how she chooses the person she'll honor by taking the seat offered to her by this particular young man, and not another one? The Chosen One beams with gladness. The woman may say thank you, but she doesn't have to. The Queen has acted; the Queen chose her hero, her knight.

    But, first of all, there are streetcars. I spend many hours alone in my ancient little Toyota, and I drive less than the average person.

  35. Oriana, I love your description, above, of the woman choosing the man who'll give her a seat. :-)

  36. I remember times when three or four young men would jump up to yield their seat; the matriarch would glance at them, then choose the most handsome one -- or sometimes the youngest one, who'd also have the most imploring look on his face -- maybe she didn't want to disappoint him. Then, if he was holding a briefcase, she'd gently but firmly take the briefcase away from him and place it in her lap. Not a word needed to be said. It was a simple contract of goodness.

    Danusha, it's time to transfer to another post! Please try Underworld and Journalism, or Tu Es Petrus, or anything that may appeal to you . . .