Depressed at Christmas

It’s going to be a pretty dark Christmas for a lot of my friends this year. Between unemployment, death, and strained family relationships, things are pretty bleak. Caleb and I spend 10-15 minutes every morning and night in intercessory prayer when we’re not lifting up our own life circumstances. We all wish this wasn’t happening now. Being depressed at Christmastime is unacceptable.

Cultural Christmastime is “the most wonderful time of the year”. It’s the time when kitsch decor and plastic smiles reign. We’re all supposed to be joyful (by which we really mean happy) and whether you know that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” or Santa is your main dude, Christmas is meant to be LED bright. If you sit in the culturally Christian camp, being sad is a sin. If not, being sad makes you a Scrooge.

According to the church calendar, it’s not Christmastide yet. We’ve still a full week of Advent. It is absolutely acceptable to be depressed during Advent. Here, we remember the dark time before Christ came. God was silent for 400 years. The people of Israel were scattered and did not completely return. Those who did found themselves passed from regime to regime. I’m sure there were a lot of “How long oh Lord?”s. It’s no wonder that the Pharisaical movement (which sought to curry God’s favor by adding a string of requirements ensuring everyone would absolutely follow the Law) started during this time. God’s people needed to feel they had someway of proving themselves, of getting out of this mess. They’d waited long enough. What else did they need to do?

Advent is also when we look forward to Jesus’s second coming and the Restoration, which looks like a lot of “How long oh Lord?”s. How long will you let petty arguments drive a wedge between your people? How long will you let this conflict between races go on? How long will you let children be killed in Iraq? How long until you overthrow the death of the body, the mind, and the imagination?

It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to scream. It’s okay to whimper. It’s okay to stare blank-eyed, unable to speak. It’s okay to be depressed.

And sometimes, in the midst of his silence, God tips his hand.

We’re three nights into Hanukkah right now. In the wake of oppression and war, God provided so the light in the temple would not go out. He still cared for his people. Christ was coming.

I hope that this Advent, in the silence and the literal darkening of days, we all might see God tip his hand. He still cares for his people. Christ is coming. Amen

Sitting and Listening

I love the excitement of writing a first draft of a novel. I tend to loosely plan, knowing big events in my story, but discovering a million tiny moments in between. I love the rush when the story starts to write itself. Things I never could have planned with my conscious mind fall into place when my subconscious is in control. There are slow bits in between, especially near the beginning, but by the second half of the book, I might as well be sledding downhill, picking up speed the closer I get to the end. The first first draft I wrote took me two years to finish. I wrote the final quarter of the book in a month. The second first draft I wrote took me four years to finish. I wrote the second half in two weeks.

Revising a novel is like walking back up that very tall, snowy hill holding your sled. It takes infinitely longer, particularly because you need to take breaks when you get out of breath or step into a drift or your sled slips out of your gloved hands and you have to chase it all the way back down. It’s not anywhere near as fun as the first ride down. Now, the first ride is fun enough that the climb up isn’t going to kill all your joy. But it’s the sucky, hard-work part of fun.

One of the killjoys is having to plan. I can’t just write by the seat-of-my-pants. I have to know why things happen, the logic, the reasoning, the cause and effect. I have to know where everybody’s standing and how far apart they are. I need to be a fight coordinator and a strategist and a debater and a logistics specialist. These are all my least favorite things. I infinitely prefer living in people’s heads to setting scenes.

The first three chapters I revised when I moved back to Ohio all involved strategy and planning and debating and logistics. I crawled through them, longing for the end. I kept going, reminding myself that the emotional discussion in Chapter 22 would make up for all the planning of the other chapters.

Then I got to Chapter 22.

I had forgotten that the emotions are completely negative. An accident leads to tragedy. One character explains the extent of this disaster to another and the tone spills from joy and relief to despair.

Writing about despair was a little close for comfort. It lives in this house like a Siamese Cat, showing it’s presence often enough that I can never forget it, occasionally jumping onto the couch next to me and stepping over my lap with triumph. I wasn’t sure how to handle such deep pain, when I clearly couldn’t handle my own.

There’s a woman at church who’s been incredibly helpful in my crisis. She’s listened to me and prayed over this mess. She’s been trained in spiritual formation, a sort of liturgy for walking people through wounds and crisis. She says what she does is sit with people in their pain. She can’t fix them or their situations. But she can sit and listen and hold their troubles.

About the same time, a friend of mine started opening up about a terrible loss she’d suffered, a very similar tragedy to the one in my story. She shared articles and stories like her own. As I read, my heart breaking, I understood what it means to sit and hold her pain. I pulled up Chapter 22, closed my eyes, and listened.

A Letter Concerning My Haitus

Dear Readers.

According to the Advent themed devotional I’ve been reading, Advent is the New Year of the Christian calendar. I don’t know why I’ve never put this together before. We start the calendar with the anticipation of Christ’s birth and follow his life through the year. The point is, Advent is a great time to start new things. The Father did a new thing by sending his Son. I’m doing a new thing by getting back into the habit of writing this blog. It’s like a New Year’s resolution with more of a spiritual bent.

I’m not sorry I stopped writing. If my last handful of posts were any indication, I didn’t have anything to write about except my disillusion with life. The truth is, the writer’s life goes in cycles. There are times of writing followed by times of gathering material followed by times of writing. I put aside this blog in favor of living. I’m pretty sure I made the right choice.

A lot has changed in the past three months and a lot has stayed the same. Caleb and I are still living with his parents in a small town in Ohio. He’s still finishing up his Master’s and looking for work. I’m still working on revisions. But I have a job now. I make lattes and paninis at a recently opened cafe. My revisions have been going very well. I’ve finished nine chapters since we moved. I picked up last year’s project for NaNoWriMo and added more than 17,000 words to it.

Life goes on. As long as I turn my awareness off, I can function. I work. I write. I watch too many videos on youtube. And then a friend asks me how I am or something too bizarre for words happens at work or I start talking as if I’m a local and my awareness turns on.  I remember how far away I am from where I wish I could be. I remember what it’s like to regularly interact with people who care about art. I remember how much I miss my dishes and Gandalf the White bookshelf and chalk pastels. And something inside me breaks.

The Romantic poets wrote a lot about the burden of consciousness. Man, do I understand. They relied on laudanum to take the edge off. I rely on facebook and We numb ourselves until we can start living again.

Then I go back to work and help my sister with her college admissions essays or I plunge myself back into the lives of fictional characters or I celebrate with Caleb as he finishes another piece of his Master’s project. He reminds me that it won’t be much longer. I simultaneously believe him and get more used to our life here. I start getting out of the house every day. I develop routines that help me regularly do the laundry. I work on getting more exercise back into my life.

This blog is one more piece of normal.

Some things, I simply cannot write about. Maybe when time and change have put buffers between me and the darkness I will be able to. Hopefully, I have gathered enough experiences over the last three months to share stories from my garret again. ‘Til next week.