Some Unscientific Thoughts on Depression

For whatever reason, I’ve always found precedents quite comforting. Either that, or they’re a nuisance. For instance, discovering the precedent of John Fante’s writing as something quite personal yet hovering in the realm of high art, was sufficiently comforting to impel me through the writing of my first real manuscripts. The precedent of John Haskell’s book of meta-celebri-fantasies documenting some of my personal favorites—and desired fictional subjects, probably—I AM NOT JACKSON POLLOCK was at first a nuisance. He’d written about Glenn Gould and Jackson Pollock in exactly the way I hoped to someday accomplish it. But you move on, you doff your cap, and you realize that for every precedent there’s just as likely an accompanying void where nobody’s accomplished what you can fathom, and there you are. is a different animal entirely. For the depressed person, the bulk of precedents—be they figures one admires that also dealt with depression, or works that seem to encapsulate the modern understanding of this phenomenon—have occurred in the last hundred years or so; and although it’s not difficult to develop a strong empathy for depressed figures like Lincoln, Nietzsche, or Albrecht Dürer, the lines of history tend to blur and complicate personal afflictions to such an extent that for every book that might exist exploring the various miserable icons we’ve had, there are hundreds documenting their triumphs and love affairs to bury these desired texts neath the fantastical self help mega library.



The first, and perhaps most obvious best friend to the depressed person post-1995 who happens to enjoy literature, is probably David Foster Wallace. Before him, the aforesaid lines of history tend to make the case of Sylvia Plath or Van Gogh fairly cut and dry, to the extent that Plath’s life might be seen as her sitting down at a desk and writing some beautiful works, then immediately falling into such a vat of misery that she stuck her head in an oven, the same model largely applies for Van Gogh except it’s paint, with a bit of ear-severing—though not as drastic as history has made it out to be—and the man shooting himself in the heart twice before walking back into the city undead, only to die two days later. With Wallace, however, we have an accomplished intellect who came to suffer severely from depression after the road had begun to be mapped out for him. Already well into his college career—and of course you can argue that his depressive tendency existed before this, but as I understand it this was when Wallace really came to blows with the malady—he seemed destined for literary accomplishment before being thrust into the void of chemical dissonance and thus forced to consider contemporary (this is important) means of salving the indiscernible wound.  And, luckily for us, he managed to write some of the most fascinating fiction and non- about the subject to happen in years. This is a curious thing to me. For all the talk I’ve heard of Wallace’s mastery over the contemporary form, or something, I seldom hear discussed his great command over the subject of fucking misery, modern boredom, or complete and total suicidal ideation. I guess it’s hinted at much of the time, but as far as I’m concerned the guy is close to our American Foucault as it relates to the depressive animal, with “Good Old Neon” or the Kate Gompert portions of Infinite Jest—perhaps my favorite in the whole book, weirdly enough—or Wallace’s nonfiction and more—the subject tends to permeate everything as far as I’ve gathered—what we have in Wallace is a guide for the solving of the plight described by Scott Fitzgerald years prior to this, that “the natural state of the sentient adult is a qualified unhappiness.” For more on this I highly recommend Postitbreakup’s fairly recent post for Dennis Cooper’s blog, “David Foster Wallace’s triptych on depression.READ MORE >

Random / 6 Comments
November 19th, 2013 / 12:05 pm

Depression and the Kinesthetic Theory of Writing

Photo by Viennese artist Eva Schlegel

Sometimes the holy writing spirit possesses you.
There’s no summoning it. I’m beginning to understand that now.
There are conditions
There are kinesthetic conditions
There’s running downhill in the park as the rain approaches and the top of your head flies off like a hat getting blown away by a gust of wind.
There is inside the sensation of bodies touching bodies that move toward each other bodies that approach trembling but without fear.
There’s the orange light in the rain-paved streets and the stranger under the bridge.
Hello stranger I am lost.

These are things I cannot generate my own, alone in a room.
There are kinesthetic conditions
Sore muscle conditions
And the understanding that the more I move,
The more I will be able to access the world.


Behind the Scenes & Craft Notes & Random / 11 Comments
April 2nd, 2011 / 9:59 pm

Pleasing the Spiders OR Google: Oprah+[current event], Facebook

<meta name=”keywords” content=”search engines, better than people, angry writer, depression”>
<meta name=”description” content=”Who needs fans when you have Google?”>

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<h2>Pleasing the Spiders OR Google: Oprah + [current event], Facebook</h2>

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<p>Google’s index is made up of billions of web pages, making it the largest web page database, and possibly the largest knowledge repository, in the world. Google currently handles 70% of all search engine queries. As of October 2010 Google has scanned over 15 million books. The term “what to read” is searched 60,500 times monthly. What happens when humans are no longer necessary tastemakers? Being a hipster will no longer mean having access to early Domino and the Cheese Willys tracks. Being a hipster will mean having access to something–anything–not catalogued by Google. (Don’t panic, hipsters; I made up Domino and the Cheese Willys)</p>

<p>Search engines utilize top-secret algorithms to provide users with relevant information based on search terms. Anything online is susceptible to Google’s search spiders, which includes every story, every poem, every essay ever posted online. Is the next step in creative writing then to produce content with the search engine in mind? Will meta-data be its own keyword rich bank to be used as bait for inbound links? Will every other word be hyperlinked in hopes of attracting returning links? What will this do to our already dwindling attention span? Or, more optimistically, have our attention spans evolved to properly accept so much stimuli?</p>

<p>But despite the obvious cringe factor (ads in eBooks frightens me), I am less pessimistic about what will come from the first author to truly tap into the growing eBook medium. Think what Mark Z. Danielwski would have done with House of Leaves if the eBook platform was viably open for development. Until something big happens, though, I fear we will have to endure a lot of failed attempts (no hyperlink necessary; use your imagination).</p>



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<p>This is a gust post by Caleb J Ross as part of his Stranger Will Tour for Strange blog tour. His goal is to post at a different blog every few days beginning with the release of his novel Stranger Will in March 2011 to the release of his second novel, I Didn’t Mean to Be Kevin in November 2011. If you have connections to a lit blog of any type, professional journal or personal site, please contact him. He would love to compromise your integrity for a day. To be a groupie and follow this tour, subscribe to the Caleb J Ross blog RSS feed. Follow him on Twitter: @calebjross. Friend him on Facebook:</p>


Technology / 38 Comments
March 26th, 2011 / 11:49 am


Do you write more or less during times when you’re depressed?   For me there are two kinds of depression, the kind that comes from failure or rejection (which usually leads to long sessions of writing), and the kind that comes from feeling worthless because I’m not writing enough (which is tougher to beat because it’s not intuitively obvious that the cause is not enough writing; breaking this sort of depression requires more willfulness, because the insidious thing is that is doesn’t particularly make me feel like writing; I just have to remind myself from past experience that productivity makes me feel not-worthless).

Craft Notes / 9 Comments
October 22nd, 2010 / 12:18 pm

Writing: the balancing act between self and other, solitude and engagement, me and world

Hello my little Giants.

I fell out of blog world for a second. A combination of personal turmoil, relocating to Pittsburgh for a month, and buckling down on my novel has left less room for reaching out to my fellow writers via the internet.

In Pittsburgh, I am doing a writer residency at a punk house. Isn’t that interesting? I think more people that own houses and have a little extra space should do DIY writer residencies. Here, they give you a room to live in for free for a month, and you produce something by the end of your stay. The room has a bed, a desk, clean sheets/blanket, and there is a grocery store just a few steps away. They also have a letterpress studio and the equipment to do perfect binding at the house, so they are always making beautiful DIY books and zines. I’ve only been here for a few days, but already I’ve been immensely productive, averaging about 3,000-3,500 words a day on my novel alone. My head feels clear. And one of my best friends from college lives here, which means I have enough socializing opportunities to feel engaged, satisfied and happy, but not enough to be terribly distracted. Virginia Woolf’s thing about having a room of one’s own is starting to seem true. But I still wonder, are such conditions ideal on a more permanent basis?

Here in Pittsburgh, I am thinking about the conditions under which people are able to write. When are you most productive? I am considering the following factors: free time, personal space, emotional stability, routine, environmental, etc. In Baltimore and Florida, I shared a room with my partner. Right now we are both dedicated artists that don’t have “real” jobs and just work on our projects all day. This is completely different from my life several months ago, when I worked 2 jobs while I was going to school full-time and working on my thesis. While my partner and I are living together, every day we continually have to negotiate how to spend our time, where to work, when and what to eat (who should cook), space (she works best listening to loud music, I can’t focus when loud music is playing), our emotional needs (I feel upset right now, will you put aside your work to talk to me?), sleeping schedules (I will often sneakily get up in the middle of the night to pound out several pages [if I have already taken my ambien, you get this]), etc etc. Rather than seeing this as “bad” for my work because I am quantitatively less productive, I see it as something that indirectly enriches my work because it forces me outside myself, makes me more expansive, forces me to learn how to balance self and other. Plus, we always have the opportunity to bounce ideas off of each other, and since we are hyper-engaged and thoughtful about things, we challenge and move each other in unforeseeable directions.

This balancing act brings me to the next issue I am trying to sort out in my mind. The question of living vs. writing.

Craft Notes & I Like __ A Lot & Random / 13 Comments
October 9th, 2010 / 6:36 pm

An Open Response re: HTMLGIANT

The following are answers to questions posited by Brandon Scott Gorrell about HTMLGIANT. I don’t think he was being sarcastic, and I will honor these questions with sincere answers. I am not trying to put him on the spot. I think BSG is one of our best writers around, and I respect him. These answers are respectful. [*Disclaimer: this is not a solicited interview. BSG asked these questions on his blog, and I merely answered them. He and I had no direct discourse.]

what happened to htmlgiant
I think you mean, maybe, like it’s ‘different,’ or worse, ‘not as good.’

was it something inside me or inside htmlgiant

I feel like you’ve been more alienated lately, like you fake-deleted your blog, and came back from NY depressed, and you are questioning your existence more and more. So 60% of it is you, but 40% of it is HTMLGIANT.

i used to read htmlgiant feeling excited

I think when it first started, there was a rush of excitement that has since diminished. Posts used to get 200+ comments, now it’s 20+ on a good day. I think, if a journal or website is to last, it needs a) devoted contributors and b) a consistent ethos. I think we have both.

now i feel a little bored and alienated
That’s probably 88% you, sorry. I will admit we are 12% boring and alienating.


Behind the Scenes & Web Hype / 363 Comments
March 2nd, 2009 / 2:18 pm

local news break: economics is politics by other means. politics is…

Dateline: New York City


I forwarded this piece from the NYT Cityroom blog, “M.T.A. Plans Steep Service Cuts and Fare Increases,” to my friend and co-editor (of The Agriculture Reader) Jeremy Schmall. It’s a short article, but if you want to know why I sent it to him in an email with the subject-line “like being fucked with a laser beam that is somehow also a rusty old knife,” this paragraph pretty much explains it:

>>For New York City Transit, the biggest component of the authority, the deficit-closing plan would eliminate the W and Z subway lines; eliminate service on the M line to Bay Parkway in Brooklyn; shorten the route of the G line, which will permanently stop at Court Square in Long Island City, Queens, instead of 71st and Continental Avenues in Forest Hills, Queens; lower the frequency of most letter-line trains to every 10 minutes from every 8 minutes on weekends; lower the frequency of all trains to every 30 minutes from every 20 minutes from 2 to 5 a.m.; eliminate overnight bus service on 25 routes; and eliminate the X27 and X28 express-bus lines.<<

Anywho, Schmall wrote back the following cryptic musings, and I thought I would share them with all of you:

>>zizek writes that the atrocities of communism are easily identifiable, quantifiable, and well known; of capitalism, however, little is said.

nathanael West told his teacher he wanted to be a writer, and she advised that he would need to get used to being poor. the ensuing great depression made that easy: everyone was poor.<<





Random / 6 Comments
November 20th, 2008 / 1:45 pm