It’s four in the morning and I should be asleep. But it’s windy outside so I’m not.
Lying here in my fretful bed, I’m reminded of the music of Walter Piston, whose sixth symphony has a questing restlessness reminiscent of the wind.
Despite his name, Piston’s music is anything but mechanical, which belies the fact he also wrote handbooks.
Orchestral music is the least ‘literary’ of the arts; even now I find it hard to put words to its sounds. And yet it was a work based on a play that first sucked me in: ‘The Tempest’ by Sibelius.
Shakespeare’s play has since become one of my favourites and it reminds me now – in my hour of need! – of music’s full power, of its ability to allay the fury of the elements with its ‘sweet air’ (I.II).
I think I’ll put on some Piston.
The last time this happened I managed to grind out five lines of verse.
When the curtain descends
the performance ends.
Strutting player becomes
emptied of itself.
Sounds like the show’s over, doesn’t it? Not so. It’s merely intermission – as the rest of the poem was supposed to reveal.
That was a month or two ago. This time, though, I’ve got nothing, which is more normal. No ideas, no emotions, no energy; no patience, no confidence, no hope. Okay, I’ve got plenty of self-pity, but we all know lots of a negative doesn’t amount to much.
Depression’ll do that to you.
Churchill called it his ‘black dog’, yet the metaphor doesn’t work for me. Mild concussion – that’s how I think of my condition. Many of the symptoms are the same: confusion, sluggishness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, slowed reactions. And like concussion, depression passes.
I remember reading an essay about mental illness and writing. Its author tried to dispel the notion that the first is good for the second, that depression is a creative force. She argued that it ain’t good for anything, really, since it stops things happening.
That’s my experience, I’ve got to say. Usually, I can’t write a thing. Can’t even think a thing. Can read and listen, though, which means I try to drown my sorrows in novels and classical music during my ‘downtimes’. I used to, at least. I’ve got a job and a family now.
Having started this post with bad poetry, I’ll end it with something good. Here’s an excerpt from The Merchant of Venice which, somewhat perversely, makes me happy. Hope it does the same for you, especially if you’re feeling blue. Take it away, Antonio…
In sooth, I know not why I am so sad:
It wearies me; you say it wearies you;
But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
What stuff ’tis made of, whereof it is born,
I am to learn;
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,
That I have much ado to know myself.
Sounds like intermission is over.