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keeping warm

Stayin’ alive, that’s the job in February, especially one this brutal. But I’m sitting in a bright, hot ray of sunshine, pretending it’s summer. It works if I don’t glance outside, at the swaths of white.

How to survive the dead of winter: keep busy. Besides work, I’ve been avidly seeking culture of various kinds. On Tuesday I went to the Toronto Reference Library for one of their free chats with writers. This one was between Johanna Schneller, a Toronto journalist, and Allison Pearson, British author of I don’t know how she does it, a funny book about working mothers, and a new book, I think I love you, about a teenager’s passionate love for David Cassidy in the early 70’s. This interested me, of course, since I am writing about a teenager’s passionate love for Paul McCartney in the early 60’s.
It was a marvellous evening, two highly intelligent and funny scribes discussing writing, motherhood and life. Allison was especially amusing about the hairless Cassidy, with his “marsupial eyes.”
Schneller brought up Pearson’s column for the Daily Mail, from which she recently resigned with a column about her severe depression. Depression?! I thought. Here is a woman I cannot help but envy; her first book sold in the millions in over 30 languages and is being made into a movie with Sarah Jessica Parker and Pierce Brosnan; she has had a column for years, is a respected journalist married to Anthony Lane, the film critic for that humble rag the New Yorker and a hilarious, hugely talented writer himself; they have 2 children and are writing a musical together. AND SHE’S DEPRESSED?
I later looked up her last column; she writes about being attracted to a nearby London bridge at night, though she knows she would never throw herself off because of her kids. She is seeing a shrink, she said, for “the modern woman’s disease.” More than a few of my students have written or spoken about having this disease, including the fantasies about suicide.
I can’t understand it now, but then, I’m the product of years of intense therapy, before which I did have black moments and mood swings. Now, I think, how can you want to die when there are so many books to read, paintings to look at, movies to watch, countries to visit, friends to celebrate? Not to mention your own children. She talked of chemical imbalance; “It’s an illness,” she said, “and there’s medication to make you well.” I wish her good health. Because to my eyes, she has vast quantities to be joyful about.
I bought her book, got her to sign it and told her about my work. We had a good laugh, and after I saw that she had written, “Send me your book!” And I shall. One day. I don’t want Sarah J. P. in the movie, though. I want Carey Mulligan. No, I guess not – by then she’ll be far too old to play my 13-year old self.
The next night, even greater pleasure – dinner with my friend Ken at the Rebel House, where worketh a certain young man to whom I am much attached. What a great place it is, unpretentious but exceedingly warm and comfortable, with delicous food. And the service, it goes without saying, could not be better. Then Ken and I went to hear the greatest piece of music ever written, IMHO: Bach’s B Minor Mass, produced by Tafelmusic. We ran into my friend and former student Pat, who sat in the pew with us, and I laughed; here we were, all of us moved to tears by the Catholic mass written by the great Lutheran, I, a half-Jewish atheist, sitting between a New York Jew and a gay Catholic. What a feast, a wealth, a richness of glorious music.
I thought about Allison Pearson, and wondered if they should bring depressed people to hear Johann Sebastian Bach. Listening to him, even if you’re an atheist, you hear the voice of God. It’s impossible not to.
I’d watched a documentary on the urbane and brilliant Alistair Cooke on Sunday, immediately ordered his book “Letters from America,” and yesterday went to get it at the library. Another feast. More jealousy for me – that’s how I’d like to write. If only I were British, urbane and brilliant.
My tall son has just arrived; he and friend Mike are shooting a movie in the backyard this afternoon. It’s about coats that kill. My son will play a flasher being murdered by his raincoat. “There’ll be lots of blood,” he said. “I’ll need a shower afterwards.” And luckily, the fridge is full of food, because they’ll need some of that too, for sure.
So much to celebrate.
I just posted this a few hours ago, and have already heard from 2 people about my notes on depression. I was insensitive, perhaps because I have worked so hard to put my own hard times behind me that I would prefer not to think of them ever again. Thank you, my friends, for making sure this important topic is dealt with fairly.
Friend and student Chris sent this:

One of the insidious and misunderstood aspects of depression is that it should not happen to people for whom all is going well.

Well it shouldn’t but it does. Although triggers can come from external factors, the source of depression is internal. The notion that one needs to be somehow downtrodden and beaten up by life to be prone to this disease leads to the type of stigmatization that marginalizes its sufferers, and makes us feel – in that Protestant way – that we should be counting our blessings instead of whining about our woes.

But to a depressed person, having vast quantities to be joyful about does not make you joyful; in fact it can have quite the opposite effect.

At the risk of quoting myself (and who better, says I?), I wrote:
‘But what do you do when you have everything you thought you wanted, and you still can’t escape from the enveloping sadness?… “I have no reasonto feel like this,” I thought. “I have no right.”’
It was a long time before I was able to get over the guilt of what I basically saw as “just feeling sorry for myself”, and was finally able to take steps to get help.



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