Katie Staten

Life through a Literary Lens

Depression and Writing: Volume Whatever

I’m sure it will come as a shock to some people that using mindless Facebook games and terrible pop music from the mid-2000s to distract oneself from overwhelming executive dysfunction is not conducive to a life of writing. Please try to work through your surprise as I carry this discussion forward.

Every so often I make this post. The one where I point out that I’ve been posting really sporadically, and I assure everyone that I am going to start writing more often, and I promise to maintain this blog better. I even believe it.

But forming habits is even harder, I would argue, than breaking them, and when you throw depression and executive dysfunction into the mix it becomes all but impossible.

So I’d like to take a minute to discuss depression from the perspective of a writer. It’s something I’ve touched on a few times before, and I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there about it.

The pervasive one is that depression should fuel creativity. This comes, I think, from the misunderstanding that depression is never-ending negative emotion, and that emotion–especially negative emotion, for some reason–is a powerful fuel for writing.

Well, half of that is true. Emotion absolutely can be a powerful fuel for writing. The problem is, that’s not really what depression is. Depression sometimes instead makes things muted. Instead of feeling ALL the feelings, it’s like you’re feeling none of them. And sometimes it just makes you tired, lethargic, and, well, to the untrained eye, lazy.

Obviously depression is not laziness, and I don’t really want this to turn into a blog about what depression is or isn’t anyway. I’ve written enough about that.

The hardest part of when depression takes away emotion is that with that, it takes away my passion. And so I’ve fallen behind in reading. Have hardly picked up a book in about a month and a half. Haven’t read any poetry at all since January. And of course, naturally, I haven’t written a damn thing.

And it’s scary, because in those moments I start to wonder: Do I actually like writing? Do I care about the written word? Is this a thing that still really matters to me? I’ve built my identity around a love and respect for what language can do for such a long time that if I have to stop and question those things, then I have to stop and question who I really am or if I really am anyone at all.

And maybe that in and of itself could be fodder for a poem, if I felt up for it. Maybe I will soon.

This is equal parts yet another “I’m sorry I haven’t been posting, I promise I’ll try to again real soon” post AND an explanation of why posts may continue to be few and far between for a while, though I do have some things I look forward to sharing in the near future. In the meantime, I’m going to keep posting as I can and focus on taking care of myself.

If there are any other writers with depression who’d like to share your tips on how you break through it to Write a Thing (when nothing feels worth writing), please let me know!

I wake up and something
pops. I wake up and
something is already out of place.
A slipped disc sunrise
taunting, calling forward every fear
in a perfect color gradient
of a sarcastic pink to a somber
stone gray. I wake up

and nothing is singing but my breath
clouding the air, the sputter
and grumble of the car engine,
the groaning suspension–life
giving life to life, morning
giving motive to hope.

Another New Colossus

emma_lazarus_plaque

Above is the plaque of the poem written for and about the Statue of Liberty, The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus. Unfortunately with the current administration’s “America First” slogan, built on years of growing “Us vs. Them” sentiment, and Donald Trump’s executive orders aimed at keeping all “Others” out, I felt that the above poem no longer accurately represents American sentiment and was in need of a rewriting.

Not like the harbor-dwelling whore they built,
With flaming torch o’er paper-tinder land,
Here at the crevice of this nation grand
A rising leader from his palace gilt
To lead us from the white-washed home of jilt,
His name a reckless lightning, burning brand.
To huddled masses anxious with demand
Cries he, “Our nation’s gutted to the hilt!
With brick and mortar, Greatness we restore.
Declare the homeless, tempest-tost our foes.
Erect this wall; melt down our golden door.
These so-called ‘refugees’ that seek repose–
Indeed, such wretched refuse are the poor,
I rest my boot across the necks of those!”

Against Hope

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In the midst of the ocean, we screamed
never quite loud enough, unheeded
by a hundred thousand passing ships
and then, without warning–
or otherwise with all the warning in the world–
cannon fire took out the boards we clung to
and we drowned. We, a sea of swimmers
against a fleet; we, a sea
of splinters. And now, our lungs
becoming wells, our tongues becoming accustomed
to the taste of salt, we inhale–
we inhale and hope for air,
and with what little left we have
we ask the cannonballs for rescue.

When You Begin To Hate January

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Remember the way you admired how the world looked
when everything began to die, trees
corpses silhouetted black on an orange sunset
canvas. Remember how you admired it,
relished in the chill, prayed for perpetual October.

Remember the first snow, pristine.
The way you looked at the sparkle
like it was real diamonds, the way it felt
to let the wind into your skin, your eagerness
to taste the cold. Remember that you asked for this–
for everything to be buried, for everything
to die beautifully.

Remember that half your life
has been spent in this same cold.
Remember that you have ice in your veins,
and hoarfrost skin; remember
that seeing your crystalline breath
is how you know you’re alive today.

Remember that this is how you come alive,
and that everything is cyclical,
and that the weather in you will weather this too
again and again.

***

I apologize for my absence this month. I’ve been struggling to keep up with writing, so I’ve been shifting my focus more to reading. A reminder that if you’d like, you can also follow me on Facebook¬†and Twitter where I post my blogs and poems and other nonsense.

Re-calibrating

Everyone always says that your goals should be measurable. Every New Year’s Eve (and in the weeks beforehand), there are countless articles about how to stick to your New Year’s Resolutions, and one of the first tips mentioned is always to make them measurable–vague goals are easier to fail.

So I always push myself to do that. Read to a certain page count; write a certain number of words. Something I can tangibly measure and check off: Yes, I did this, or no, I didn’t.

I always end up checking no.

This year, I’ve decided to change those goals, and re-orient myself in terms of how I view words. I’m going to be vague. And I think that’s going to be better.

Because when I get too specific, I end up writing for the sake of a word count or reading for the sake of a page count, and I forget to enjoy words. So my unmeasurably vague New Year’s Resolution is to actually enjoy words.

I’m going to read every day, and if I’m not feeling it or can’t focus, I’ll put the book down after a couple pages. But I will at least try to get in that zone. If I can, I’ll get sucked into a story the way I used to. If I can’t, I’ll set the book aside knowing I at least tried, and won’t force myself through pages I won’t remember.

I’m going to write every week, even if I scrap it. And I will probably scrap a lot of writing. It’ll take the pressure off to write something “postable” (so I’ll probably write fewer postable things–meaning fewer poems here, but I think it’s for the best), so that I’ll be less afraid of taking risks and more willing to do something exciting with my writing. And it will probably mean a lot of failures that go nowhere, but I’ll learn from them and have fun with them.

I know that I can be the voracious reader and prolific writer I once was. I just need to remind myself how. So forget measurable results. I’m going for results that are so vague or immeasurable I can only “feel” if they’re right. Because for me, that’s what words are supposed to be for.

The Phoenix or the Fire

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Once, I held the new year poised on my fingertip,
a glass marble, smooth. Felt it tingle and linger;
kept it like a kiss or a whisper. Treated it delicate.
Loved it. Once, I kissed the new year
with all the same tenderness of a goodbye.

Imagine: The phoenix pokes its head out of the ashes
already hook-beaked and weary, beady eyes clouded.
Imagine: The phoenix leaves the womb its predecessor left
clothed in only half its feathers, clutching
to its new life by a wire as thin and short
as its dignity. Imagine this birth is only a continuation
of last life. Which came first: the bird
or the combustion? The ambition or the fireworks?

Once, I walked into the new year like it was a waterfall
and I couldn’t wait to drown. That was before I learned
the taste of the deluge. This city is only cold glass,
bearing reflections I cannot pull free. This city is only
ash, bearing seeds I’m afraid to water.

200 Followers: A Limerick

There once was a spirited lass,
Afire with spirit and sass.
Now two hundred folks
Read poems she wrote
Including the one ’bout an ass.

Noticed a few days ago that I had surpassed 200 followers. Given that today is the 1-year anniversary of my butt sonnet, which is to date probably the best thing I have ever written, it seemed a good time to acknowledge all the people who have followed me since then with a terrible limerick.

Thank you (genuinely and sincerely) to everyone who’s been reading!

The Importance of Reading (and a New Year’s Resolution)

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So I just finished reading my 9th book of 2016.

No, that is not a typo. I really have only finished 9 books in the last 11 months and some change. Yes, I know that is a very small number. I’m as disappointed as you are.

I used to read at least 40 books a year (usually around 50). The last couple years, depression and executive dysfunction have been kicking my ass hard and my reading has dwindled. But only nine books? Single digit? It’s shaping up to be my worst reading year ever. Or, at least since learning to read.

I’ve got two more books to get through by the end of the year: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, and The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, both books I picked up and started reading and then put down to take a break and didn’t pick up again for whatever reason. Not because they’re bad books by any means–in fact I’m reading The Bell Jar for the second time because it’s an old favorite–but because executive dysfunction means not having the energy or willpower to do even things I usually would be eager for.

Now here I am trying to power through books at the end of the year to salvage some dignity as a self-proclaimed bookworm, and I’m realizing just how important reading actually is to me.

I have a sense of identity when I read. Who I am, how I act, how I write, how I talk, how I present myself, how adventurous I am, what philosophies influence me, what I think, how I think about it, how I interact with people, and how I process the world around me all change as a direct result of whether and what I’m reading. When I’m not reading? I feel like I’m not as much a person, and it kills.

When I am reading, I get my sense of identity back. My sense of identity is so closely tied to literature–and as a result of literature, and as a result of how influenced by literature I am, my personality tends to be very fluid. That fluidity is part of what I love about myself. It makes me more spontaneous, more unpredictable, more contradictory–all features I used to pride myself on back when I had a different book in my hands every week or so.

And for all that, the other thing I define myself by–my writing–is influenced in all the same ways by what I read. Which is to say that when I’m not reading, I’m not writing.

I gave a pretty solid crack at NaNoWriMo, but it burnt me out. I never came back to blog about it, because I didn’t feel like writing. And I didn’t feel like writing because I didn’t feel like reading.

I guess my point is that reading is important to writing. But it’s also important to just being a person. I learn when I read. I stay active when I read. I stay alert and curious and excited and unpredictable when I read. I like the version of me that reads books. And I like the version of me that writes, which is only possible when I read.

2017 will be an improvement in this department. My number one goal for the new year? Romanticize words like I did when I first discovered what they could do. Because they can do a whole hell of a lot, and it’s time I remembered that.

Poetry and Politics

statue_of_liberty_-_4621961395
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

–Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus

I’m sorry if this seems rushed; I have a lot of thoughts right now that I’m not entirely sure how to articulate. With the recent election of a candidate who is decidedly anti-immigration in every sense, this poem has been on my mind a lot the last couple days.

There’s a lot I can say here about Donald Trump–the long and short of it being that I’m not pleased with the way he has treated anyone he can label as “other” (be they female, Muslim, Mexican, immigrant, refugee, LGBTQ+, POC, etc.). I could write a pages-long essay on that here, but that’s not really what this blog is for and I have ranted enough about that elsewhere. The bottom line of this point is that I don’t appreciate this about Trump: the angry rhetoric he’s ridden like a wave to the Presidency, trying to restrict what it means to be an American.

This blog is not about politics, or about Donald Trump, or even about his angry rhetoric, though those are all valid things to discuss. This blog is about literature. This blog is about poetry. This blog is about the delicate arrangement of words and the way they speak to us, bridging the gaps between thought and expression, between experience and understanding, and between people.

The poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty is, to me, what America is. It’s what I was taught made this country from a very young age. That is one of the many things art, and especially poetry, does: It reaches across boundaries to remind us of our purpose and of what our existence means when you boil us down to our core.

Poetry digs deep beneath our skin. Right now, America’s skin seems to be Donald Trump–that’s the epidermis that everyone else can see, stretching over our mass so that the world can think it sees our face. Right now that skin is, well, very white. But underneath that, the roots of what America stands for are reflected in this poem. We are not a homogeny. We were never meant to be.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free […] Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me.”

I thought about what the place of art is in our current political climate, and the more I think about it, the more the answer is everywhere. It’s in the base of the Statue of Liberty, boldly contradicting all the anti-immigrant rhetoric we’ve heard this political season. And I think the best way we can combat the fear many of us are feeling now is with art, and poetry, and literature.

It won’t fix it. We can’t make policy with art. But we can make our voices heard, and we can make understanding, and we can make magic. I’m grateful that poetry has a rich place in our history to remind us who we are, and that we can continue to make art to remind the rest of the world as well.