I was once a guest on a mental health podcast that, I don’t think, ever got aired, and the host, whose name I forget, asked me what my depression was like. Because I tend to answer questions in either stories, quotes, or folksongs, I decided to give this woman all three.
“Well,” I said, “I’ll put it to you like this — there’s this guy named Andy Breckman, and he’s best known for creating the show “Monk”, and he’s had some minor success as a screenwriter but, a long time ago, he was a really shitty folk singer who knew about three guitar chords, and he didn’t even know them that well.
Anyway, Andy Breckman once wrote a song called, “I Don’t Wanna Mow this Lawn” and it goes something like this:
‘I don’t wanna mow this lawn, this planet that we’re living on, will soon blow up and will be gone; I read it in a book.’
And that’s kind of what my depression feels like. I just… don’t want to mow this fucking lawn, you know? What’s the point? Of anything. Of doing or loving or feeling or thinking or trying? That’s what my depression tells me. My depression sounds like an Andy Breckman song.”
The host replied that my answer was “very interesting” which is kind of like calling a partner’s sexual performance “a heartfelt attempt.” After the interview, she told me that the podcast would air in October. This was three years ago — she never did specify what year, though, so who knows? According to my depression, it doesn’t fucking matter anyway.
Depression is strange. It sits in my shirt pocket like a Parker pen, but it’s relatively unobtrusive most of the time. Like, the pen doesn’t leak all over my shirt the moment I’m about to walk into a room to give a talk. If the pen did that, then the pen would be anxiety. But depression pen just sits there, cold in my pocket, cold against my chest, passively reminding me that it isn’t going to be used to endorse a check for a million dollars, or write something bubbling over with ebullient creativity or any kind of zeal for life. It is there to gently apply pressure over my heart, to be felt under an acrylic sweater, that is donned over an un-ironed collared shirt, because depression tells me that we don’t want to mow the lawn or iron the shirt or heat up the cornbread or empty the recycling or answer the email or have the conversation or untie the shoes or vacuum the carpet or pick up the phone or tell the truth.
It doesn’t stop me, most of the time, though, from doing things. Am I high-achieving depressive person? Is that my… label?
I’ve written blah plays and essays and whatever, done blahblah things, went on a bluhbluh suicide awareness road-trip and made a blahbiddy film. I do and do and do and do and do until I get absolutely fucking sick of myself and what I do and then maybe I don’t do it anymore or I go and do something else and then I get sick of what the mirror shows and what depression says and I don’t want to look in the mirror it’s the scariest thing I’d rather look at the electric chair or strung up pigs in a Chinatown window or abstract cinema that I don’t understand or midget amputees throwing splintered chair pieces at my face.
I was busy making a fucking difference, but I’m not really sure that’s true, or what I was really… doing.
Maybe, though, we’re not supposed to know. Maybe we’re just supposed to do, until it makes more sense to stop. And try something else. And try again.
I wonder about you — the person sitting in front of a screen reading this — and what it is that you… do. I wonder if you love it, or if you do it out of some sense of moral obligation, or a desire for comfort or sameness, because that’s what you earned your degree in and you feel compelled to “stay on track” or justify your diploma and your parent’s money. I wonder if you would stop, if you could, and what you would do next. I just had a conversation with an old friend who is retiring at 70 and I said to him — well, what are you going to do now?
“I’m going to read books,” he said, before adding, “and play with my wife.”
Oh, I said, that sounds nice. Are you going to write one?
“Jesus Christ, no!” he said. Just as well. He has dyslexia.
I’m forty, and I will probably never be wealthy enough to afford to retire, so I don’t think I will have to worry much about the “what am I going to do now?” part of my life. I know that a lot of retired people, specifically people who placed a hefty portion of their identity in who they were as members of the work force, take their own lives, but I don’t think that will be me — at least the loss of identity as a productive member of society probably won’t be a contributing factor if it does turn out to be me. I’ll be around, with that Parker pen in my pocket, itching for a fight somewhere, trying to get people to do something, driving some silly, outdated car or other, quietly singing old maritime songs to myself, on some crusade or other that only I understand and about which I have some kind of all-consuming passion.
And, against my will, somehow, I’ll be mowing the lawn. Maybe that podcast will have aired by then, but I won’t know. I don’t listen to podcasts.