the Sadness Will Last Forever

sadness natural 850


There is a lot of conjecture about the nature and reality of depression in the modern world, and I daresay a lot of people diagnosing themselves with it who perhaps do not truly qualify. It is not a "blue" feeling, it is not merely a low point. It is actually quite hard to describe, even for someone as verbose as I tend to be. I tried to recently, in a blog and an image called "the Pull of the Tidal King."

This fictional ruler has grown more and more real for me over the last year - as a way to describe the experience, he is as close to an accurate description as I can get. Image being stranded on a small island, alone, with little to do or see. You try to build a life on this island, but far across the sea, there is an unseen ruler, a king, who can command the tides, and, without warning, send a force of waves at your island so powerful it will knock anything you've built down, and temporarily drown you. When his waters recede, you need to do it all over again - to find the strength to rebuild your life.

The Tidal King cannot be reasoned with. He cannot be conquered. He is forever unseen, legend, but nevertheless potent and all too real. A tormentor, for sure, not directly trying to kill you, but rather drive you to it, to wear you down, to drag you under.

This is the metaphor I have created to explain my troubles, which have been lifelong. I do not look for mercy, for pity, or even understanding. I rail against those that insist on classifying people as "healthy" or "toxic," "positive" or "negative." To those that think passion, a word used far too often these days, must be accompanied by ebullience, consider how much art is created in people considered "dark" or "low."

I am not trying to justify myself or even classify myself. I am as honest with these notes as I can be, and I do not see a lot of value now in holding something back.

This image was constructed using some recent shots I took in New Mexico. It is not a happy image, and the trip to New Mexico was not a happy time. I went specifically for my art - to gather imagery for another year of creating my digital paintings, or photo manipulations, or whatever you wish to call them. I went alone. The trip was a miserable time from the start, and I haven't yet recovered from the intense feelings of grief that were stirred in me whilst there.

On some level, there is an imagined self - a construct, an idealized image you aspire to be. I wanted to be this person - this adventurer completely comfortable with traveling to a new place by myself, getting lost on new roads, not knowing what will come. I think I realized, on this trip, that I am not that person or version of myself, and I am not likely to ever be that person. I think I came to an understanding that the affliction or imbalance, or whatever you wish to call depression, which has been with me since I can remember, is here to stay, and it is indeed hard-wired into my mind. There is no surgical removal, no alleviating it, no simple matter of altering its course.

Why was I drawn to lonely, desolate places in New Mexico? Why did I seek out forgotten ghost towns and abandoned structures, or this place seen in this image - white sand dunes with no trace of water? Why do they speak to me so clearly? Why am I drawn to these towers that I imagine will be here after we are all gone? They are as potent a metaphor for loneliness as I can find in this world - a communication tower with no one to communicate with.

This image takes the two towers in this abandoned and lonely place and puts the man in between, his head removed, showing the circuitry that makes him as he is, circuitry that cannot be removed, that echo the towers - pointless towers transmitting perhaps, but no one is receiving those signals. To the chronically depressed, this is how it feels - no one really can understand or interpret your signal, and so there is a fundamental and permanent breakdown of communication. A man without a country, without a tribe, without a face, without a hope. There is no angst in his pose, there is a quiet relaxed manner - after all, there is no one to see your reactions here, no one to comfort you or even speak to. All masks are off, there is only the raw circuitry of your core being - exposed and reflected in the harsh isolation of the land around you.

My thoughts turned to Vincent Van Gogh this morning. Not sure why. Well, he was an artist known for his depression, or as it was considered then, mental illness or madness. Some of his last paintings were of wheat fields, and even in those fields, he found sadness there, and painted storm clouds above the wheat. I think that characterizes a depressed person more than anything else - how they view the world at large.

The alleged last words of Vincent Van Gogh, relayed by his brother Theo at his deathbed were, "The sadness will last forever." Years later, a songwriter named Don McLean wrote a song called "Vincent." It was a song to the depressed artist who died 80 years before, and the chorus contained these lovely words:

Now, I think I know what you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen, they're not listening still
Perhaps they never will

Michael Bilotta

May 2nd, 2015