Early winter storm on Sunday. That’s what the weather diviners pointed to all week, and today, on cue, they struck snow. I opened the blinds and immediately shivered at the sight of white. Early winter storm indeed, too early for me. There was the usual temptation to check social media, find out what’s going on in the world out there. But I resisted, more curious as to the world going on within myself. I fear many of us are more dialed-in to the frequencies of Washington than our own hearts.
So I opened a book to see what else might open up, allow a few moments to unfold as the snow continued to blow. The book was Terry McDonell’s The Accidental Life, the chapter titled “Dark Nights,” which centers on Margot Kidder. I remember, as a boy, fantasizing about Kidder, the leggy love interest of Superman. But I am not a boy any longer. And while McDonell built his 1,223 words with Kidder, his goal was someone other than her, someone they held in common, someone who knew well the darkness that defined so many of their literary friends – William Styron.
McDonell mentioned Styron’s Vanity Fair piece from 1989, “Darkness Visible.” At one time I’d intended to read it, but the intention failed. I decided to make good on that this morning. Interestingly enough, my initial prompt to read it came via an article by Tom McGuane, an admirer of Styron and also once a husband of Kidder. Styron’s confessions in the VF piece about his depression and almost-suicide were revelatory for 1989, bringing what was too often then a hushed reality out of the shadows and into the light.
I read the article twice this morning. Its that good. He described that moment when he chose self-destruction, and then began to determine the specifics. Later that day he found himself watching a film that included a contralto voice singing a passage from Brahms: “This sound, which like all music—indeed, like all pleasure—I had been numbly unresponsive to for months, pierced my heart like a dagger, and in a flood of swift recollection I thought of all the joys the house had known: the children who had rushed through its rooms, the festivals, the love and work, the honestly earned slumber, the voices and the humble commotion, the perennial tribe of cats and dogs and birds, ‘laughter and ability and Sighing,/ And Frocks and Curls.’ All this I realized was more than I could ever abandon…” In that moment, Styron stepped back from the edge. It reminded me of a similar moment in Jim Harrison’s life when the deep darkness caused him to consider “the rope,” then “My year-old daughter’s red robe hangs from the doorknob shouting stop.” And Harrison, too, stepped back. I know not all stories end this way. I think of Anthony Bourdain…
Brahms Alto Rhapsody. A daughter’s red robe. Nouns – the things of this earth that we so causally dismiss, and some even pray to transcend, when they are, at least at times, and possibly at most vital times, the very anchors for our souls. And while those two examples sound quite poetic, I also consider medications and doctors to be nouns that can ground us at such times and in such seasons.
I’ve not had suicidal thoughts. I cannot recall ever having one. But I do believe I’ve had some mild depression these last few months. A part of me almost hesitates to say that because of the debilitating, paralyzing depression that so many bear. But making the darkness visible means the entire spectrum, from the mild to the severe.
I closed the laptop on Styron’s story and went to the kitchen. I lit a candle, poured a cup of coffee, and set about making pancakes as I listened to Brahms Alto Rhapsody while the early winter storm continued to blow outside in the shining world.