Apologies for long absence. Each time someone new has registered an interest in this site, I’ve felt guilty, believing that the Ancestral Voices had fallen silent, perhaps forever. But now at last I am hearing distant sounds again, a song deep in the forest, and I thought this would be a good time and place to say what has been going on, in case anyone else is or has been or will be similarly affected.
It happened in March. It was as if a sink hole had opened in the soul and everything drained out of me. First went the writing. As I usually take the summer ‘off’ this should have been normal but I knew it wasn’t: when a friend asked how the book was going, I heard myself say that I’d given up writing. After that, everything else began to slide into the hole, everything that interests me and gives pleasure: knitting, reading, learning the piano, walking. Dreaming. When my dreams went down the hole and left me an insomniac, I began to do some research and after a few clicks on Google came up with ‘clinical depression’. As if I’d just realised I was drowning, I began to beat my way up to the surface. As a call for help I began to tell others what was going on. Some said it was philosophical detachment but I knew it wasn’t. This was not freedom: this was bondage.
It was a friend in Chicago who wrote back at once saying, no, not depression but ACEDIA. She recommended Kathleen Norris’s Acedia and Me, A Marriage, Monks and a Writer’s Life, which has been a powerful part of the cure.
Acedia is not a condition, it’s a vice. One of the ‘eight bad thoughts’ identified by the desert fathers, it became combined with sloth to form one of the seven deadly sins of the medieval church. Monks who had somewhat overdone either their studies or religious observances or both could succumb to this demon who starts asking pertinent questions such as ‘What is the point?’ They called it the Noonday Demon. Norris describes it as a state of restlessness, of not living in the present and seeing the future as overwhelming.
There were many causes for my succumbing – a less than enthusiastic critique was one – but what really began to get me down was the writing business itself, the festivals, the glorification of the few and the overlooking of the many, the sheer amount of books being written – it was all adding to a weight pressing down on me. Really, what was the point? I left the Royal Society for Literature and disengaged from all literary events. It was over. I was finished as an author. In the depths of it all, I had one thing left and that was my love of sacred geometry. While my creative life crumbled, I drew patterns and, buying some gouache paints, learnt to paint within the lines. A good exercise in attention.
And attention, it turned out, was a major part of the cure; I’ll write about that tomorrow.
For now I am staring at a peacock butterfly which has been trapped in my writing hut for at least a day. Yesterday it was a beautiful butterfly tapping in vain at panes of glass that do not open as windows, ignoring the one that does, perhaps kept away from it by the draught, the very draught that spells its freedom. Now its wings have been shredded by the effort; it is exhausted, starving, and refuses all offers of help such as a big green leaf to step on. It just renews its vigour, walking back across the desk to launch itself against the glass as hard as it can. Butterfly dust falls on paper like glitter powder. I consider picking it up but surely it will crumble to nothing in my hands. O, my soul…