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visitors since May 12, 2002
February 9, 2003
Letter from a shed in Yackandandah

Over the last few months I've swerved away from writing overtly autobiographical stuff. I'm not really sure why. But ever since I started this blog a number of people have suggested that I put up letters or emails that I've sent them. Personally, I remain unconvinced that this is a good idea, but I'm willing to try it.

This particular letter was written two months ago to a friend who lives in a flat in Sydney. She once lived in a Buddhist monastery, and she has a large and impressive collection of indoor plants.

The Kombi Van
Next to a shed
Overlooking a forest
Near Yackandandah, VIC 3749

December 9, 2002
Late Monday morning, I think,
or early afternoon

(No phone, only email)

Dear JD,

"That's what you said last time," is what you said when I promised you a letter when I last saw you in Sydney. "That JD," I thought. "She remembers stuff." Anyway I've just stumbled out of bed, and have put the typewriter on the bed, and have resolved not to go anywhere else, or do anything else, until I've finished this letter. Twice promised, and now begun.

So I'm in Yackandandah. The very place where, more than a century ago, interesting historical stuff happened. It's a beautiful part of the world, and I still find myself smiling at all kinds of thing when I'm here. As I walked back along the road last night I noticed a bunch of rabbits and an echidna. The rabbits all took off immediately, but the echidna merely looked confused. I walked a little faster to catch up with it and found it trying to hide in a clump of grass a tiny fraction higher than it was. "I can still see you," I said, and the echidna reluctantly shuffled forward a few inches.

A big part of the reason for being here is to make sure that my health is going to improve. I had this big virus thing attack me about four months ago, and I can still feel some of its after effects. A few weeks ago I met a student who had the worst case of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome I've ever seen, and she said that everyone she's ever met with it all had one thing in common: they got a big virus thing and never recovered from it. They were too busy or too ambitious or too something, and as a result they developed something far worse. And I thought: "hmmm. Better make sure that doesn't happen to me."

So coming here has been great for that. As well as leaving Fitzroy's pollution behind, I'm getting a lot more exercise and generally feeling pretty good. I'm walking everywhere and exploring a new part of the country.

But the other reason for being here is to move forward on the becoming-a-real-writer front. And on this front I can report only mixed success. I've definitely got a problem with being interested in too many different things. I have a journalist friend who says "pick one thing, and devote your entire attention to that." And I'm still fighting that advice. Even though I know it's good advice. It's also exactly the same advice that my page of The Secret Language of Birthdays offers. So it's advice that's been specifically tailored to me and my situation on a number of levels. And yet, and yet. I ignore it still.

So if I want to write cryptic crosswords (as I do and as I've done) then I should focus just on that. But if I want to write songs (which has always been a greater interest) then I should ditch the cryptics and just focus on songs. And so on. Whichever way it goes, it means ditching a lot of interests. I'm still reluctant to do that. And I take heart from Betty Friedan, who said that "abilities are also needs." It seems to me that if I'm interested in something, or good at something, then I should find some way of incorporating it into my life.

Unfortunately, I say this while unemployed. And I say it from a perspective of a long, twenty year history of depression. And what's been happening over the last two years is that a lot of my depression has lifted, but I still have many of the habits of it. It's frustrating. And no one tells you that recovering from an illness is also confusing. There have been times lately when I've noticed that I'm calm and happy and positive, but part of my brain is saying "what the hell is this?"

For the last year I've been writing an online journal, and for the first time in my life have been getting a small but steady supply of encouragement. I've also been getting questions that I have no ready answer for. One of those questions is "why are you doing this?" To begin with, I just didn't know. It took quite a while to figure out an answer, which was "I'm writing my way out of depression."

And the thing is: it works. At least for me, it really does work. I've written things up, and got them (as it were) out of the house, and in front of a small public. And, increasingly, people email me to say that such-and-such is terrific, or could they have more about this-or-that. That never happened before. I'm glad it's happening now.

But taking it to the next stage is much harder, and it's where a long history of depression is distinctly unhelpful. It seems to me that one of these days I'm going to have to submit a piece to a newspaper editor, and I'm going to have to finish a song, and I'm going to have to start, and finish, a big project. (A novel, an album, a book of some kind.) It means that I need concentration, and determination, and an ability to override setbacks. These are all things that I have avoided with near religious intensity virtually all my life. Now I realise how much I need them. And I also think: I'm glad I'm only 38. At least I've figured out some really essential stuff while I'm still young. Even as I describe the difficulties that I have now, I'm also aware that the game isn't over yet. I still have time to turn things around.

So. Change of subject. When I last saw you I described your presence as "calm and clear." You're a person with lots of information at your fingertips, and a willingness to calmly refer to it if necessary. And you've got a lot of plants. And a wonderful view. And some very, very good music.

Well, well. The life you lead. I was really impressed by the way you've arranged your living ... er, arrangements. I stood there, surrounded by plants, and thought: "why don't I live like this?"

So what I'm trying to do now is get my life, my garden, into order. It seems that the point of psychotherapy is to get you to a stage where you're aware of all the things that made you, that shaped you, and then you decide what it is that you want. If things from the past haven't worked for you, then you can consciously put them aside and choose something else, some other way of living, some other way of being.

So after a childhood of anger and confusion, and a long adult experience of depression and confusion, I think I'd rather live in a calm and clear fashion. Thanks for giving me a glimpse of what that looks like, for what it might feel like, and for showing me that it exists at all ...

Yours, temporarily at least, from a shed with a view,


     Posted by Sean Hegarty at 10:23 PM in the Reflective category | Comments (1)
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