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To each his own starlit night

By Joel Pablo Salud Published Dec 01, 2020 6:54 am

News of the past few weeks were all but good for the soul.

If anything, the year 2020 has been nothing more than radio static. Dead air. Death all around. A string of bad luck that overturns all other bad lucks we’ve had in previous incarnations.

The introduction of the “new normal” has been abrupt, much too gruff in ways that put much of our patience—and the little of hope we have left—to the test.

Switching on to Facebook and Twitter for one’s daily dose of the absurd only makes matters more debilitating. For the clinically depressed, the last 300 days since the lockdown in March have been quite the uphill climb, so much so that even medication, for all that it’s touted to calm us down, leaves much to be desired.

When anger tries to crush me, I drown it in song, stories, poetry read out loud while my head rests on my wife’s soft lap.

For those with copycat conditions, things just got mindboggling real.

I’m not exactly your garden-variety optimist. Positivity thinkers have absolutely nothing on me. Think of me as an utter and hopeless realist. My job requires that I stare life and death and calamity right in the face regardless of the risks involved.

As such, I’m the last person you’d want to watch a blood-and-gore horror movie with. Stupidity, not ghosts or monsters, is my one and only fear. Mr. Bean is the only reason I hyperventilate while in couch-potato mode.

As a writer of a little over 30 years, half of them spent in journalism, the things I’ve seen and heard make for a grand excuse to be jaded. I knew beforehand that it would take every intellectual and emotional muscle for me to avoid that fate. I resisted, nonetheless.

As poet Rainer Maria Rilke said, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart.”

Thus, a cynic I am not. And after a hair-raising separation, three children (the first two I raised alone), eight books all penned in relative isolation, three death-defying stints in a hospital, an unexpected retrenchment, and 57 years of scraping the bottom of the barrel—let alone the occasional bar brawl pre-COVID—I have learned to continue to expect the good while in the thick of trying to hurdle the bad.

As a realist, I was trained in the newsroom to look at two sides of the coin at all times. More than anything, journalism taught me that a person’s 24-hour sojourn on this planet consisted mostly of night and day, wet and dry, happy and sad, life and death. What is left to assuage the winter of my discontent remains too thinly spread to be of any worth.

At first, it was difficult, what with my psychiatric fondness for doom and gloom. I’m particularly a fan of sob stories, of whodunits that do not end well. This can be gleamed from my first collection of short fiction, The Distance of Rhymes & Other Tragedies (2013, UST Publishing House).

But as a writer, I cannot stop at tragedy if only to give bone and sinew to what I’m feeling. One writer-friend told me to experiment on humor. For the needed stretch, even mocking humor in my political columns. While it took every ounce of mental power to switch on my inner funny bone, I was glad I did it.

For the clinically depressed, the last 300 days since the lockdown in March have been quite the uphill climb, so much so that even medication, for all that it’s touted to calm us down, leaves much to be desired.

“Think of it as a topical antibiotic to that overpowering sense of hopelessness you feel at times,” he said. “It won’t heal your wounds completely, but it arrests the further spread of infection.”

I broke the ice and completed my Google e-book, Laughaholic’s Synonymous, a collection of nonfiction pieces designed to outstrip Mr. Bean of any chance at the Emmys. While I wouldn’t call my excursion into slapstick a riveting success, it did help me get past many a harrowing moment.

I’ve long accepted my condition, which is pathological rage, as another one of life’s harsh realities. The darkness hardly frightens me anymore. When it comes, I let it soothe me in much the same fashion as a starlit night. When anger tries to crush me, I drown it in song, stories, poetry read out loud while my head rests on my wife’s soft lap.

On several occasions, I looked past my own battles to search for people wrestling with their demons and see what help I can extend. That, more than any medication, is a game-changer for me.

Some people might mistakenly presume that I am postulating advice on how to totally get rid of depression. Far from it. I, more than anyone, know how overpowering my own pathological rage can be sometimes.

What this column proposes are different ways one might disable the daily incursions by looking at both sides of life and seeing things for what they are. To each his own starlit night.

As poet Rainer Maria Rilke said, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart.”