Gift Horse Teeth

I mean, it’s not like I was enjoying being horribly depressed. But I was getting some shit done with it. I started a musical project that was a really fun kind of weird. I’ve been getting bored with this lone woman + acoustic guitar, neo-folk, verse-chorus-verse shit for a while. Out of of ~150 tunes I’ve written over the last decade or so, I’m only unashamed of 3 of them. The banjo was in double C tuning (which probably means nothing to you if you don’t play banjo, but standard tuning for a 5 string banjo is open G – meaning if you just strum it without touching the frets, it plays a G chord, music lesson over). Double C tuning sounds haunting and weird and I wanted to make it sound even more haunting and weird, so I borrowed my husband’s spare bass bow and bowed chords on my banjo. It came out really neat – even neater after I fucked around with it in a mixing program a little. I have cooler toys than you do.

But I’ve been feeling mournful, suicidal-ish, unstable, beaten down by the world, and generally miserable for a while and I hadn’t been writing anything really, not with the enthusiasm I’m used to, anyway. And then finally I stated getting my hands dirty again. I worked on a tune structured around strange, multiplying background harmonies, erratic cajon percussion, and lead vocals the devolve into open weeping. This was before I even got my hands on the banjo for that second one, which I approached with a doleful melodic quaver that I really dug. Things were looking up, but not too up. I wanted to make stuff that was grotesque and frightening while still being elegant in its construction. I’ve done odd shit like this for years, collecting objects that are not intended to be used as instruments, and misusing actual instruments to get some bizarre sounds to play around with. These are my Legos. I felt like I’d finally gotten a workable foothold in this area. I had the right mixture of deep sadness and the motivation to sculpt it into a shape I liked. 2 songs in, I felt like I had a fun project on my hands. I didn’t expect to run out of the sad that was fueling this engine.

To my paradoxical dismay, I feel better today. I felt better yesterday too. What the fuck? How can I plumb my abysmal depression for source material if my depression deserts me? Now, look, I recognize that there’s a sophomoric element to my feeling that I need gloom to make gloomy music. I should respect my own talents more than that, right? ‘Cept I don’t. This morning I woke myself up by laughing. I had a dream wherein I put 51 cents into a CoinStar, accidentally received $2.99 in bills and change, and used it to buy a kickass camel that I intended to use as my primary mode of transportation. I woke up and laugh-yelled at my sleepy husband that someone took away my goddamned transportation camel. It was a Bactrian camel too. They’re like the rarest dromedaries on Earth. GIMME BACK MY CAMEL, UNIVERSE. I mean, I know I paid less than $3 for it, but if life offers you a $3 camel, dude, buy the camel. No brainer.

I feel exceptionally spirited today. I’ve been loud and boisterous. Earlier, I hopped up and down like I was jump roping without a jump rope for about 30 seconds (which was weird ’cause there was an actual jumprope a literal foot away from me while I was doing this). Jumping pointlessly and running rather than walking through the house are both things I do when I feel hypomanic. I’m also more affectionate and playful with my husband and I have cool dreams. I slept a couple hours less than usual and my eyes are tired, but nothing else is. I actually expected to feel depressed this morning ’cause I drank the equivalent of like 3 beers last night and I’m almost always depressed the morning after I drink – even a little bit – which is why I basically stopped drinking for the past several months. I hadn’t planned on drinking at all last night but we had some friends over to watch the GOP debate and I made it about 20 minutes before I was like, “Fuck it, I can’t get through this with only water.” So I killed an oversized bottle of 9% beer, which I honestly expected to leave me smashed, but which ended up leaving me mildly buzzed at most. This is not what I’m used to. Normally, I feel hypomanic when I’m intoxicated and then really depressed once I sober up/wake up (which is why I all but quit drinking since I’ve been depressed). Why am I feeling this feeling I’m feeling?

Re: the musical project I started: what made me feel really good about it was that I felt like I could capture my depression in all its bald-faced, gargoyled glory. I want(ed) whoever would end up listening to it to feel as uncomfortable as I’d been feeling. I wanted it to be difficult and disquieting, both in content and presentation. What now? Things that are beautiful aren’t always pretty was one of the things I was trying to communicate. I dunno. Maybe when it comes to songwriting and musicianship in general, my reach exceeds my grasp. And, comically enough, it’s when I feel better that I wanna quit.

There’s a lot of cool literature, ranging from the highly accessible to the impregnably academic that examines the well-established the relationship between bipolar disorder and creativity. But I don’t wanna be the plaything of my moods (…duh). It’s really fucking hard to get shit done like that. The proverbial acreage of my abandoned project graveyard is measurable in light years (as is my capacity for hyperbole, apparently). I don’t want to keep shedding good ideas all over the place because I feel like I’ve temporarily misplaced the tools I’d been using to craft them – not out of carelessness, but because my furniture got rearranged. By me, I guess, but as if I were sleepwalking.

So I really don’t know quite what to do here. But I don’t appreciate the intrusiveness of this sudden uptick in mood and energy. I mean, I guess that’s something we all struggle with. It’s kind of the nature of the disease. I wanna say that the upside is that if I am becoming hypomanic, it means I’m likely to crash into another depression at some point, maybe soon. I guess it’s the part of me that views that likelihood as a potentially good thing that disturbs me a little. As it should. I mean, as I said first thing, I wasn’t enjoying my depression. But I found a way to make it useful right as it started to evaporate.

Just wait. Tomorrow this’ll all be different. And different the day after that. I’ve had issues with rapid cycling before, but this feels more like firing dozens of ping pong balls out of t-shirt cannon. I have a pretty hard time keeping up, as anyone probably might. It’s an oddly flavored frustration. I do so wish my mental illness would start using a calendar.


Tagged: alcohol, banjo, bipolar disorder, creativity, depression, dreams, hypomania, music, politics, rapid cycling

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