A few years ago I wrote a short story titled “The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune.” I scribbled it down in a hurry but let it fade, tucked away into a drawer. It was the first time I tried to channel my depression and the protagonist was so modeled after me that he should have shared my name. I hadn’t thought about it again until recently. I was daydreaming about the number of works I completed before my serious writing effort started. It was a precursor to the writing life I currently enjoy, but “The Sling and Arrows,” despite the years of distance, was close to me but without the ghosts of that story I wouldn’t be able to write about depression.
I still remember my thoughts when I was writing it. I wanted a piece to reflect my feelings on existence. At the time, due to depression and a dark interpretation of philosophy, I was resolute that it was better not to exist than to exist in the first place. Infatuated with Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, I centered the story on lines from the play: “To be, or not to be…”. It was a fundamental question that I would often think about as a teenager, and in between the ups and downs of depression my answer would change. Writing the story was an act of rebellion against sorrow that continually chose “not to be.” I thought it was the ultimate question from which all others derive. Ignoring other philosophical queries, I devoted my life to being.
But being wasn’t as simple as I thought, and despite my best intentions I would lapse back into depression before managing to crawl out once again. On average I wasted more time watching television or browsing the internet than being productive. I didn’t work out, write or read. Iit left me unfulfilled to the point that it made nonexistence seem like a better option. As I teetered between the two extremes, I stumbled onto a song called “Leisureforce” by Aesop Rock. In the song he raps about isolation and the darker emotions that follow behind.
“Final answer ‘not to be,’ ‘not to be’ is right,” he asserts with conviction. It seemed effortless. The way he responded to the question made me envious. But he didn’t just answer the Bard’s inquiry; he also responded with one of his own, which would become my impetus: “Next question — to build winged shoes or autophagy?” Spelled out, to spend time crafting shoes, worthy of the gods Mercury or Hermes, to transcend the dreariness of normal life in sessions of dedicated passion, or to surrender to monotony and allow emptiness to devour all meaning. Well acquainted with the absurd and inherent meaninglessness of life, the question wasn’t easy to answer. Even if I wanted to dedicate myself to writing and literature, the universe would continue its onslaught of tragedies. But throughout my depression, I hadn’t lived up to that ideal at all. It was a life of Netflix binges and disregard for myself while hygiene, fitness and social connections sat on the sideline. It was unfulfilling.
The six words that he posed in his song caused a shift in my behavior. The change wasn’t all at once, like in a near-death epiphany, but in gradual shifts of habits and attitudes caused by being more conscious of my choices: I could wake up each morning and dread the day that came and promptly waste away in bed cuddled up with Netflix, or I could live with purpose and add meaning and experiences to my life. I had become so accustomed to the former that other options seemed to not exist, but it was not what I would have chosen. I started my days with a simple question: “What would I choose to do?” I asked this of myself regardless of my feelings. I was determined to make improvements in my lifestyle and would do what I chose regardless of the weight of meaninglessness.
I’ve mentioned in previous works — chiefly, “Why Bad Things Happen to Bad People” — that the only way to escape the banality of life is through the cultivation of passions. Through them you will find a small patch of existence to which one could ascribe meaning. Although I have a life filled with passions, I suspect that some day soon my commitment to a life in feathered shoes will waver. The indifferent world will see that I feel my weaknesses, and for days, even weeks, I will be defeated and insignificant. I will stray from my conviction to live passionately. But, over time, I will remember the progress I had made and, even if I am reluctant, will lace on Hermes’ shoes once more.
This is the sort of experience that is undeniably human; we must all confront a world that doesn’t add up to our expectations. Our dreams are often unrealized and suppressed by financial difficulties, work and life stress and general misfortune. I understand the desire to shirk the growing pressures and wallow in the madness. But we can do more than that and will always be more than we let on. In the scope of life, my passions are insignificant but day-to-day life becomes enjoyable because of them. I gain control of my life through them, which before was left to the apathetic whims of the world. Living passionately, just like a craft, takes dedicated practice and willpower but it is worth spending a lifetime on.