Monday, July 28, 2014

Matthew Quick, van Gogh, and The Threshold of Eternity

I've been struggling this week. The struggle doesn't have anything to do with my manuscript, The Angel Room, but maybe with subjects covered in my novel. And while talking about these things can be sensitive and a little terrifying (Goodness, what will people think of me?), I honor and value authenticity, so I am going to share this.

Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity)

Sometimes I get really frustrated with myself because I feel like I've made all this progress and it's really awesome and then all of a sudden, I feel like I backslide into this place I've been before and I'm just slogging through again and it's like, "Why can't I keep moving forward? Why do I have to come back to this place?" And I'm just crawling through the week and it's like the lovely Ann Cannon said during her breakout session at WIFYR14, "You just want to crawl into your bed and grow fur and eat donuts."
And then I've been reading this book, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, by Matthew Quick, the author who wrote Silver Linings Playbook. It's contemporary fiction about issues similar to The Angel Room actually, but I didn't know that when I picked up the book. And I just ran across a passage on page 211 that says,
"Hearing someone say "happy birthday" -- I know it seems so f***ing stupid, but it sort of makes me feel better all of a sudden.
Just two words.
Happy birthday.
It makes me feel like I'm not already gone.
Like I'm still here."
And then I'm crying with chocolate frosting smeared on one lip (that's a whole different story, because I actually started working out again this week), and I don't even know specifically why I'm crying but maybe I do and it has everything to do with my journey and with van Gogh's journey.

Van Gogh painted Starry Night in 1889. It depicts the view from his sanitorium window where he was hospitalized at the time following a breakdown.

Vincent van Gogh killed himself at the age of 37 on July 29, 1890. As the anniversary of his death approaches this year, I keep feeling a need to commemorate it in some way. I'm 37 this year. And I've faced that yawning abyss of a planet better off without me. After multiple hospitalizations for mental illness, I survived a suicide attempt  back in 2007, and while I am so so grateful NOW to have woken up in that bed in the ICU seven years ago last April, when I first woke up, I was pissed. I was really mad and sort of devastated that God or the universe or my stubborn and strong body kept me breathing.
As an artist who has been inspired from a young age by the life and work of Vincent, I never really thought about the significance of his age at the time of his death until I entered my mid-thirties. He was so young. He was so brilliant. He was so tortured. And I think, as I surround myself with art and literature and as I appreciate the vibrance of life and as I contrast it with the darkness I've seen, that I understand him. I've thought a lot about that death lately, and about my own death, or rather, the death that could have happened, and I feel such compassion for him. The darkest of times I have now are nothing compared to what I've seen and felt and I never even think about taking my life anymore. It's just an option that's no longer on the table. And I'm grateful. So grateful for that. It's something that Vincent didn't get to live to be grateful for.

Self Portrait

I feel like, in some strange way, every day that I live after July 29, is like a gift to Vincent. It's a gift to everyone else too, because my life is full of people who love me and feel happy that I'm in the world, but I feel such a strong bond with him -- maybe he's almost a Virgil (the Dante's Inferno kind, not The Angel Room kind, although Geary and I talked about how they're the same kind), casting a spiritual guidance on my life and reminding me how precious every. single. day. is. Especially after July 29. Like maybe that every day I live after July 29 is like extending Vincent's own mortal experience somehow, giving him a chance to breathe through 
a monsoon storm,
a cloud of bubbles,
the sound of my children laughing,
the clattering of a grove of aspens,
a progressive bluegrass concert,
the smell of wet creosote,
an amazing chocolate cupcake,
those brilliant Phoenix sunsets,
and saying, "Here Vincent, take these days and unwrap them and hold them close because I know you didn't get to live that July 30 1890, or the day after, or the day after that." And then the gift becomes a gift to me, because I almost didn't get to live the day after that day in April 2007.
Vincent once wrote to his brother Theo, "I wish they would just take me as I am." This sentence is so haunting. Isn't this what we all want? 
I remember that Vincent only sold one painting during his lifetime. He didn't get to see the effect his work had on the lives of so many people. 
Then  reading this book by Matthew Quick and stumbling across this passage and crying while eating chocolate, it just shows me again why we write and paint and compose and create. We create to bridge those gaps. To reach other human beings. To share that little piece of epiphany. And how books and art and music can literally save a life. 


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