+99.9 : Apogee/Apology

“Memories seep from my veins, that may be empty; Oh, they’re weightless, and maybe, I’ll find some peace tonight.” – Sarah MacLachlan

This is the last link in this loop chain, as far as it can possibly go, before I turn it around and follow it back to where it started. Apogee: the point of an orbit farthest away from earth before god and gravity make whatever they wanna make. Apology: I’m sorry; sorry, sorry, sorry.

What I want to make is an end to this discursive loop. An ending that lands it back at the beginning, but not in exactly the same place. Perhaps at the same x and y coordinates, but a new z: one level up in the same spot on the map. I’m trying — trying — trying to bend what has been a closed orbit for so, so, so too long into an open spiral. One going upwards: aiming for new altitudes, instead of forever locked into that dismal, static, horizontal plane. Growth rather than stasis. Risk instead of caution.

If I can manage that project — if maybe I’ve already started to — that would close off this loop cycle nicely. Not quite on time — pretty late, actually — and at some incalculable variance from any reasonable budget. But still… Change is change; arriving is always better than drifting on endless seas. I woke up just in time.

And, if I dare to fire up yet another capital-D Dream, here with my newfound optimism and precious new little spores of hope, I’ll end not just this loop cycle here, but the cycle of cycles. Break not just the chain, but the fucking wheel, too. For good. And I don’t even have dragons.

< loop | loop | loop >

This is a story I’ve been waiting to tell for almost a year. Perhaps “stalling” is a better and more accurate word than “waiting”. [And perhaps that’s more than just semantics?] Either way, I’ve been consistently not telling this story, despite wanting to and feeling it build in me. Like a train in the foothills, gathering steam.

I think I’ve been doing the waiting/stalling routine for a few reasons; reasons which seem distinct enough to list separately, yet might just be facets of the same thing:

One, for the simple fear of saying it out loud, and what might happen after that. The joyous freedom to speak, and the occasionally heart-stopping knowledge of having to own all the consequences of speaking.

Two, for hoping the story — this new narrative arc in the Scott Cooper book — would last long enough that telling it wouldn’t overlap with (or, for the love of the Old Gods, somehow prompt) its ending.

And three, for wanting to get it as close to right as I’m able. To resist that perpetual desire to unleash my wild pack of words as soon as they’re hungry, allowing them the easy, temporary satiation of munching on the smallest prey. I want to keep them close, instead; held tight until they’re keen and slobbering, yet still disciplined enough to go after the big kill. The one that will feed us for a good long while, not just until tomorrow.

OK, so:

The fear of saying it out loud. The prevailing biases in our society, or at least in the small, vanilla slice of it that I inhabit, say that mental health issues either: a) aren’t really a thing, unless they’re a serious thing; or b) reveal such a fundamental flaw in one’s character that your friends should reconsider their connection to you and your coworkers should really think twice about trusting you with the passwords to the web servers.

Seen from a very slightly more informed perspective, all of that is revealed to be complete bullshit, but those biases are broadcast at us and perpetuated through ten thousand channels, from sitcoms to overheard snippets of conversations. Sometimes overt, but most quietly implied. “He’s off his meds”; “she doesn’t have her shit together”, “that dude is crazy”, “everybody’s sad; just suck it up and get on with it”, etc. So admitting to anything in that realm either announces a weakness that others don’t have — what could be worse than being susceptible to a ‘not a thing’ thing? — or flags you as a potentially serious liability.

That’s a little paranoid, perhaps. But you just never know what kinds of trouble putting your hard truths out into the world might get you into, amongst the craven and the disreputable. Revealing my scars and pressure points is a boundless virtue among friends and co-conspirators. The people I’ve found out there via the amazingly easy mechanism of typing my ideas into a box and pushing Publish are astounding; literally now some of my favorite people, even having never sat in the same space or heard one another’s actual voices. But for all that, it’s also a risk amongst others. Public is public; the permanent online archive is permanent. “Vultures and thieves at my back,” as the song goes, is exactly right. Swooping and stealing as much as they can possibly take.

It would be so much easier to stay quiet, sort it out in private, and hope nobody notices.

Also some fear because it’s just not a glamorous or attractive story. It certainly ain’t as cool as documenting my soaring attempts at living the artist’s Dream. I mean, who would want to read about this instead?

Friends and supporters and fellow travelers, that’s who. Or strangers, who don’t yet know me or care, but who might; and who might be lifted or encouraged or helped, even just a little, by my version of this old, sad story.

I’ve almost forgotten what it was like to wake up in despair every morning.
Every. Single. Fucking. Morning.


It’s probably wise not to let myself forget it, completely.

“Oh shit, another day…” is not a good way to start each potential + or x on the calendar. It’s a very, very bad way.

In about a week, it’ll be the one year anniversary of me taking that first, unassuming little blue and white pill. The pharmaceutical miracle that turned all those misfiring x’s in my brain to +’s; or at least into neutrals, so that I had a fighting chance of spinning them positive instead of negative. A year is a pretty good span; long enough for me to get past the fear of the effect just one day stopping as suddenly as it started; long enough to see the ebb and tide of emotions as a normal cycle that doesn’t end in a waterfall to nowhere; long enough to map the contours of my new mind and learn to trust that it’s a real, dependable place.

So I was probably waiting to start telling this story until those things happened. Until I could say it had been more than two days or a week or a month or a season. Because it’s been some dramatic seasons, in this past year, none of them reliable or really even very understandable as they were happening. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from volleyball, it’s to never celebrate too soon.

I wrote sixty blog posts here last October and November — which is pretty nuts. 10mg of Fluoxetine, and a little bit of well-timed therapy, fueled a writing surge that made me wonder about the ‘delusions of grandeur’ side effect listed on the EULA. Not entirely seriously, but occasionally; because the difference between waking up at 7:30 wanting almost nothing but to fast forward to the next sleep cycle and waking up a 3:30 wanting to pound out five thousand words is rather startling. Like: “Which one am I again?”

So I found and thoroughly explored the outer limits of my blogging habit last fall, and that felt like a win. I can’t remember what hardly any of them said now — and I’m resisting the urge to go back and do a thorough re-read now. That kind of caution/hesitation is Old Brain Thinking, which I now studiously avoid whenever possible. Any anti-pattern in a storm.

But then that rush stopped ; so abruptly, as I remember it, that from the outside it probably seemed like I’d been hit by a bus, or lost my login. What actually happened is I realized I needed to divert the attention and effort I’d been lavishing on this space into saying the things that I desperately needed to say only to myself; for myself. There were so many things I needed to explore, but absolutely could not say here. (Ha, even now. A lot’s changed since October; a lot’s stayed the same, or intensified.)


So I kept writing at a similar rate, privately; first typing, because of that strongly engrained habit; then transitioning to handwriting in journals; really for the first time in decades. Going back to paper was like returning to first principles; like unplugging everything and picking up an acoustic; like asking my 15-year-old self, who used to lie on his stomach, scribbling furiously in one 200-page college-ruled notebook after another, “Why were you doing that, kid, and what did you hope to gain? What did you learn? Did it help more than it hurt? Who the fuck were we back then, and what does that say about who we’ve become now?”

So I started filling journals again — now much more ornate and satisfying ones, with lovely grid lines and calendar charts and nice typography. The world seems to have caught up to my generation’s desire for fancy notebooks, which now come in a jaw-dropping range of styles and preferences.

(Maybe we need the design of the object to help us justify all that time spent on introspection and self-aggrandizement? Or maybe after years of templates and .css files and obsessive wrangling with digital files, it feels like cheating if all that composing can happen just as readily on a crummy $0.99 Mead, so we spend twelve bucks instead, to bridge that gap? I dunno. I also kinda don’t care.)

So I have been writing: intently, unrelentingly, sometimes probably a little too much. And part of that was prompted by a change in format or methodology. I decided that if I was switching to a private channel, for all the grace that bestows, I was going to truly go for it: every thought OK to write out; ignoring longstanding worries about posterity or being read by others; even discarding the idea of making it legible to some later version of myself. So, for once, not reining it in and not thinking ahead to some hypothetical reader. Discarding the constraint of trying to make it legible; trying to make it make sense.

Almost anti-blogging: just every word as it comes, automatic, sometimes so fast and abrupt that if I pause, to stare out the window or surf a wave of emotion, I can’t even decipher what I wrote a few lines up. Sometimes almost indistinguishable from drawings (and the drawings now inching ever closer to journal entries; cf. Instagram). Brutal, unpretty honesty — much more than I’ve ever allowed myself in four-ish decades of this habit/ practice/ method/ mechanism/ hobby.

In all that writing (and, since I restarted therapy this summer, all that drawing), I’ve been seeking both my current thoughts and feelings, and the larger patterns they delineate; the ways that my brain and view of the world have changed. Early on, to reassure myself that I wasn’t just going to spontaneously return to that grim, hopeless certainty that it’s all just suffering and waiting for the bad parts to wind themselves down to nothing. Then exploring the possibility that I was changed for good. (And also for the good.)

So: I stalled on telling this story for fear that I might have to stop (again) and reverse course. Like, “Sorry guys! I’m depressed again, so I’ve gotta pause this story arc to go deal with that shit some more.” Because in addition to undermining my greatly desired narrative of progress, and the incumbent embarrassment, that’s just bad storytelling.

All those years of toxic rumination vanishing almost overnight left behind the magical suspicion that saying it out loud might jinx it. The first rule of Prozac Club is you don’t talk about Prozac Club. I now think about how so much of mental health involves wrestling with one’s subconscious, surfacing things to daylight thinking that would rather stay down in the muck, eyes and nostrils poised to attack when the moment is right. It’s a process balanced between rational and magical thinking, in a way; and so prone to self-fulfilling prophecy, to suggestion, to all the allure of symbolism. Beliefs and emotions from the deep well of the self are by definition mostly outside our control; often barely comprehensible by the “me” that sits here in the command module and thinks he’s flying the ship. Unpredictable and wild… like how a visit to my childhood home can prompt redreaming dreams I haven’t had in twenty years.

So I stalled — waited — out this first year, learning and exploring a lot of that stuff I just wrote, in the hope that if I waited a bit longer, I could tell the story better and also not accidentally end it along the way.

And last was the ambitious, wanting part. I waited until now because I really want to understand this story, these ideas, enough to do more than say, ‘this thing happened, then this other thing and then this strange thing.’ Optimistically, even idealistically — a completely new thing for me, this decade — I waited and read and talked and beseeched Odin’s ravens, trying to gain some insight that I could put into the telling. Because it is fine and good to merely document one’s lived experience; to share. It is something else — wondrous, grand, dare I say, noble? — to redirect, to teach. Perhaps, and this is a huge stretch, but perhaps even to help save, the way that others helped save me.

So my new goal here is to give some useful intel to you, dear reader; on the small chance that maybe you’ve come here looking for some. Or maybe that was what drew us together, across the expanse of a billion voices all speaking uncountable thoughts at once, all those long years ago, when we were young and dumb; or just a few moments ago when I appeared in the haze of some questing Google search. Perhaps you’re in a phase of your own life’s orbit where you could use a boost. Perigee can be astoundingly difficult to escape sometimes. I needed all the help I could get. I still do.

Maybe like some binary gravitational anomaly, I fire these newfound thrusters to boost you a bit, then we swarm around one another and you push me a little farther away from the Abyss, too, spiraling out to new heights in some beautiful new thing that looks like a loop, from a distance, but is actually a helix; an upward spiral.

Yeah, I said it was ambitious. But that’s different than crazy. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past 355 days it’s that nurturing a little wild hope in your chest is the price of admission to the rest of whatever this life can be.

All that said, I used the word “right”, up above: “to get it as close to right as I’m able.” And I use it carefully, advisably. Because “right” is probably the kind of concept — the excessive, perfectionist style of ambition that helped lure me into my Black Iron Prison in the first place. I’m still figuring out how to keep a wary eye on brittle, punishing perfectionism while embracing the kind of hope I just described above. “Because ‘perfection is kind of an asshole, and no one invites him to their pool parties.’ Or something like that.”

Maybe the key qualifiers in that stated goal are “close to” and “as I’m able”. “Close to right” is not aspiring for some predefined Platonic ideal of a result — it is an open-ended, adaptable goal. So is “as I’m able”. Not requiring or expecting something beyond my current capabilities; not insisting that everything else bend itself to my will, to this desire; not imagining that I can somehow escape the unyielding influence of circumstance and accident and luck. Water bugs, trout below. Always just water bugs.

So a condition on all that aspirational, Pay It Forward, Catcher in the Rye business is I can only do what I can do here; this bit of writing is just another bit of writing, however sincere and dedicated and enthusiastic I may be for it in the moment. It will be as good as the time and space and my attention and expanding self-knowledge will allow, in this moment, today, this week, whenever. And: fine. I will sing this song; then another song; then another song. There’s only one beginning and one ending for each of us, and everything in the middle is verse-chorus-verse and, if we’re lucky, a really sweet bridge somewhere near the end.

It also took a while to get past my initial concept, which was that this blog would end with one last post, here at +99.9, and that it would be a polished, discrete thing; accessible to virtually anyone, so that people who might benefit from reading it wouldn’t need to first wade through my previous 30,000 words on the Internet in order to make heads or tails of it.

I was stuck on that lofty, hard goal until I realized that I didn’t have to write that single, concrete, clear essay. That it’s not necessarily a good thing to oversimplify and hone away every possible bit of excess and seasoning. That putting all this in terms of “the problem” and “the solution” might be killing the messenger more than wrapping things up in a tidy bow.

That ‘all things to all people’ kind of writing, aimed at an uninitiated audience is that kind of thing that would go on the back page of a ceramics magazine, but it misses the point of blogs; of micro-audiences; of aiming right at the heart of just a dozen other people on earth. And it just isn’t me; or isn’t in me now; it’s certainly not how I write or how I like to write; and it’s probably tangled up in some ludicrous Dream-thinking and an unstated hope for extrinsic rewards. Also it’s much, much, much less fun, and almost certainly less rewarding, in the end, than this… whatever this is. Than these discursive loops.

So even as ‘the new me’, that’s still not me. I don’t write essays; I write a blog. An essay starts with answers and an agenda. A blog post starts with questions and a faint whiff of hope. I’ll take hope over an agenda any day.

“Let me take the idea that has gotten me this far and put it to bed. What I am about to do will not be that, but it will be something.” – Ze Frank

So here’s to the new idea of extending this writing project twice as long as I’d planned; There and Back Again. It’ll almost certainly continue to be messy and crazy and self-referential, as much clues and hints and callbacks and out-of-synch references as ‘substance’; red herrings in place of meaty content; all in an attempt to get to some deeper, better kind of meaning.

Oblique to encourage fuzzy thinking, rather than punish it and pound it down; opaque to reward exploration; as organic as thought, scribbled down like casual petroglyphs in sandstone, never intended to delineate the high water mark of our little civilization… just a guy in a moment and place in time with a sharpened stick and an impulse to see what he can do with it.

I used to joke that tw@se was a rough draft for the blog I hoped to write someday. I still think that’s a pretty decent joke. [Oh! An aside to mention that very few things have made me happier lately than when my therapist told me I’m funny. She might have even said, “very funny.” Reminded me of “they’re (really) good jokes”. Hmm… let’s circle back to that one sometime, eh?] So it would be fitting for me to take 98 more posts, on the orbital path back home, to arrive at a rough draft for that one, normal-human-accessible kind of essay. I mean the one I’ll still probably never write, but which I’d be a lot more prepared for if I allow these discursions and explorations on the way there. Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

I mean, come on: discursive is right up there in the title.

So yeah. The idea that Paying It Forward doesn’t require that I share this thing, this story, with the whole damn world. And forget carving sandstone: it doesn’t even have to make more than just a mark in the sand, between cycles of the tide. I’m pretty sure every one of those erased marks somehow makes a difference, too. And/but/also — importantly, these are my marks in the sand. I made them, when I could have been doing almost anything else instead. And I made them. (When I could have been doing almost anything else instead.)

Ho fatto questo.

It would be wonderful, rewarding, generative, encouraging, even negentropic (if I may be so bold), if I put my brains and guts and tattered skein of a soul into this and it helped even one person. One is a lot. Especially if that one person was one of you, my All-22, who’ve been along for so much of this journey with me. [Probably now whittled down to an All-2, or maybe three, who still find some use or fun or distraction or joy in reading words like these on the Internet. But still: even two or three would be fan-tastic.)

OK. Enough preamble. Here goes:

A post shared by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

“I don’t want to start, but I will. This is an invocation for anyone who hasn’t begun, who’s stuck in a terrible place between zero and one.” – ZF

This is the end of the first half of this loop. This is the positive integers straining all the way up to their maximal limit, one incremental little + after another. (Ironic that it will be -‘s on the way back down. Or maybe more fitting to make them x’s?)

This is where I bend it around and try to bring it back home, with something big and new and possibly very important in tow: a glimpse of a previously-unseen, unfathomably-distant galaxy; a reflection of myself, in a mirror that I thought was long broken; an echo of the finite, like a signal bounced off the infinite; a lookout for hope.

This is my depression story, and how I started ending it.

“You were brought from the wreckage of your silent reverie…”