One thing which can be said for depression is that suddenly, everything is equal. Our human bias to weigh positive information heavier than negative information is momentarily disabled, and every element becomes equally important. Depression is democratic like that; good things, bad things, big things, little things... All of it seems to signify about as much as anything else. Or as little, because during a depression so many allegedly important things seem to lose much of their import. ‘Depression’ being here defined as numbness and apathy, not desperation— the opposite of happiness is not desperation, but indifference. Whereas desperation still implies some kind of engagement (you only despair if you care about something), apathy implies that, well, it didn’t really matter anyway. Everything is equal. Or, to use the words of Freddy Mercury: “Nothing really matters, anyone can see... Nothing really matters to me...”
‘Lodestar’ in its literal meaning refers to ‘a star that is used to guide the course of a ship,’ especially the pole star. The word is etymologically actually a literal descendant from the pole star, because it lends its form from the Old Norse “leiðarstjarna,” which literally meant ‘leading star’—you can still see the form in it. You can also see the vowel shift from ‘lode’ (which became ‘load,’ the original referring to ‘way, course, carrying,’ which gradually evolved into a specialized use of the word for the mining industry as a ‘vein of metal ore,’ derived from the notion of miners ‘following’ a vein of gold) to ‘lead.’ A figurative use of the noun (no longer restricted to maritime jargon) appeared in the 14th century. Though it’s a little-used word, I quite appreciate it.
In the history of the human race, lodestars have proven to be useful things, both literally and figuratively. In fact, some might call them essential, because any kind of achievement supposedly begins with a wish, an objective of some kind. Every life is guided by some kind of desire. But what happens when you lose your lodestar?
My current state-of-mind seems to teeter towards apathy, which is not a good state to be in. Everything is equal, but that also means that you have nothing to hold on to. There are no handles on a smooth surface. If every emotion, every idea, is as good as the next, then what does any of it matter? I compare it to the sea on a windless day: everything is smooth, everything is peaceful. Which might sound heavenly, but not when you’re in the middle of it, and every horizon spells the same flat, watery landscape. Imagine being shipwrecked on a silent sea. Drifting. When everything is equal, you have no point of reference, and you have no idea if you’re stationary, or if this current (you aren’t even sure there is one, because you can’t feel it, but then you’ve learned that seas have currents, so you must be in one, right?) is taking you anywhere. On the sea, everything is equal. But when everything is equal, you have nothing to hold onto either.
This, to me, is what depression feels like. There is nothing to guide you, and anything happening in your life feels like another imperceptible current which might, but probably is not taking you anywhere. I feel this about many of my day-to-day activities, my feelings, and even all this knowledge I’m stuffing my head with (both in school and through self-study). I found this feeling described wonderfully in a book I read last year. It’s called Girl meets Boy, written by the incredible Ali Smith, and it contains this:
I wished I was old. I was tired of being so young, so stupidly knowing, so stupidly forgetful. I was tired of having to be anything at all. I felt like the Internet, full of every kind of information but none of it mattering more than any of it, and all of its little links like thin white roots on a broken plant dug out of the soil, lying drying on its side. And whenever I tried to access myself, whenever I’d try to click on me, try to go any deeper when it came to the meaning of ‘I’, I mean deeper than a single fast-loading page on Facebook or MySpace, it was as if I knew that one morning I’d wake up and try to log on to find that not even that version of I existed any more, because the servers all over the world were all down. And that’s how rootless. And that’s how fragile.
Everything in this quote resonates with me, which is rare. For one, it is superbly written—the kind of writing that is not just competent, but inspired (witness the long lyrical sentence, and the metaphor-within-a-metaphor, both of which are spot-on). But also the kind of disengagement which it describes was something I had been feeling for a while, but I’d never become conscious of it (or found the words for). To me, it perfectly describes how it feels to be young in the age of information. The internet-metaphor especially hit me like a cartoon piano. Because the internet is supposed to be good, right? The democratization of knowledge, and all that. But what to do with all that? You know so many things, but none of it seems to matter more than any of it. Everything is equal, and therefore everything might be as useful, or useless, as the next thing. It is difficult to see the forest through the trees in these days of Fun Facts and Did You Knows. There is no lodestar, and that makes all this knowledge feel sometimes more a curse than a blessing. The embarrassment of riches, one might call it. Anyway.
I’m still stranded in my shitty student job for the time being, but I’m looking forward to starting work on a second novel. I may be currently drifting in a silent, noncommittal sea, but this second to-write novel is something I can regard as my lodestar. And it is currently also the only thing I feel I can hold onto, because all the rest is seems to matter just as much (and as little) as the next thing. There is wind sometimes, and incidentally a small storm can whip up out of nowhere, but that leaves you adrift as much as a silent sea. This, then, is water (hi, David). Learning to navigate it only requires two things: a decent ship, good weather conditions, and a point of reference. As for me, I’m not sure about the decent ship (I’ve been more together in the past, whereas now I seem to be gradually imploding into a random constellation of driftwood); the weather conditions are as good as they always were (so no change, though I’m not sure how good that is); the point of reference, right now, is that second novel. That is the only thing. As for the rest: “anyway the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me...”