I didn’t know it at the time, but I started a collection of poems when I was up in Canada a few years ago. I was up there to give readings and talk to students about being a poet and a Californian, and although I’d brought the medication that I generally take to help even out my depression, I forgot to take it.
It’s not a powerful dose, and people deal with much more powerful depression than I do. Still, it’s necessary and without it, I have a hard time. I had a hard time then even though I felt I was hiding it well. Maybe I was and maybe I wasn’t, but it didn’t occur to me that I’d forgotten it. I was just back in that old place I always go without it.
It would have been an easy thing if I had just remember that I had meds, but I didn’t. Somehow it just didn’t occur to me until the last day of the trip to take them. Instead, I tried to work my way out of that place with writing and with community. I was staying with my buddy and his family, and I took every opportunity that I had to hang out with them, talking to my friends or playing soccer with the kids. When they weren’t there, I sat alone and wrote my poems. I wrote and wrote.
I wrote about Canada and California. I wrote about New York, where I would have lived had I not moved to California as a child. I wrote about the little things I saw there, the people I met and talked to, and those things that were universal.
And as I wrote a kind of theme emerged. Without understanding it consciously, I was writing letters to myself about how to work my way back to a kind of emotional equilibrium. It had to do with focusing on the small things in life. Watching the little changes in the world around me, focusing my attention on anything other than myself, was what would get me through the worst of it.
I came back from Canada, and my wife reminded me to take my medicine, and I did, and things got better, but I kept writing. I was working myself into a better place and lucky for me, I didn’t stop.
I worked on that collection straight up into 2013, and it’s out now. I wrote myself to knowledge. Writing saves me all the time. So does my wife. Whatever it is that you love saves you. That’s maybe the most important thing that Canada taught me. Maybe it’s the most important thing I will ever learn.