Teri Orr: You know the signs…
“The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here,” I said in my head to no one and everyone around me. I have said this phrase so many winters in my adult life — when the tulips show up in the grocery store — months before their appointed, anticipated, springtime arrival. I am quoting Sylvia Plath, of course, the poet who met a tragic end in the ’60s with her head in her oven and her two children upstairs barricaded away…
It would take 20 more years for her to posthumously win the Pulitzer Prize.
Her novel “The Bell Jar” was required reading for young women of the ’70s. And her book of poems “Ariel” — published posthumously — was a kind of road map through the journey of her depression. An English professor I had in my freshman year of college, an impossibly handsome young man, had introduced me to her work. I was 18, engaged to be married and it must have been obvious, to at least the professor, I needed a bit of depth. Of gravitas. Of reality. Hence the introduction.
“Dying is an art, I do it well. I do it, so it feels like hell.” Plath had suffered from bouts of depression most of her life. During her teenage years. During her studies at the prestigious Smith College and during her tumultuous marriage to the disarmingly handsome and charismatic fellow poet/writer Ted Hughes.
I was admittedly scared of her work. It whispered dark side invitations and it summoned demons and dragons of the mind — the devil’s playground if attended.
I bought the long-stemmed red tulips I found in the market this week and I brought them home and arranged them — just so — with some pussy willows, in an antique Fiesta wear, round shaped, black pitcher. They have been their own poem living loud on the low table in the living room all week.
Though T.S. Eliot famously declared in his poem “The Wasteland,” “April is the cruelest month,” anyone who has ever suffered from depression can tell you — any month — can be the cruelest month.
Living in a ski town can take its toll on your psyche. The flat white light and endless days without sun. The cold. The lack of living things to remind you of hope and rebirth and the very process of life renewing life. The cycle of white and cold can start to freeze a soul, a spirit, even a soupçon of hope.
I am not prone to quote USA Today but in December it had very convincing research that showed in 2017 Utah led the nation in depression. Utah. We love to brag about our being first in anything here but this statistic has laid heavy on my heart.
I have family members who suffer from depression. Both my immediate and extended family. I was treated for depression that same year I discovered Sylvia Plath. I told no one. Not my family or my fiancé. There was such shame attached … such failure … such a hard time separating the illness from the stigma. I remember about 20 years ago when my nephew tried to explain to my mother he was seeking treatment for his daughter who was suffering from depression. He asked if there was any history in our family of that. Since, of course, we had never spoken of such things.
My mother exploded in the retelling of the story. “Can you imagine!” she bellowed into the phone. “That anyone suffered from depression in OUR side of the family? Must have come from that trashy woman he married.” I suggested to my mother that her mother had — in fact — suffered from depression. I remembered the stories that every couple of years my grandmother would go to the Seventh-day Adventist hospital in Loma Linda, California, to “dry out” from both alcohol and Phenobarbital. My mother screamed into the phone…
“Your grandmother wasn’t depressed!
“She! Was! Irish!”
And there you have it.
This week I was a passenger in a friend’s car, which is very different place for me to ride. I am almost always the driver. (Which reminds of what writer Callie Khouri said about having her characters in the film “Thelma and Louise” tell most of their story behind the wheel of a car. “I knew for these women to drive the story — they would have to be driving the car.”)
But I digress. So I am in this fancy car that is displaying the details of the music on a screen and I am pleasantly surprised my younger, hipster friend is playing the music of Jason Isbell and his band, The 400 Unit. The name of his band comes from “a colloquial name for the psychiatric ward of Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital in Florence, Alabama.” Isbell has famously struggled with addiction and depression all his adult life. And his songs often address those issues. Yes, he wrote the song “Maybe It’s Time” for “A Star is Born” that Bradley Cooper sang. But it is an older song I am of thinking of this time, from 2015, “The Life You Chose,” that plays in my head…
“Who are you if not the one I met? One July night before the town went wet, Jack and Coke in your mama’s car. You were reading The Bell Jar.”
And I am back to my old friend … Sylvia.
So when we hear … beware of the Ides of March … we might find it an archaic expression that related to ancient battles. I would say the battles folks face this time of year are often death defying. We would do well to keep our hearts open and hearths warm and steady ourselves for some more sunless days. Buy the damn excitable tulips. Display them proudly. Look around for someone who could use their own bouquet — any day … like this very Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.