This is going to be an unusually personal post. But as I see it, if you have read my stories, then you have already gotten an intimate glimpse into the deepest areas of my consciousness. So whatever I reveal here will probably come as no big surprise to any of my readers. I’ll just come on out and say it: like so many other artists out there, I suffer from strong bouts of depression.
I have struggled with various levels of depression ever since I was a teenager. For a few months, I was suicidal. Suicidal tendencies are not easy to explain to someone who has never had them, and they’re not a great topic of conversation, anyway. I suspect different people have different experiences with such a monster, in any case. Suffice it to say that for the most part, I did not want to kill myself, but in my darkest of moments, the temptation arose as the quickest and most efficient way to free myself of pain. I lived in constant fear that eventually, I would give in to the temptation and that would be the end of my story.
After several months of struggling with suicidal thoughts, I eventually learned to ignore them. That is what you do; you learn to ignore them. You know that you want to go on living, you choose goals for yourself to accomplish, and so you don’t give yourself the time to dwell on such useless thoughts as suicide. And once you ignore those dark thoughts, thereby pronouncing them insignificant, then they stop having power over you. In any case, that’s how it went for me.
However, I still had to fight depression, and that was an ongoing challenge. For me, writing has often helped me fight depression. It is a form of therapy. It is myself, talking with myself. But it is also a way for me to share my mind and feelings with other people, as I have never been the most graceful social butterfly in the forest. So I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote. But I still felt as if I constantly battled a monster that most people did not know existed, or if they did, then they were a lot better at ignoring it than I was. I got so tired of constantly battling my own sadness and anger that slowly, gradually, I began to develop a heavy resentment towards people who seemed “effortlessly” happy.
Such resentment was brewing in my mind when I first came up with plans to write “Ashes of Dearen.” I didn’t make that connection between my subconscious and my story idea right away, of course. Usually, it’s not until I’ve finished a story that I realize why I wrote it in the first place. I place a great deal of trust in my subconscious for that very reason. I am careful not to analyze why I want to write something in the early stages of development, because I don’t want my superego to get in the way of its natural growth.
On a conscious level, I knew I wanted to write “Ashes of Dearen” as a method of unlearning self-censorship. Going to college and leaving my rural home made me realize that I carried around large barriers to my creativity; I had built them within myself so that I would not accidentally “offend” other people with my work, or make them uncomfortable, or—gasp!—make them realize I was not a perfectly good person. I wearied of my own barriers, and sought to write something that allowed me to express myself as freely as my instincts urged me to. At first, I did not intend to let anyone else read it, even though I usually wrote stories with the intention of entertaining others. That’s what it took to let myself write with complete freedom.
My first draft of “Ashes of Dearen” was all over the place. I didn’t have an outline. I went with whatever whims struck me. There was plenty of sex, bloodshed, and even cannibalism. I let my husband read it, and eventually I felt brave enough to rewrite pieces and share it with a few other people, too. Then I set it away and forgot about it for a few years.
When I rediscovered “Ashes of Dearen” among my library of unpublished works years later, I was seriously contemplating taking anti-depressant drugs for the first time. I started to understand my deeper motives for writing this strange story beyond freeing myself of censorship. I wrote the story as an attempt to understand my own definition of “happiness” in a world where everyone’s goal is to “be happy.” I wrote “Ashes of Dearen” as a rebellion against the idea we all needed to be happy all the time. I wrote it to say, “Yeah, so I get depressed a lot, so what? You want me to be happy? Here’s how fucked up the world would be if we were all just happy all the time!”
My subconscious understood that if not for my pain—if not for my constant struggle against my own inner darkness—I would not be driven to write so many stories, compose so much music, or sketch so many drawings. All of these so-called “bad” feelings have their own sort of worth. They drive me to create. They drive me to do a lot of things. What is a story without conflict? If not for them, I would sit around all the time with a stupid smile on my face and I would have no stories to tell.
However, after years of resenting “happy” people, I was starting to get tired of that, too. I fantasized about becoming one of them. This is why for the first time in my life, I was seriously considering taking anti-depressants. I was tired of fighting the darkness. I was tired of a lot of things. Being happy didn’t sound so bad anymore. And I also realized that no one was really happy all the time. Maybe other people didn’t have so much darkness inside them as I did, but they still had their own demons to fight.
I rewrote “Ashes of Dearen” completely, cleaning up the plot—though I still didn’t employ much censorship ;)—and then I kept the story going. I had explored my feelings towards happiness, so it was time to consider the other emotions. I wanted to get to know the god of wrath, the god of fear, the god of mischief… and so the series has continued growing into what I now call the “Broken Balance” series.
It may be a long time before I finish this series. It leaves a lot for exploration. I apologize that “Sands of Hanubi: Book 2” is not yet written; I will write it eventually, but lately, my subconscious has been leading me towards other stories. I suspect that I will return to the world of “Ashes of Dearen” again and again throughout my career with varying levels of maturity and understanding. It is a very special story to me, and I hope it has meant something to you as well.
As for an overall message to leave with you, I think I can best summarize my musings with a few excerpts from “Ashes of Dearen” itself. First of all, there is the line Richard says to Picard, which gets repeated throughout the book. You can easily replace the word “safra” with the word “happiness” to understand the line’s significance.
“That fucking safra always makes you lose your nerve. And yet safra’s the reason you do everything in the first place, isn’t it?” –Richard, Ashes of Dearen: Book 1
And finally, the scene towards the end, when the Haze is gone and people are experiencing a world without safra (AKA happiness) for the first time.
To her surprise, it was the harpist, Jeevu, who helped her find the words she needed. Ever since the storm that blew out the Haze, he had roamed the palace halls in a state of shock and misery. He cried often, and she saw him a few times sitting and staring at his harp, unwilling to pick it up again. Fayr passed him by each time, for she did not have the fortitude to offer words of comfort. Until one day, she heard him playing his harp again in the Gardens of Delight.
The most extraordinary fact was not only that he played his harp again; it was the fact he played a tune in a minor key.
She walked towards him slowly, picking her way through wilted violets and ferns. He sat on a gilded bench, tears running down his cheeks as his fingers stroked the strings. The melody from his harp seemed to pluck the emotions within her own heart, and she repressed the urge to weep with him. As painful as the sounds were, they were also comforting: a sweet reflection of the agony within.
When he saw her, he stopped and looked up with surprise. Then, most strangely, he offered her a smile through his tears.
“I hear the difference now, Princess,” he said. “The minor key … it has a special beauty to it.”