by Walter Chaw There's a scoop in the mountain face on the way back from Telluride, like a bite has been taken from the rock. Below is a clear, blue lake fed by snowmelt, so the water is bitterly cold. I found it by accident. I stop there every year to break up my drive. This year I sat on the beach for a while, stood up a few bleached wood branches into something like a cairn, took my shoes off, dug my toes into the sand, and soaked them for a minute in the water as shoals of fry darted around. I sucked air in through my teeth. I nodded off to the sound of the water lapping and the wind in the grass by the road, and I thought of this passage from The Sound and the Fury:
And I will look down and see my murmuring bones and the deep water like wind, like a roof of wind, and after a long time they cannot distinguish even bones upon the lonely and inviolate sand.
The movies I saw at the festival this year, the best ones, seemed involved with the idea that it's too late to stave off the apocalypse, but it's not quite too late to save your soul before it comes. Ed Perkins's existentially terrifying Tell Me Who I Am addresses the very nature of reality and our role in its creation. It suggests that we are forever on the precipice of losing every sense of who we are; and likewise forever on that same precipice of reconstructing into some wholly different form. That we are a hundred different people to a hundred different people. That we are ever in the process of forgetting and remembering who we are until the day we die, when the job of determining who we are becomes that of the people we left behind.
Terrence Malick's A Hidden Life and Bong Joon-ho's Parasite each filled me with a sense of shame: the one for its example of a man who can't pledge allegiance to a cause he doesn't believe in; the other replacing a cause with selling your soul for money and comfort. I've done both in my life. I'm ashamed I ever prioritized money over doing the right thing and working towards the right causes. I feel profoundly fortunate to have life left to do better.
My favourite poem is "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tinturn Abbey" by William Wordsworth. When I need inspiration, I'll recite it somewhere in nature in full voice for an audience of wilderness and solitude. On that humble beach, I thought of this portion--
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man's life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love.
--and of all the little kindnesses my friends have done for me that, unremembered perhaps to them, were for me all in all. I talked a lot to my friend Scott when deciding to leave both of my last two jobs--including one conversation at the end of a couple of sleepless weeks where I had been plagued by a recurring nightmare. I cried as I talked and he listened. These last sixteen months would have been unendurable were it not for my friends.
Scott Hutchison of the Scottish band Frightened Rabbit over the last several years created a body of work about depression that should be studied by those having loved ones so afflicted. This is from his song "Modern Leper":
Well is that you in front of me?
Coming back for even more of exactly the same
You must be a masochist
To love a modern leper on his last leg, on his last leg
Well I crippled your heart a hundred times
And still can't work out why
You see, I've got this disease
I can't shake and I'm just rattling through life
Hutchison killed himself in May of last year. David Berman, the genius from Silver Jews and Purple Mountains, killed himself last month. In "Advice to the Graduate," one of my favourite songs, he reminds the listener: "On the last day of your life, don't forget to die." Hutchison was 36. Berman was 52, the age my dad was when he had the heart attack he survived. I tried to kill myself when I was 16. The past three decades are borrowed time and I'm grateful for them.
Seven, eight years ago my friends Ryan and Katrina talked me into coming to Telluride to surround me with their love. They had to talk me into going to Telluride again this year, and it was again exactly what I needed at the time I needed it most. Sometimes your friends know things about you you thought were a secret. Depression tells you that you're a burden to them and that you're alone. Depression lies. Accepting kindness from a friend is a gift that is only yours to give them, and it's precious. Whatever time I have left, I'm going to fight. Imagine what the world would look like were the best as full of passionate intensity as the worst.
I write because it's almost physically uncomfortable when I don't. I don't know why. I do it even though I know it's temporary. I do it because I want to mark every time I feel a connection to another human being through their art, whether it be music or painting, words or moving images. There's hope that if I know them through the product of their hand, one day I will be known by the product of mine.
On the beach, eyes shut, I dreamt that years after I'm gone my kids would go looking and maybe find this spot. Alone, or maybe with their own kids. I dreamt they would take off their shoes and squint at the sky and in that moment they would know the same stirring in their hearts, hearing the wind in the grass and the water against the land--and they would know me as something other than just their dad. That I was here. And for the briefest of moments, I was real.