On maintaining meaning

The character of Sherlock Holmes has been on my mind of late.  I’ve really liked Robert Downey, Jr’s depiction of him, as well as Johnny Lee Miller’s version of him on Elementary.

I was talking to an acquaintance on a message board about him and he said this:

“Sherlock needs constant stimulation. In today’s world, he would have been diagnosed as ADHD and put on Ritalin or some such.  Sure, he uses heroin, but it’s only when his mind is going stagnant.”

I totally get the need for constant stimulation.  I don’t have ADHD, though, some of my behaviors suggest I was a bit of a thrill/conflict/love junkie.  It wasn’t because of ADHD, but because I lived in a dysfunctional home and I only felt alive when I had multiple things going on and a few crises.

My senior year of university?  I had taken multivariate calculus, a few biotech lab courses, worked 20 hours a week at a microbiology laboratory, and had an electrical engineering major boyfriend who I’d spend way too much free time with all while trying to avoid the drama of an alcoholic step-father and a narcissistic mother and a slightly sociopathic sister (she did, after all, chase me around the house with a kitchen knife for some unknown reason – and now she lives in a large home in a private golf course subdivision).

When I worked, I always had an extremely full life.  The forensic labwork was challenging, and I had a lot of nerdy friends to hang out with after work, or went home to my husband and hung out with him and his friends.  Apparently I never got far from the dysfunction because I had a husband who had some of his own depression, drinking and drama (which has been resolving).

Which is why becoming a stay-at-home mother had been an exceptionally hard transition.  Yes, I totally understand the ‘stagnant’ mind and it’s not a happy place to be.

I’m trying to cultivate mindfulness and eastern meditation practices into my life.  Depression has been an uninvited guest for far too long.  It’s always lurking in the shadows, just waiting for the next chance to take a foothold in my psyche.

Right now, I’m unemployed and staying at home with my daughters for the summer.  I was a substitute teacher last year and I really don’t want to return to it in the fall but I might have to.  I was chronically sick and wiped out, though there were some bright moments where I actually felt I positively impacted some kids.

I’m a pretty lousy house frau, though I think I’m a decent mother most days.

I’m going to share something I wrote someone today on his blog that explains why I’m not a great house frau:

I read extensively.  I’ve got lots of books everywhere.  Good literature, philosophy,  psychology, science, math, poetry, biographies, diaries and letters. I’m running out of room for them, though.  I usually have a few books going at once.  Right now it’s Sherlock Holmes, Conscious Loving, Walden, A Room of Her Own.  A strange mix, indeed.

I read so much because I have no real life friends.  Too much effort for little in return.

I read lots of classics because the newer books usually bore me to tears (the notable exceptions being Haruki Mirakami and Paolo Coelho). I love books with philosophical or psychological underpinnings.

I love lyrical prose. It’s soothing and sensual. Richly textured, stunning and filled with luscious imagery. When I meet a piece of writing like that, I’m drawn into the experience intimately.

And I can’t quite capture this depth yet in my writing. But I crave this kind of writing. I feel it when I read it.

I read something today in Virginia Woolf’s A Room Of One’s Own:

Let me imagine, since the facts are so hard to come by, what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us say. Shakespeare himself went, very probably – his mother was an heiress – to the grammar school, where he may have learnt Latin – Ovid, Virgin and Horace – and the elements of grammar and logic. He was, it is well known, a wild boy who poached rabbits, perhaps shot a deer, and had, rather sooner than he should have done, to marry a woman in the neighborhood, who bore him a child rather quicker than was right. That escapade sent him to seek his fortune in London. He had, it seemed, a taste for the theatre; he began by holding horses at the stage door. Very soon he got work in the theatre, became a successful actor, and lived at the hub of the universe, meeting everybody, knowing everybody, practicing his art on the boards, exercising his wits in the streets, and even getting access to the palace of the queen. Meanwhile his extraordinarily gifted sister, let us suppose, remained at home. She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil. She picked up a book now and then, one of her brother’s perhaps, and read a few pages. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers. They would have spoken sharply but kindly, for they were substantial people who knew the conditions of life for a woman and loved their daughter – indeed, more likely than not she was the apple of her father’s eye. Perhaps she scribbled some pages up in an apple loft on the sly, but was careful to hide them or set fire to them. Soon, however, before she was out of her teens, she was to be betrothed to the son of a neighboring wool-stapler. She cried out that marriage was hateful to her, and for that she was severely beaten by her father. Then he ceased to scold her. He begged her instead not to hurt him, not to shame him in this matter of her marriage. He would give her a chain of beads or a fine petticoat, he said; and there were tears in his eyes. How could she disobey him? How could she break his heart? The force of her own gift alone drove her to it. She made up a small parcel of her belongings, let herself down by a rope one summer’s night and took the road to London. She was not seventeen. The birds that sang in the hedge were not more musical than she was. She had the quickest fancy, a gift like her brother’s, for the tune of words. Like him, she had a taste for the theatre. She stood at the stage door; she wanted to act, she said. Men laughed in her face. The manager – a fat, loose-lipped man – guffawed. He bellowed something about poodles dancing and women acting – no woman, he said, could possibly be an actress.


…any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at. For it needs little skill in psychology to be sure that a highly gifted girl who had tried to use her gift for poetry would have been so thwarted and hindered by other people, so tortured and pulled asunder by her own contrary instincts, that she must have lost her health and sanity to a certainty.

And yes, she did kill herself and wrote a poignant farewell letter to her husband.  Which made me cry when I first read it and apparently triggered some deep feelings of despair in me.

I am in a different place, a different century.  I went to university.  I had a gratifying (enough) career for twelve years in the STEM field and willingly gave up for my daughters.   I have a relatively patient husband.  And I get to write as long as I don’t forget to feed the children.  And I still find myself struggling along those lines.

I still feel the quiet tug in my brain that “something isn’t right”.

And I kind of know why that is.

I shared with my acquaintance an excerpt the book The Van Gogh Blues by Eric Maisel.


“Creators have trouble maintaining meaning,” explains Maisel. “Creating is one of the ways they endeavor to maintain meaning. In the act of creation, they lay a veneer of meaning over meaninglessness and sometimes produce work that helps others maintain meaning. This is why creating is such a crucial activity in the life of a creator: It is one of the ways, and often the most important way, that she manages to make life feel meaningful. Not creating is depressing because she is not making meaning when she is not creating.”

In order to combat these “meaning crises,” creative people must become “meaning experts” and learn how to make their lives and accomplishments feel meaningful.  Through examining what makes them feel happy (meaningful) and what makes them feel bad (meaningless), Maisel advises that creators develop a life plan to help guide them through the sense of despair that often arises when their projects seem less than satisfactory.  Using this plan, along with the other actions Maisel outlines, the creator can lead a balanced, contented life with a minimum of anxiety, which is, of course, the classic response to a crisis.”

As long as I’m reading, or writing, or doing art, or listening to spiritual teachers on MP3 or cleaning, out in Nature, or playing with my kids, I’m often fine.  My brain is not freaking out.  Even when I’m like PREPARED to be quiet, I am fine.

But often I get the sense that I’m not doing what I ought to be doing.  I just don’t know what it is I should be doing.  Though if you ask the Buddhists, the being is much more important than the doing.  And while I have moments where mindful breathing and meditation is enough, sometimes it just isn’t (and as long as my children are around, I can’t get that deep into meditation).  Particularly when the medical bills come due when we had crappy insurance.

And while I don’t currently have intense anxiety, it,  like depression, it is a constant companion, and like the hum of the computer that one can eventually put out of awareness (for a little while, anyway), it’s present, but muted until something brings it back to the foreground of my awareness.  Like reading feminist literature.   Which is probably why I have avoided it like the plague until now.


And sometimes my mind really melts.

Time seems to stretch on endlessly at times.  Lately I’ve been forgetting what day it is again.  Pretty soon the summer will be consumed and I’ll still not have made any decisions as to where I’m going to work in the fall when our daughters go back to school.

I wonder if I’ll ever figure out just what exactly I am supposed to do to find my individual path when I have so many interests and not enough time or freedom to make a career out of them right now (have to find a job between 8 and 5 with NO long commutes like I had before because the nearest genetics lab was an hour away).  I need a job that pays some bills and provides insurance that I don’t have to pay $500 a month for that ALSO covers my husband (because my current insurance company won’t pay since he got the DUI two Januaries ago), and screw the meaning maintenance, right?


I can’t help but feel that I resemble the line from Thoreau’s Walden:

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

This one suburban woman leads a life of not-so-quiet desperation.

My grandfather, a very successful lawyer, was known to quip, “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy”.

Sadly, I feel the opposite would often be just the ticket because I think too damn much more than is good for me.

About Casey

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ~ Jack Kerouac, On The Road Again
This entry was posted in depression, Eric Maisel, Intensity, Making meaning, Moods, Motherhood, Narcissistic Mothers, Paulo Coelho, Sherlock Holmes, Virginia Woolf. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to On maintaining meaning

  1. ksbeth says:

    Don’t give up, you’ll find your place )

  2. Casey says:

    I keep waiting for something to hit me over the head and I’d say “yes THAT is what EXACTLY what want to do” along with giving me the concomitant energy to go along with it.

    I don’t think it works like that. I think it’s more a slow, prodding process of trying and failing and trying something else.

    • ksbeth says:

      I agree and sometimes things that you never imagined can happen.

      • Casey says:

        Funny, thing is, I’d think I’d actually make a really good teacher, I’m just too sensitive and would struggle too much in that environment.

        • ksbeth says:

          I’m sure you would be, but if that environment makes you feel bad, maybe you can find a way to use your strengths in some other way. Also wondering if you hav ever read ‘the awakening’ or ‘the hour’ by Kate Chopin? Amazing stories

    • Casey says:

      I have read Chopin’s The Awakening for my literature class. I liked it a lot. I have the paperback and Kindle version of it, but I haven’t re-read it all yet. I haven’t read the other one, but I’ll look for it. Thank you.

      As far as the teaching goes. Sometimes it was hard because I was also a special needs substitute teacher. I liked the small classes, but the kids were facing much more challenges.

      And then again, there were those special needs kids that needed attention – the daydreamers, the ADHD kids. They were usually great kids, but draining at the same time. Sometimes the entire class was chatty and I could barely get through the lesson. I didn’t like that.

  3. Casey says:

    And thanks for the vote of confidence!

  4. overcoming depression says:

    I can understand why becoming a stay-at-home mother had been an exceptionally hard transition for you. It seems that you had overworked to escape from some unwanted circumstances and keep your self away from it. I appreciate that you are practicing meditation. I hope it helps you. Good luck
    Warm Hugs,

    • Casey says:

      I still “overwork “(think too much, write too much, read too much, create things) to escape from some unwanted circumstances.

      Sometimes it’s just hard to “be here, now”.

      Warm hugs, back

      • overcoming depression says:

        Me too have a similar difficulty at times. I often feel that I have equated my worth with the achievements I make in my work. In that way I am trying to make meaning in life through the work. It often lead me to a breakdown and depression. I am usually reluctant to take a break from work; I feel guilty if I do so. Needless to say that this lead to unwanted stress and depression. I am slowly learning to deal with it; though there is a long way to go for me.
        May be overworking in this way is an attempt to escape from some situations without facing them and attempting to solve them. I often think that I should think over my fears and instead of running away from the real issues without reflecting on it properly, I should deal with them. Do you think there is anything useful for you in this line of thought? Take care.

      • Casey says:

        I think, if overworking leads to a sense of joy and discovery, then no, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to overwork. Obviously, many of the greatest scientists spent a lot of time at work. However, most of them made time for other things than just work.

        Einstein said, “The greatest scientists were also artists”. I didn’t know that Einstein played the piano and violin, but apparently, he did.


        Feeling guilty for not working is optional. It’s not a natural part of being human. You feel guilty because civilized culture expects us to give up our individual needs for rest. I am pretty sure your parents, your teachers, your spiritual leaders, your bosses may all have had the message that what you do, and how much you accomplish determines your value. You get depressed and have breakdowns because a part of your mind has bought into this premise, but clearly, it really hasn’t. We know there is something REALLY wrong with what we’ve been told.

        We get locked into this mindset because it’s a permanent part of the culture. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when working hard IS important, but for the most part, there is nothing that can’t wait a little while. There are things that are urgent and important and some that are urgent but not important, there are things that are not urgent but important, and there are things that are neither urgent nor important.

        Obviously, of those four categories, your boss might have different ideas than you as to what would go into those categories.

        But in any case, in a healthy world, we would realize we have value no matter what we do, no matter how much we accomplish, simply by virtue of existing with the particular personality traits that you have. It’s better to value yourself because of your kindness, or generosity or empathy, than your work. Why? Because the job is a temporary situation. Your kindness, generosity, or empathy would be a permanent part of who you are (assuming, of course, you are kind, generous, and empathetic). Do you see what I mean?

        I came across this. For me, with my ‘addiction’ to thinking, it would be helpful.


        When I am physically run down (as I am with the head cold I have caught), I get myself into some bad places in thinking. So, I have to come up with strategies that will help me get back out of it. And, if I practice any one or a couple of those strategies, I might ward this off in the future. If I care about myself I will, anyway.

        You take of you care, too. No one else will for you.

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