The feeling of Empty

I live what mManti La Sal Abajos Deep Canyon from Road 95AXXxx-3583ost people would consider a full and fulfilling life. A three-year-long, and counting, teaching gig at a prestigous college. A nice house in the country. A horse to train and ride. Two great dogs. Serious work in photography. The list goes on.

And yet, I feel empty and uninspired, and I struggle each day to do simple things, and mostly, to find purpose. A mission. Something to produce that is larger than I am. Perhaps I’m reaching an age where legacy counts, and yet there is nothing lasting that I have built. What is worse, each time I try to find purpose I run up against a wall. There seems no purpose, and no energy available for any worthy cause, whether doing the dishes or saving the planet.

I am lost in depression’s fog, and despite Zoloft and another pill that I cannot spell, and perhaps don’t want to admit to taking, there seems no door or window to let in a beam of light to follow.

The world in general seems following the same path. (This doesn’t help me one bit.) Global Warming. Rising seas. Acid oceans. Deafened whales. Extinctions. Death. Next door, my neighbor /landlord has a lovely border collie that he keeps in a horse-stall, without affection or companionship. Tippy barks and cries all night. It is not good for sleep.

So the search for some tiny beam of light, something just leaking through the bottom of the door jam or filtering through the curtains, some path to follow that can lead me, lead us, out of a dreary existence that seems destined for another Cormack McCarthy novel, goes on. We  (I) have too long dwelt on woe. It would be nice to work on some positive vision. some more evanescent destiny.

I think my greatest block, the thing that keeps the doors chained tightly shut, the light extinguished, is fear more than depression. The idea of taking on the world’s problems, of mounting some degree of criticism, or of finding that new path into the dark woods (Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey) creates a dark, tight knot in my stomach, a reason to back away from action, a reason to embrace the lethal status quo. Depression and fear are the chicken and the egg. Hard to say which comes first. Or last.

It is time to move forward — not yet to slay dragons, but to draw back the window curtain, to peer under the door or through the keyhole, and see what lies beyond as a vision of light.  Something small but positive. Something to leave for others, even if it is only a path.


9 thoughts on “The feeling of Empty

  1. Dear Ellen, I came across your blog this morning, after reading about the Haboob. Coincidentally in the past two days I have been with groups of friends who are echoing your frustration and depression. It is not clear to many what exactly to do except follow suggestions for personal actions, such as recycling, using less water etc etc. For some of us, that is not enough. There is no sense of achievement.

    I sense a need to operate at a group level rather than an individual level with my peer group, (over 55). We are children of the 1960’s when purpose was collective. I myself know that there are many groups I can join, (350seattle, Greenpeace, etc) and I am trying ow to get a list for my friends so that a more collective response might be available to them.

    But more disturbingly, I recently sat in on a UW class where one professor, a scientist, presented the science of climate change and the other, a philosopher, posed questions of personal choice to the students. The choice scenarios revolved around coming upon an automobile accident while you were on your way to a job interview. The students were asked when they would stop to assist the people injured in the accident, knowing clearly that if they stopped they would be late to the interview: when an aid car was already there, when no one else was there but a child seemingly from the accident was wandering by itself, when no one else was around except you etc etc., As an access student (over 65) I am an observer to the class, not a participant, so I watched carefully as the students grappled with their own sense of individual moral responsibility and I did not speak. (The point of the exercise was of course, to eventually talk about when and how America and Americans should enter vigorously into the climate change global action scene) I was stunned to hear that no one would stop (a class of 150?) except when it was absolutely clear that they were the only hope and they might be able to help. Even then only a handful would help. There wasn’t even any compassionate attending to the injured even if you couldn’t provide necessary medical help.

    This lack of sense of community, compassion, lethargy was disheartening to me. There are all sorts of reasons why this particular class might have acted this way… early in the academic year, over 1/3 Asian students maybe without a cultural norm for participation in class or a different sense of community, right after lunch and the students were logy, students didn’t want to make a wrong answer. No matter the reason, I still know that more students might have participated. Is this a generational thing? What is your experience with young adults?

    So I sense a lack of community leadership, taking the problem seriously, calling folks to action, attempting to find solutions, beginning political activism etc. Why aren’t the mayors, governors, representatives taking this on? WIthout the community platform. it seems like we are isolated beings under the full moon, where we can see things clearly, but are moon – struck into inactivity,unable to make the first move.

    Of course, there are ways to get leadership to step up. But paradoxically, it takes individual actions to do that. So, I come full circle here. I understand your depression and lack of purpose. I support your attempt to find purpose. Maybe banging heads together is a purposeful activity, and maybe you have already tried this. I haven’t demonstrated since Vietnam, but this Saturday I’m out for a rally in Seattle. Best, Mary Lynne Evans

    • Thank you for a very thought-provoking response! Students at Whitman really want to be involved with helping others, and are all worried about use of fossil fuels (I started a group here last year and it’s doing well.) They are also very much individuals, and operated through self -awareness and self-promotion rather than a larger community effort. So we don’t do marches. We pretty much post to Facebook. I think one great irony of the internet is that while it connects us across continents, it separates us into small islands of individuals, linked by digital causeways. These can be fragile. Perhaps we are contracting into smaller tribes that can help us keep our identities intact amid the growing throngs of humanity. Perhaps this will all work out in the end. The future is hard to predict– who, among the Conquistadors, would have envisioned the Interstate Highway system?

      You are absolutely correct in saying we have got to stop thinking we will save the planet by recycling and composting. I keep thinking there has GOT to be a lynch-pin somewhere that can disconnect us from the engines of destruction that are hurtling us toward that broken rail-span. Or a Spiderman who can pull the train back from the brink of the abyss. (Where is Peter Parker when you need him?) So far, I’ve not found it. And I suspect it is simply not there. It never has been. I had placed some hope in Peak Oil, but now, of course, there is no such thing. Not even Peak Carbon.
      Yet, there has got to be some way out of this mess. Isn’t there?

      Hope you had a great time at the event. Keep marching.

  2. Ellen – I saw your post on FB that you are back to your blogging. Your words and photos always ‘stir the pot’ for me as I’ve always thought of you as a kindred spirit. Lately, I’ve found myself in your’ feeling of empty’. Despite my music, art, loving family, friends, living in beauty and wonder – I too am missing a sense of purpose. I have an overwhelming sense of; not doing enough, not leaving enough, not living enough. Yet those people that are in my circle tell me they are often inspired by my songs, my art, my work, love for nature, hope for the earth, and the love and compassion that I give to them. So, I will say the same to you… you have always been an inspiration to me; eyes and heart that enable you to capture (and share) such amazing images, your concern for environment and ecosystem, your compassion for animals wild and tame, your expertise in your field and the ability to teach others, and the words that you give to us to make us ponder and wonder.

    You are an amazing woman! I am an amazing woman! We are our own worst enemies – judgemental and tough-minded – always pushing for more while the people who know and love us, see our sense of purpose. They see purpose in our art and our hearts, our words and songs, and in the choices we make. We leave them a legacy by being a part of their lives. We may have a ‘feeling of empty’ but who we are and what we do may be filling the lives of those around us. Maybe, we need to listen more to the voices not our own.

    Peace for your heart and mind, my friend.
    Kelly Riley

  3. thank you for sharing this Ellen….. I can relate so much, though could not have said it better than you
    I know you don’t realize the legacy you are leaving/have left – — your teaching, your books, photography, inspirational nature walks/talks to countless people whose lives you changed. If you left this earth tomorrow, your legacy would be powerfully in place.
    I’m almost embarrassed to admit that one of the things that has helped me overcome depression/fear/fog, in recent years, has been to stop reading the news (except for a few cherry-picked articles on FB) I don’t watch TV, don’t even listen to the radio. Yes, I’m out of touch, living blissfully ignorant of the depth of breadth of the worlds problems. Not saying I’m proud of that either, it’s just a survival tool for me. The more I know about the world, the more overwhelmed/depressed I become. When you told us about Tippy, I wanted to drive right over and take him home with me! And he’s just the Tippy of the iceberg!!! Animal abuse is one of the things that puts me over the edge the most….. I can’t bear it!
    I agree with Mary Lynn about the small daily choices that can make a difference in the world and in how I feel about my place in it. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the worlds problems on a daily basis (and our helplessness to change many of those) we can focus on small acts of kindness (go give Tippy some love) smile at a stranger — it doesn’t have to be big to make a difference. You’re already doing this! You are lighting a path for others and you don’t even realize it! I celebrate you for that and am confident that you will be uplifted by that light if you just keep moving forward, one step in front of the other. Keep writing!

  4. Could just be a stage of life… and this, too, shall pass. I’m not a group person at all – happiest left alone – but one needs a passion. Just a little one. Something that will absorb you. And just one or two friends to connect with when you need to get outside your world.
    PS maybe you could rescue Tippy – steal the dog and give it to a Border Collie rescue group… just a thought. I’m always for the dog.

    • I think its a stage in life between one career and another. Kinda like the cocoon phase when it must be all dark and confusing for the caterpillar. I have changed careers and jobs on the average of every three years, and i think I am now conditioned to change at that interval, which I am coming up on very soon here at Whitman. Sigh.

  5. Every photograph you take and publish, every book you write, is a very real thing you leave for others. Your photos are breathtaking and meditative, and that talent doesn’t come along every day. You bring beauty and wonder into the lives of people who cannot go where you’ve gone and see what you’ve seen. I wonder if Ansel Adams was ever depressed?

  6. Zounds, Ellen… this post really struck a chord with me. Same set of feelings about “losing” my Oregon retirement plan by moving to Las Vegas. This place is DEFINITELY NOT Oregon! Not sure how this aspect of my life is going to evolve, but sure feel “lost”… I found, tho’, that re-reading Wayne Dyer’s book, “Change Your Thoughts; Change Your Life” has restored some “sanity” to my day-to-day exercise (given that sanity has EVER been my companion). Can’t beat a healthy shot of Tao to restore balance!! Keep writing/photographing, Ms. Ellen – your postings are most therapeutic… Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s