Saturday, 8 June 2013

Hope, Remoras, and The Homeward Bounders

A Note on Depression?

In my previous post "Splitting Planarians: Incomplete Thoughts on Theodicy (and Complete Ones on Certain Flatworms)," when I'm not geeking out about natural history, I complain a bit about that week's lectionary readings. "And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings," Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5, "knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us." I was complaining about the suffering part of that verse, but I also want to complain about the hope part. Specifically, the bit where hope doesn't disappoint seems a little off to me, if by "a little off" we mean "lies from start to finish." Hope is fine-tuned for disappointment.

I have a troubled history with hope (link and link), but I haven't written on that recently. Depression is a wonderful reason to bring that old issue out again: do I hope that I will eventually be free of this major depressive episode? do I hope that I will eventually be free of mood disorders altogether? The former is likely; the latter is not so likely. I've also been struggling with the more immediate problem of my unemployment. If I do not get a job in Vancouver, I will be moving to Alberta for the summer to work there. It's not that I dislike Alberta, but I would far prefer to remain in Vancouver. Hoping for a job when I knew that I wasn't likely to get one in Vancouver's unforgiving job market was an almost physically painful experience. I felt like it would almost be better to give up on getting a job entirely, even though my self-imposed deadline was only nigh, not here. And yet I wanted a job in Vancouver, and had applied to so many promising-looking places, that I felt hope anyway, despite my better judgement.* (As of writing, the deadline has passed and I am still unemployed, so I will be leaving for Alberta soon.)

The good news is that I suddenly understood Diana Wynne Jones's The Homeward Bounders a few weeks after reading it. SPOILERS One of the underlying fantasy mechanics in that novel is that hope drains the reality from the world you inhabit: by projecting your efforts into a world you cannot access, you make your current location unreal. /SPOILERS "Hope is an anchor," says Ahasuerus, and he doesn't mean that it stabilizes you but that it impedes you.** Jones is right. Hope can drain the present of reality: when I was desperately hoping for a job I did not have, I was ignoring my present situation and, for that matter, not preparing for my probable future. And I'm sure most of us know people who use hope to delegitimize our current hardships; maybe the future will be better, but I need to know how to handle my suffering now. (Jamie, the protagonist, encounters Prometheus chained to a rock and wants to ask how Prometheus could have survived his torment, but doesn't ask because he already knows the answer: he had to.)

So is Paul completely wrong? I'm sure he's not, because he's talking about a particular hope (albeit one that hasn't paid many dividends for me quite yet), but we must be careful with this hope thing. I would like to not be disappointed by hope and I would like to know the love poured into our hearts, but so far I have no experience of any of that. I will let you know if I figure anything else out, and please let me know if you have any non-platitudes to say about it.

Also, I would like to direct you to Nadia Bolz Weber's post on the same verse.

*Did you know that there is a word for acting against your better judgement? It's acrasia. Thanks, ancient Greece, for another useful word! Now if only you hadn't advocated misogyny and slavery.
**I think a better metaphor would be the kind of fish that is called a remora. Sometimes known as sharksuckers, whalesuckers, or suckerfish, they latch onto sharks and whales and, sometimes, boats. It is called a remora, which means delay or hindrance in Latin, because Pliny believed that enough remoras attached to a ship would slow it down or even hold it fast. This isn't true, but the name has stuck onto the fish about as much as the fish sticks onto sharks. (It is thanks to Borges's The Book of Imaginary Beings that I learn this etymology.) Remoras are commensalists rather than parasites. (The kind of commensalism they practice is phoresy). It is at that point that the metaphor breaks down, because I don't think hope is commensalist.

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