I admire Chekhov, and not just for his writing, and not just because he was startlingly hot either. To paraphrase Ivan Bunin, Chekhov was not a little bitch. Even when he knew he was dying from TB, he didn’t whine hysterically from the pages of Russian literary journals. He didn’t ask his readers for hugs. His last words were, “I haven’t had champagne in a while,” as opposed to “OMG OMG IS DYING HALP.”
As you can guess, I admire Anton Pavlovich for qualities I lack. It’s like admiring a purse on someone else’s shoulder – a heart-patterned Moschino, maybe – something you couldn’t afford if you pimped yourself out to every halfway-decent publication in this city. It’s not jealousy per se, it’s more like awe. “Anton Pavlovich, where did you get that heart-patterned… I mean, Anton Pavlovich, how on earth did you manage to keep your cool like that? Is it a genetic thing? An ancient art?”
Because of passport issues, I’m grounded in Ukraine right now. On one hand, this is good, as it forces me to save money. On the other hand, this is bad, because there is nothing that I can physically do to escape the soul-crushing, cold, deep, starless darkness that blooms in vivid, elaborate splotches all over my being, like the bubonic plague. I’ve been depressed since last year, since moving to Amman. But it’s like a fever that’s spiking now. I knew I’ve lost some weight recently, but nothing could have prepared me for the actual numbers when I finally stepped on a scale. It affords me with an excuse to go shopping, and I can’t even muster up enough energy to rejoice about that. Unmoved by bright-lit shops and the swish of plastic. The seventh seal has been opened.
A Vulcan would be bemused by depression. There’s nothing logical about it. Friends will say, “you have a job, a family, and your tits are still fairly perky. Snap out of it.” By all rights, you should. The world does not suffer from lack of tragedy. Your grandmother is in hospital with a crusty rash on her skin that makes it hard to move. Someone tried to rape your friend, and there will be no legal repercussions. Your aunt’s heart has been reduced to a vaguely pitter-pattering piece of gristle after her daughter’s death. Ralph Lauren is threatening people for making deserved fun of its “X-Files”-inspired Photoshop disaster. “Peace is an illusion, says Israel FM.” And so on.
Ultimately, it’s hard to get depression to kick off the blinders and be appraised of its own insignificance. Pain is narcissistic. It’s the belle of the ball. It’s a douchebag with spiky hair, a miasma of Axe, and a publicist.
I have a friend who told me that at 50, he’s going to duel this other dude. Why? Because he’ll be 50. This set me to wondering. Why is 50 the magic number? Why can’t it be 25? What’s the difference? Your cells will be older. You would have seen more, I guess. Maybe experienced some fleeting happiness, or written something halfway decent, or learned, finally, how to cook shrimp in spring onion sauce. Does any of it matter? I mean, sure, for other people, it does. But when you know that you will always be cycling back to this one point – this mixture of dread, cowardice, longing, failure and a profound desire to start screaming your head off in a public place and giving the babushkas simultaneous heart attacks – how do you live with yourself then? How do you even begin to justify passing on such genes to any potential offspring?
Smiling babies make me cry right now. They have no clue how evil world they have recently entered actually is, and they don’t even have teeth to bite back at it. Most of all, I am afraid that if I ever have one, I will give it an inheritance of the “crying at smiling babies” gene. No smiling baby deserves such horrific injustice.
I know you’re rolling your eyes right now. There’s a great scene in a Mikhail Bulgakov story, where the protagonist’s sled is being chased by wolves in the night, and he takes out a gun and can’t fire it out of fear, and then he tells himself, “this is cowardice” (or, in the exact Russian, it’s something called “small-soulness,” malodushie, when your spirit is too small to deal with whatever crap has just come up) and fires the gun, and the wolves get the message. I know that I should fire the gun as well, eventually. In the right direction. It’s just hard when you don’t see the point. When you’re thinking, “wolves are an endangered species, and who the hell am I?”
I will tell you one thing, though: when I visited Anton Chekhov’s grave in Moscow, I had a sense of perfect, religious calm. And I realize now that it wasn’t because I was going, “oh, Anton, your suffering hath now ended, you are strumming a harp on an enormous marshmallow. Alas for those of us left behind.” It’s because I was going, “oh, Anton, you may gone and up on that marshmallow, but you don’t get any worse for wear in my head now, do you? And the world sucks a little less because of that.” Anton Chekhov would never have been able to give me that kind of momentary peace had he been, in fact, a little bitch after all. Most importantly, this Not A Little Bitch thing isn’t just something to be jealous of. It’s more than a commodity. It’s a fire that you light so that others, above all else, can get warm.
I haven’t made very many people warm, but I do amuse my grandmother when I do this really grotesque booty dance because the magazine I work for may have just landed a cool interview. I amuse my brother, because it is amusing for him to be related to someone who quotes Tolkien with a straight face and in mixed company. Maybe all of that counts for something, in the end. Maybe it doesn’t. I don’t know. I don’t know.
I’ve been thinking about the Black Gate part in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and just how magnificently it was ruined by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens in the movie adaptation. I love the films, and understand the challenge the filmmakers faced when making them, but I still occasionally get tempestuous when remembering this scene. Whenever I’m depressed, I picture myself at the Black Gate, and wonder if Aragorn would have run away screaming like – say it with me – A Little Bitch, even though he had probably just taken the biggest risk of his entire life and couldn’t be too sure if it would pay off. I like to picture Chekhov there as well (I just came up with the most messed-up, and the most awesome idea for a slash fan-fic of all TIME), even though he’d probably just make subtly cruel fun of the impeding restoration of the snooty Numenorean line, or something. Still, Chekhov was brave, and that’s what you need at the Black Gate. The movie version screwed with my elaborate fantasy hardcore.
In the interest of, if not destroying, then at least containing, the howling wolf (with his blood-spattered muzzle and rheumy, mad eyes), I have, however, been trawling YouTube for ridiculous videos, and have come away with the following brilliant example of what it really means to go into battle against the dark armies, especially if the screenplay has just failed you:
I don’t know about Sauron, but that scares the hell out of me.