Fuggedaboud Hope. Trust Your Melancholy. Utopia or Bust.

This is how [Octavia] Butler finds her way in a world that perpetually demoralizes, confounds, browbeats: she writes her way to hope.  This is how she confronts darkness and persists in the face of her own despair.

– Jesmyn West, Introduction to Bloodchild, by Octavia Butler

[Octavia Butler’s] primary characters refuse to deny the better aspects of their humanity.  They insist on embracing tenderness and empathy….”

– Ibid.

“…the only possible utopia [is where] a person will have a private, perfect utopia every night –or an imperfect one…I think if people go to a….well, a private heaven every night, it might take the edge off their willingness to spend their waking hours trying to dominate or destroy each other.”

–Octavia Butler, The Book of Martha

I would really really like to invite everyone on the liberal spectrum into my pathology.  I think we can get someplace with peace in the world using depression as starting place.  If there’s one thing missing in the liberal mind that, being restored, could bring them/us the energy needed to drop the compromising servility to free markets, it’s proper valuation for Saturn’s domain.  The conventional attitude toward depression – nobody wants it, it’s debilitating, people avoid you, etc.-  keeps its true value hidden. Though millions suffer from it, it’s usually (and understandably) treated by relieving the symptoms, not seeking out the origins.   This makes sense; treating the psychic roots of mental illness is expensive, out of reach for most people, plus pharmaceuticals are quicker (but at the cost of truth).

Moreover, even though depression is strongly associated with artistic creativity,  even this awareness does not shake customary dyed-in-the-wool prejudice. Most of us figure it’s normal not to be an artist, but socially unacceptable to be depressed. So we adjust,  projecting on successful artists the glamor and exalted worth that is each one’s forfeited creativity, one’s legitimate non-monetizable happiness.

Not a good idea for any who stubbornly insist a better world can be!  I’m with Octavia Butler on this: utopia cannot be made one-size-fits-all; it’s realizable – yes! –  but only by means of the private, individual dreaming that is the well-spring of art.  Properly understood – and here’s where depression comes in –  art-making is necessity and duty, both.  What my fellow peaceniks ought to be up to, counter-intuitively – is popularizing art-making, take up the cause of creative genius, its right to exist, in everyone, including those who see it as a distraction from attaining the 6-figure job.  The  obstacle?  Untreated depression,  that sucks the energy up into addictions, compulsions,  neuroses instead of fueling creative freedom, evidence of its dispiriting effects pervasive now in liberal lesser-evil America.

With the popularity of anti-depressants on the market these days, not to mention the ballooning of real-world causes for deep depression (take your pick – another Trump presidency!  Another Biden Presidency! The planet heating up!  The slaughter of Palestinin innocents, Ukraine, etc.) it shouldn’t be hard to find recruits for a social movement that promises to de-stigmatize the depressed and re-valuate depression; we could have legions in no time!

Science, no less,  is showing us the way to properly appreciate our malady.  Studies in neuroscience show depression to be “the pathological loss of the capacity to rationalize away reality.” (Robert Sapolsky, Determined)

Surely we can make this pathology a plus! We – the incurably depressed – have it in our means to encourage others to lose their bondage to triumphant progress, its state-of-the-art technological advancements and glitzy Superbowl ads.  Our catchphrases might be between something like “Black Lives Matter” and the snake oil sales patter that sells miracle cures. (“Win with woe?”  “Melancholy Matters?”) Only it’s not snake oil we’re peddling but the very real miracle of corrected illusion. Even though it’s not in our power to induce anyone to follow, at least the way can be pointed out: your illness may be the means to break your chains.

So far, the Right has the corner on serious disillusionment with liberal ideology, but because there it’s channeled into grievance instead of constructive critique – i.e., it’s all the fault of the liberal elite, they the ones that need to be brought down there, etc. – it’s misdirected and exploited by depraved people like Trump. On the liberal end, the illusion is still powerful enough to keep the young just entering the job world, and many of the old who should know better, enthralled, spellbound.  These are apt terms for an illusion that so few of us, equipped only with logic based upon an insane premise (i.e., that people don’t matter), can – or will – see through.  Seeing the illusion as spell means that to “dis-spell” calls for irrational means.

Not that liberalism’s historical successes have not been significant – as a woman I have much to be thankful for! – but we depressives can’t take our eyes off the downside: expected lifespan in the West is shrinking.  The gap between rich and poor widening.  Icecap melting. White supremacy still in place.  Genocide begetting more genocide.  Moreover, local places and economies, marvelous home-grown personalities once enriching the soil of human culture,  are defended more in reaction than by people following serious dreams of interdependence, sustainability, justice, and peace. Without the crisis of depression, even the dreamers can be easily diverted by the dominant illusion: things are meant to get better (and secretly are getting better,  read the NYTimes and be reassured. Bad stuff happens but not to me!)  To break such a spell, not no illusion, but a better one is necessary.


Last month Orin and I went to the elementary school where our grandchildren attend – and before them, our children –  for a science fair.  While there, we were given a tour of the library by the librarian, Alicia,  a longtime employee of our Cafe.  Now, since she’s had this real job,  she works for us still, but only during summer.  Under her direction, the school library has become a beautiful, book-loving space – it even managed to look inviting on that rainy, gray, January day visible through the long wall of windows facing us as we walked in.

Orin particularly admired the large central fireplace – empty of fire of course –  dating to the school’s 1925 origins, framed by tiles depicting scenes of Dutch boys and girls, wooden shoes and skates, distinctive caps, quaintly white in contrast to the majority of Hughes students!   Alicia pointed out the learning area – three rows of handsome wooden tables and chairs to our left with the big flat screen on the far wall and there was the fire, blazing merrily!  Of course, I was seeing the room empty of children, but I could imagine its beauty having an influence on even the most damaged and recalcitrant.

(A necessary note: Alicia confided that what she’d done with this library –  I see it as her work of art – is due to the influence of our Cafe on her.  Clear to me then, is when  public spaces are built from the Big Dream, testiments to the mattering of the imagination, they become centers, like the heart.)

It turned out the ‘damaged and recalcitrant’ were on Alicia’s mind (and on the minds of all the teachers in the Utica system, as I’d  learned reading the local paper.)  She traces the resurgence of  behavior problems, vexing (and frightening) for teachers, to the 2019 NYS bail reform act.  I share her concern: no doubt the surest accomplishment of these kinds of reforms will be more and more people joining the Trump camp.  Serves Dems right: the bleeding heart of liberal reality is not the live fire (of compassion), but the flat screen image.

As Alicia sees it, reform’s no good if there is no firmness in the justice system; if kids can get away with murder, some very damaged ones will do so.  Where, however, can firmness be found in liberalism’s flattened reality, with its distinct absence of either Absolute or absolution? Why can there be no firmness that is not harsh and punitive?  It’s as if in the liberal mind strictness is confused with rigidity, with type-A personality, with harsh and brutal fathers.  On the other hand, we have in our society for real a fair amount of brutal or negligent fathers, of abusive male authorities, of cynical liars raised to the pinnacles of authority and power who claim allegiance to Christian love and hierarchy.  On either side, evidence is rare of the Love demonstrated in sci-fi author Octavia Butler’s protagonists who,  though no strangers to human depravity, refuse to deny “the better aspects of humanity.”


Octavia Butler never abandoned truth – depressive reality – to make a cheap hope.  In her short story  The Book of Martha, the eponymous protagonist, a writer, suddenly finds herself in heaven.  God tells her she’s been summoned to “help humankind to survive its greedy, murderous, wasteful adolescence. Help it to find less destructive, more peaceful and sustainable ways to live.” Out of all the problems facing humanity, Martha decides she’ll use her new power to take on over-population.  But God quickly points out the complications that – people being human – will defeat her plan of limiting everybody to 2 children.  Moreover,   He (at first white and white-bearded, God morphs into a black man and then into a black She as Martha gradually loses her religious conditioning)  chides her for her plan that could lead to extinction.

Liberal minds might agree with “God” here, that humankind cannot be transformed out of its “adolescence” by re-instituting more commandments.  Nor will restoring traditional hierarchy do it.  But neither will maturity be achieved by top-down liberal-type decrees mandating fairness and inclusivity!  However, there is a way for humankind to get beyond adolescence, for an adult kind of hope to exist. Fictional Martha’s final proposal, that nighttime dreaming be reality for everyone, carries the powerfully irrational suggestion that people might return to the influence of their imaginations.

Being a black woman, Butler doesn’t have to spell out the truth of depressing reality. Implied then, is the fact that dreams derive their meaning not from liberal illusion but from reality that’s “determined.” That is, including dark as well as light, equally,  reality pays no attention to the rational concern of fairness.  Liberal reality, on the other hand, highlights fairness at the cost of repressing dark, trauma-truth.  So that, for dreaming to have influence on white liberals and their desperate hold on hope,  imagination’s faculty has to be released from egoic control.  For this, depressing reality must be not denied, but confessed, its truth allowed.  Otherwise the ego is entirely comfortable with prolonged adolescence wherein its authority is never challenged, the body’s energy locked in depression, never released into creative expression but serving questionable ends of status-quo liberal reality.

Commonly, even liberals can be vulnerable to the fear  – though we usually associate it with the law and order, pro-capital punishment crowd – that if punishments and the threat of punishment are removed society will “run amok.”   As if to prove the point,  in actual liberal reality, with its reflexive fondness for “tolerance” and sympathy for underdogs, things do run amok, hence, the teachers’ laments.  However, the most malignant consequence of liberal tolerance is not “murder and mayhem” (though that’s bad enough), but the flourishing of evil under the guise of goodness, the reduction of human good to banality.  When I don’t know my own suffering (trauma) then I don’t know its release;   at a level unknown to myself I am unredeemed; I can have the passion of my group (partial and partisan good) but not of my own compromised heart.


Understandably, depression is not something one wishes for; I doubt I can change anybody’s mind on that.  But would we think differently if we knew depression were means to a higher good which allowed one consistently to discern the demoralizing, confounding, bullying bamboozlement used to maintain society’s terrible inequalities?  Without the gift of their depression,  white liberals,  forever vulnerable to bondage to the hope that veils from white liberal “normality” the wretched reality in which most people on the planet live, are unwittingly kept in service to evil.  In that “normality,” for example,  war criminals and despoilers of the indigenous world are still held up as heroes.  People vote the lesser of two evils. As long as one is among the “not depressed,”  living in hope, then the capacity to “rationalize away reality,” and thus qualify one’s passion for the good-for-all, is unopposed.

Learning to trust one’s depression one has to learn to mistrust ego’s wily guises – the voice that insinuates I’m good-for-nothing, or the voice that, overwhelmed by bleakness, declares everything is hopeless.  It means trusting the fact there’s no longer any good reason to give up – or qualify – my authentic, “originally whole” self,  though I learned to do so 70-plus years ago for reasons that were valid at the time.   No hero myself,  I need the company of the heroes – Octavia Butler, James Baldwin,  etc.,  prophets who saw reality unblinking. Their practice of their art legitimizes the hope that is  the heart’s illusion rather than solely ego’s. Such hope may shine its light into one’s day for an hour or two, or light up the intention to make the urban school library into a haven, charmed and charming.

In Butler’s story, Martha wishes to use her “God-power”  to create the reality in which all people have “their own personal best of all possible worlds,”  reality transformed according to imagination’s miraculous power.  She decides against universalizing this kind of utopia after God (by this time, a black woman) tells her, although it will help, such change will also “do other things…they are inevitable.  Nothing ever works smoothly with humankind.” Inasmuch as reality is determined – an assertion science supports – hope is legitimate only when it’s individually attained.  Art must inspire art, not unearned hope. The task of standing by my depression, breathing life into my hope, belongs to me in the privacy of my heart.  Not “free will choice,” this is surrender to the reality of wholeness and interconnection that is determined in the template of the soul.  Legitimate hope,  utopia-built-for-one, is at least a place to start.

Kim C. Domenico, reside in Utica, New York, co-owner of Cafe Domenico (a coffee shop and community space),  and administrator of the small nonprofit independent art space, The Other Side.  Seminary trained and ordained,  but independently religious. She can be reached at: kodomenico@verizon.net.