Does depression equal talent? I'm not sure, and for me that’s a good enough reason to make one man to find out. In his new weekly column author and journalist Tarquin Middleton will be sharing his emotional journey down the path to tortured genius…
edit 'Exquisite Ghastliness.'
13 July 2007
Recently I’ve been suffering from what I call ‘Talent gangrene.’, and now I’ve effectively got no limbs left that aren’t rotting slowly in their own juices. I’ve been told my writing is suffering from what critics call ‘Word syphilis’. The reviews say it’s boring but in a suffocating, disturbing sort of way, like marriage.
My anniversary was last week. We went out to dinner, the highlight of our conversation was; ‘Pass the salt.’ It was downhill from there, and I know who to blame, cynics or as I call them, talent leeches. With every bad review I seem to get worse. Quite obviously it's their fault. They hated my last novel: ‘A Family of Broken Glass’. I can’t see why, it’s not like I’m asking for much. I just want people to read my work and think: ‘Tarquin Middleton, he’s the Shakespeare of tabloids.’ Is that so much to ask?
The cynics seem to think so, with their zero stars out of ten and their snide comments. A lot of people just don’t realise how awful a bad review is. It’s like being stabbed, but with a knife made of letters.
These cynics are everywhere these days, giving out their so called ‘opinions.’
Even my editor is now a critic. When I show him my writing, which is basically me saying: “Look, here’s my soul” He’s less than grateful. He even starts pointing out what he thinks is wrong with it. Who gave him the right to do that? It certainly wasn’t me. The only conclusion I can make, is that he probably thinks he’s God, and wants us all to build ego pyramids to his insane vanity.
Like God, he doesn’t seem to appreciate my work any more. In fact he says he’s seen more vibrant prose in carpet samples, and coma patients who move faster than my latest novel's plot. Normally I'd outwardly agree, then silently fill with the sort of rage a spurned stalker feels. Later I'd send him an E-mail, to tell him how I felt, to explain as it were, just how wrong he is. It would have a polite, yet firm title like: 'Is cancer too good for your sort of bastard?'
That might seem harsh, but if you remember, I trusted him with my soul, in the form of paper. He spat on it, then probably attacked it with scissors.
Normally I wouldn't condone such actions. However this time, unfortunately. I had to agree with everything he did and said. I imagine only myself and the dead know how that feels.
Last week I panicked as yet another deadline arrived, and submitted my six year old son’s English homework, a story called ‘Cannibals on Holiday.’ for immediate publication. Complete with chocolate stains, and a crude yet oddly disturbing drawing of stick people roasting in 'barbecue pits'. It looked like my editor couldn’t even tell the difference, he just gave the resigned sigh of an opium fiend and shredded it as usual. It was like losing a child, and I mentally promised to make him pay.
Soon after he arranged to fill the huge blank space where my article should have been with a double page advert for a new brand of herpes cream. ‘It’s forty percent effective!’ the advert boasted, which is more than can be said for my writing.
I gave my usual excuses for what had happened. I said I’d been under a lot of stress lately because of ‘Stuff… and things.’ And that I honestly was going to get a lot better soon. He said nothing as he stapled my tie to the desk and poured his coffee down my trousers, but somehow I knew what he was really thinking.
The shock of scalding coffee on unprepared genitals, made me see things more clearly. I decided to tell him the truth. I had to, my constant vague references to unnamed personal ‘problems’ had obviously stopped working. There were no excuses left and no way to stall him any longer, although I did seriously think about faking a stroke, I doubted whether I could have pulled it off convincingly, and didn’t want to spend time spasming like a cretin for no good reason.
He didn’t take the bad news very well. In fact he said people like me were the reason why cancer was invented. When I asked for more constructive criticism. Which is a writing euphemism for ‘Tell me how great I am.’ He just sighed like a disappointed parent, looked at my face, and said, 'fucktard', then he violently stapled the tie again, and boiled the kettle to make more coffee.
While waving a condescending finger in my face, he asked if I really was the same man who wrote: ‘Do Midget Gems Cure Heart Disease? ’ and ‘National Pencil Crisis: They Just Keep on Breaking!’ He asked me why I’d didn’t just stop pretending to care and simply park a turd on his desk each week. Before announcing that, “Happy Mr. Shitstain.” had arrived to fill my deadlines.
Then he decided to give me some advice. He recommended a holiday or cocaine or both, and then told me to go away and learn not to be useless, or that would be the end of my journalistic career.
As I drove home, I tried to figure out what had gone wrong. I used a technique my therapist calls "Life Post Mortem." I started with the facts. I knew I was crap; I just couldn’t work out why, or how. There was obviously no shortage of journalistic talent, after all I single handedly covered the National otter shortage, with nothing but a pair of Wellingtons and a blunt pencil. It seemed like I’d never be able to work out just why things had turned quite so horrible. I admit I found it depressing, and that’s how I found the answer to all my problems, and more.
It was during a particularly awful low point when I discovered, by chance what I needed to do. I was going to give it all up and train to be a gas fitter, but then, the other day I realised something, I realised you can’t tell a good story unless you’ve got a significant chemical imbalance. I thought about people like Van Gogh, Silvia Plath and Adam Ant. All talented, all miserable as hell.
It was nothing to do or originality or any of that pretentious crap, I had to become enormously disturbed in order to get my talent back. In the next few weeks I’ll be chronicling my heartwarming/Comic and or tragic struggle to take a claw hammer to the face of happiness and become depressed, in the hope that it’ll give a life saving electric shock to the semi-comatose husk that was once my career.
edit ‘Life Post-Mortem’
27th July 2007
It’s been two weeks now since I decided to become depressed. It’s not going well, which ironically is quite depressing. Last week I was bed ridden with writers block, fearing the worst I made a will. However on Tuesday when it seemed the doctors could do nothing, relatives placed a photograph of T.S Eliot at my bed side and started to pray. At eight O’clock on Thursday it began weeping ink, within forty five minutes I was cured. I’m not a usually a superstitious person. But out of gratitude to the dead author who saved me I’ve now replaced every photo of my wife with one of T.S Eliot, and now address her as “Mr Eliot.” It's just my little way of saying thank you. If she refuses to reply to her new name, she must spend a night in the coal cellar. That might seem cruel, but many times in the past I’ve offered to pay for surgery to make her look more like him, she refused, so really this is her own doing.
As I’ve already mentioned things on the depression front aren’t looking up. I thought that it would be good if someone officially told me I was ‘ill’ and that relatives should hide my razor blades, on top of cupboards, under floorboards or possibly in cakes. With this in mind I tried to convince my therapist, Jim that all my smiles masked a pointless husk of a man, with nothing to live for, and lots of reasons to just cut his losses and gas himself. Before hand I spent two days in front of a bathroom mirror rehearsing my ‘Life’s so pointless speech’, plagiarised from live journal. I hoped he would tell me I have all sorts of problems. After all I do pay for private health care, and you think they’d be only too eager to give me all the pills and sick notes I need to get started. But you’d be wrong, so very wrong. So wrong it's depressing.
I thought it all started well. He asked how I felt, and told him I sometimes feel empty: ‘Like when there’s nothing on TV.’
Neither impressed or convinced, he twisted his face into a disgusted sneer, and stared blankly for a minute while fondling a biro. It was now I realised he was just another one of those vile cynics who just don’t understand and never will. He utterly refused to fill up my medicine cabinet or admit there was anything wrong. He just told me to go home; drink water and perhaps take a nap. For this he charged me five hundred pounds.
“No tablets today, or ever” He said.“You’re not depressed and are never likely to be.”
It doesn’t matter what I say or do, or burn. He just won’t say I’m depressed; He even refused to class me as ‘fed up’. He won’t give in, not even if I phone at three O’clock in the morning and beg. It was obvious I needed some other way to feel exceptionally wretched. I remembered reading that loneliness was quite depressing, and within ten minutes I knew what I had to do. It was time to get rid of my family. Not with a chainsaw or cut brake cables, but with satire.
I rehearsed the whole thing on the Sims two nights before. Although strangely that ended up with an appliance catching fire, the inferno left no survivors. It was all because I decided to cook apple pie for afterwards. Pie always makes me feel better. Always. Pastry can’t let you down like people.
Still all those pixel deaths caused me to change my plans, I think for the better. The pie idea has been scrapped, and replaced by ginger bread. Now nothing can go wrong. That evening when I got back from therapy the evil began. Mr Elliot (Formerly Mrs Middleton.) was there as usual when I returned, polishing my newly carved T.S Elliot ‘crucifix nativity.’ It’s an exquisite scene in mahogany, depicting Elliot as the Christ of writers at his death and birth. There are over four hundred figures; all of them have his face. At first I didn’t speak, I just stood and glared, hoping to make her notice me through sheer contempt. When she did finally turn round she seemed startled to see me, she gave me the sort of look a rat gives you when you find it gnawing on cheese, and bring a hammer down on its head. It seemed my instructions to burn two hundred pounds as an offering to Elliot’s genius had been ignored.
“So what did Jim say?” she asked. “Did he say you were: ready for tablets or just a bit fed up?”
‘No, he wants to diagnose me with psychosis, but I don’t want psychosis. I want depression.’
‘Don’t look at me like that, it’s not my fault.’
‘Yes it is, it’s entirely your fault, and it’s because you're just a cancer, a cancer that does my shopping.’
Those words might seem harsh. But it’s the truth. She does have cancer and she does do my shopping. Those are facts, facts she’s going to have to live with. Maybe they can keep her company in the gutter, when I when I evict her with the help of a piece of sympathetic pointy metal, then change all the locks.
I’m glad our neighbours didn’t hear those thoughts or see the end of our argument. She ran when I pulled out a hidden bread knife. She must have thought I was threatening to make a sandwich. She’s always hated my cooking, her cruel jibes about my risotto made me consider divorce, luckily for her I have a mortgage, or she’d have been hacked off like a gangrenous foot. Unfortunately in the past I needed her, like maggots need corpses.
I suppose in this whole analogy my children count as the plague carrying lice that suck the rat dry. When she fled to avoid my cooking, Mr Elliot fortunately took her offspring with her. I can't really decide weather this is a good or bad thing, on the upside I no longer have lice. On the downside I find children are quite depressing and in a perverse way that might have helped me get worse. I thought about it for quite a while, in deep contemplation, I scratched my head with the bread knife I was still holding. Perhaps this was some kind of subconscious self harm, maybe it proves I'm inherently depressed. After all, it could have been a very gradual suicide attempt. It didn't kill me, but it did give me a headache, and I think that's reason enough to be miserable, quite stressfully miserable.
edit ‘Violence with Hammers.’
(Tarquin was not talented enough to remember the date this week. Due to his lack of depression.)
Since my family fled after the bread knife incident. I changed the locks to keep them out for good, and dug a hidden spike pit in the lawn; the spikes are covered in shit, to spread infections. I got that idea from a documentary on Vietnam. I knew the Discovery channel would eventually tell me something useful.
It was a difficult decision but it had to be done, I feel shittier about myself now, I really do, and that makes it both ok and worth it.
I’m sure they’ve left me for good this time. I got a restraining order just to make sure, I told the police she’d abused me, in the cellar, with a mallet and a gas mask, in a sick power game she called: ‘Guantanamo Bay Fun Time.’ I gave them evidence, Photoshop evidence, they intend to prosecute. That’s not immoral and it’s not lies, its self help and that makes it ok.
Still I wasn’t even slightly downhearted; to be honest I was really twice as happy. Obviously this was not good. I needed some guilt, the guilt only mindless violence with hammers can bring. And bizarrely Mr Elliot left behind the means to give me some guilt.
She collected Victorian china dolls. I think there’s probably an upsetting Freudian reason. The spare bedroom is full of them, over a hundred. I have to admit I find these freakish porcelain dwarfs very odd. I’m convinced they move when I’m not watching them. A lot of string has gone missing from the kitchen drawer lately, they could just be secretly knitting, or they could be making a noose.
I’m really sure they’re using it to make a noose. Obviously they think they can hang me when I’m docile from sleeping tablets (They put them in my coffee. Its part of their plan.) But I’ll not let that happen. I’m far too smart for these bastards.
I finally decided to bring down their whole murder conspiracy from the inside. I could only do this if I was able to infiltrate their layer; the best way to do this is to disguise myself as one of their kind. I bought the necessary costume on E-bay, for a bargain price. The previous owner, a 44 year old investment banker. Who said his name was Nigel. Was auctioning off what he claimed where his wife’s old clothes, why all the dresses were tailored to accommodate a rich mans caviar stuffed girth, he wouldn’t say. But I came to my own conclusions.
After four days amongst them. I had gained their trust. I told them my name was Little Miss Twiddles, and I had come from: ‘gumdrop land.’ via a unicorn (In context this all makes sense.) I explained that my unusual accent, for a small china nymph, was the result of throat cancer.
When they inquired about my larger than typical size for a children’s toy. I claimed I had killed the ‘Bad giant downstairs.’ And made his corpse my puppet. They seemed to understand, and smiled. Well they always smile, it’s a design feature, their most creepy design feature. Maybe they knew I was lying, maybe this was all part of their twisted game. I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter now anyway. Not after what happened last night.
At first it was pleasant. In fact it was great fun. I made lots of new friends. At one point we all had a tea party; little did they know I’d invited all of them to their deaths. I felt very smug. Like the Ivan the terrible of small children’s toys.
That might seem odd. But outwitting pottery is harder than you’d think. I certainly had to be ingenious to hide the hammer I was carrying.
The hours I had spent practicing, ‘Skull pulping’, on watermelons and eggs, really paid off when I made my preemptive strike.
It went something like this:
“Ha ha, how witty Mrs Dalrimple. More tea? No? Well perhaps you’d enjoy...THIS! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! CLICK. RELOAD. BANG! BANG! BANG! PAUSE FOR BREATH! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG BANG! HA AH AH AHA AAAAA HA AH AHA HA AHA HAAHA AHA AH AHAHAAHA HA AHA AHA HAAAAA HA HA HA!,”
Some people would find that idea disturbing, but I giggled till I couldn’t breathe. Soon after I actually began to regret destroying so many of them. I really couldn’t help feeling slightly sick as I executed them one by one with a claw hammer.
Later I grew bored and using the only surviving doll acted out the shower scene from psycho, then I watched some CSI and cried.
edit I go down to the woods. (Today.)
I left the smashed doll corpses lying around for three days. At first I hoped the crows would eat them, but they didn’t. That’s the last time I ever trust a crow. I’ll certainly never vote for one either.
There was now no choice but to do what I’d seen hundreds of times on episodes of Inspector Morse, and dump the remains in some woods, where hopefully a squirrel might eat them. I like Squirrels. Squirrels seem trustworthy; I can’t imagine being divorced by one, unlike those bastard crows. I’d never marry a crow, never, never, never.!
As I carried a bin liner full of severed doll heads to the car boot, my next door neighbour Dave Sanders, conveniently decided to say ‘Good morning.’ Obviously an attempt at blackmail. He probably saw me pulping Little Miss Winkles face with a mallet in silhouette last night. There are a lot of tabloid minded people who would read all sorts of horrible Freudian significance into that innocent little gesture. That’s just a sad fact about the world we live in.
To prevent this embarrassment, I replied by telling him fuck himself to buggery. Then I kicked over a garden gnome, stamped on it’s head, and told him; ' I Know your game.'
His expression of bewildered terror only served to confirm his guilt, so I spat on him and called him a Judas.
Afterwards I finished loading the 'waste.' into my Ford Focus and began my drive to a secluded woodland, conveniently marked on the A to Z map as a 'corpse friendly' site. These sites are becoming more and more common with the rise of environmentalism, because there's nothing you shouldn't recycle.
Apparently the decomposition of severed limbs is very good nutrition for the trees, and as these murders are helping to save the planet the police are legally obliged to turn a blind eye, for the greater good. Provided you only killed a hobo, a pensioner or a convict.
However, there do have to be some restrictions. Otherwise the system would be abused. There's a rule about no dead prostitutes, or corpses containing traces of prostitutes. They don’t want the trees corrupted with their sort of morals. This planet has enough problems already without whore trees. Can you imagine what tree with AIDS would be like? I certainly don’t want to.
I drove round the countryside at random for eight hours to make sure Dave Sanders and his friends the police weren’t stalking me. By the time I’d finished these precautions it was night, and I was lost. To make things worse I noticed flashing lights and sirens appearing in my rear view mirror. My first thought was the they were the daemon ghosts of the dolls who’s faces I’d smashed. Coming to take revenge by turning me inside out, then setting me on fire. Over the next ten minutes the lights and sirens increased in volume, then a police car pulled alongside and singled for me to pull over.
Apparently I had a broken headlight. The police officer said so after I wound down my window, but I knew it was really just an excuse to slow me down so the doll poltergeists could arrive to boil my face. I had to deal with the situation quickly, so I calmly told him:
“You can’t prove anything, I didn’t eat their skin, the crows did it. Bastard crows. Do you kill crows?”
Then I waved a tenner in his face, and asked him to fuck off. At the time I thought this was the way to deal with policeman, I’ve since discovered that this is not the case, and I should have actually tried to cut his head off with the electric window. Ignoring the tenner, he asked me to step out of the vehicle.
“Are you going to fix my headlight?” I asked.
He didn’t respond. Instead he asked me to open the boot. I refused.
“You can’t go in there, its private, and anyway you need a warrant to search for corpses which I didn’t kill with acid.”
Ignoring me he pulled open the boot to find a smashed tangle of porcelain corpses and severed dolls heads stacked into a rough pyramid. It wasn’t too artistic, I’d tried to make a model Eiffel Tower, but there just wasn’t space.
“They whisper about me.” I explained.
He didn’t seem to understand, in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look so scared. I proposed having a tea party, hoping to repeat my previous trick with the claw hammer. But it seemed like he didn’t want to stay. As his car pulled away I mouthed “I won.” through the glass, and made a throat slitting gesture, he almost hit a tree. I have won, those crows won’t ever betray me again, and Dave Sander’s head is now in my freezer. Where he can’t tell lies to the police and their crows.
edit ‘Next Week’
As a result of this weeks column, Tarquin is now working with the police on an exciting new project. It’s so exiting he’ll be committed to it for at least thirty years! However, in view of this columns popularity, Marcus Fortescue will be taking over next week, he’ll be chronicling his own attempts to discover if talent can be gained in other fashions. Starting with voodoo rituals.