Detour: Depression

Two weeks ago, I thought I was old and tired. Thankfully, I’ve still got that to look forward to — I was unknowingly carrying chronic depression, and it came to light only by chance and the selfless intervention of someone special.

I was doubly lucky, because my depression was tied to clear external triggers, around which I had wrapped a bundle of secret, illogical, shames and fears. A couple of those were unwoven at a fundamental level, causing a contextual reframing that destroyed my depression’s habitat — literally overnight.

After a week of extreme oversharing with a few patient individuals, I wanted to post something publicly because we need to continue to normalise these topics beyond the meme level, and the conversations kept coming back to a few key points which seemed worth sharing:

It can be easy to dismiss or suppress our own struggles in the face of objectively harder ones, but life is not a competition, and self-care makes it possible to be there for our part in the “bigger” battles. Shame is often misplaced, and rarely constructive — especially the shame that arises when we measure our issues against others, and decide they don’t matter.

It isn’t enough to know you are surrounded by loving and supportive people if you don’t turn to them when you actually need them. Not asking for help is something I’ve always struggled with, and in the local context, at least, I know I’m not alone in that (which is why I’m posting this).

Checking up on yourself is vital. Use more than one set of tools. I didn’t feel “bad” when I was depressed. Nor did I feel the numbness I’ve experienced in the past: I just felt worn, heavy, and quietly worthless, and loosely blamed existentialism and age. But when it was suddenly lifted I felt (feel) at least a decade younger. I have energy I thought was gone forever — which is energy I can now apply to the “insurmountable” external things I had thought I couldn’t affect.

Depression is insidious precisely because it’s a personal and holistic affliction. It can hide in plain sight because it’s tied up with all of our other individual neuropathies and can be easily justified. In hindsight, it’s usually painfully evident, but that doesn’t make it easy to see when it’s inhabiting our bodies. Because of this, it’s also nuanced and subjective, so it’s worth scheduling time to ask yourself hard questions and have difficult conversations with those you love. Whether or not depression is in residence, these moments can help us be better.

A certain Lisa just reminded me that even in our own conversations we’ve (I’ve) had a tendency to minimise suggestions of depression — because while we’ve made great strides towards normalising depression as “a bad thing”, it’s therefore something we’d prefer not to acknowledge or recognise if there’s a more palatable explanation.

I have no pithy take-home message: this is my experience, and yours operates in your own unique context. But depression is an ill that takes so much so easily, and if my story might offer a second of self-reflection or a spark of recognition, then I felt an obligation to share it.

Please don’t diminish your own experiences. The following page has some useful resources in Aotearoa, and your GP will often be a good place to start to get help.

Requisite Words 21 – How to write

This episode is for anyone who’s ever stared at a blank page, waiting for the words to come.

We explore one possible solution, using a walkthrough of an untitled poem I published on Twitter, in a thread started by @scotianselkie

Episode Music:
Be Chillin’ by Alexander Nakarada |
Music promoted by
Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Photo is by Pixabay, courtesy of Pexels |…-business-356372/

In Shakespeare’s Footsteps

The Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand (SCGNZ) has been running a series of competitions, and I’m really pleased to have won second prize in their sonnet competition for my piece From The Dark Lady.

My winning sonnet and other entries follow. Two draw on Shakespeare’s characters, and the other two take four “quotable lines” from his work and shape sonnets around them.

This first piece was written from the perspective of one of the addressees of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, the titular Dark Lady.

From The Dark Lady

I cannot quite decide which fate is worse:
To have you make presumption of my sin,
Or bear your masochistic little verse,
Ostensibly to worm your way within.
Were I to lesser station given birth,
Perhaps I’d deign rejoinder to your “wit”
With puerile intimations of your worth:
“How short, how thin—how ever will it fit?”
But, rest assured, I’m flattered by your rhyme,
Propriety, you see, requires grace;
So should we meet at some unwitting time,
That isn’t raw contempt upon my face.
    Aye, Will, you might have plucked a willing rose,
Had less been on the page, and more inside your hose.

My next sonnet borrowed Lysander’s words from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The course of true love never did run smooth,” and Friar Lawrence’s “Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.” from Romeo and Juliet. This one was the most difficult to write, because I had a clear vision for the piece that was a little too ambitious and autobiographical, and ended up having to pare the concept down.

The Race

The course of true love never did run smooth
Since on Her toes thy clumsy footstep fell,
And trying this impression to improve
Then trod upon Her other foot as well.
Thy missteps were too numerous to count,
And ignorance in similar degree,
If offered love of any small amount
You’d magnify it exponentially;
Then reeling in despair—of thy own make—
Would jealousy comport you to cliché
And even thy convictions would forsake,
Until that love in tatters tore away.
    We seldom love well, till our youth is past:
Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.

The following piece is the first sonnet I wrote in this sequence, and it provides a right of reply from Shakespeare’s Young Man, the other addressee of his sonnets. Like the poem From The Dark Lady, it extends from Shakespeare’s own bawdy tone.

From The Young Man

These centuries have passed, but I remain
Ensorcelled by your hubris on the page,
And where you scribbled pseudonyms for shame,
I suffer each indignity of age.
You wrote of youth, committing me to ink,
Ideas, you calculated, would endure;
But did you ever hesitate and think
Your motivation might have been impure?
The scholars do not worship at my thighs—
My name, my face, my self remain unknown—
But rote recite your shittiest of sighs,
While I am just a guy you might have blown.
    Will I forgive who took away my name,
Imperfectly you loved me, but you loved me, all the same.

This final piece takes a new approach to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 2, starting with the same first line, “When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,” and sticking as obstinately as possible to that military metaphor and its implications. After much deliberation, I took “In sooth, I know not why I am so sad” from Antonio in The Merchant of Venice as a fitting, if not uplifting, conclusion to my final couplet.

Revise and Conquer

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow
They shan’t expect thy forehead to attack—
Descending in a weak, compliant bow,
Then striking up to claim thy beauty back!
Mere Time is a pretender to the throne,
Her armies flee in regimented beat
Before the dread advance of thee alone;
Upon the faintest fancy of thy feet.
This coward isn’t sanctioned in Her war
Yet takes immoral plunder as Her due:
The colour from thy tresses as we snore
And memories that we together grew…
    I have a plan… That is… How odd! I had…
In sooth, I know not why I am so sad.

Requisite Words E20 – Shakespeare’s Junk Strikes Back

By popular (if inexplicable) request, a sequel to Episode Seven. Reeling from the hit success of Sonnet 135, Shakespeare penned Sonnet 136, which continued the argument for… well, a close reading of the Bard’s breeches.

Not safe for work, children, or anyone who thinks the world has heard enough dick jokes.

Episode Music:
Be Chillin’ by Alexander Nakarada |
Music promoted by
Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Image: Public Domain portrait of William Shakespeare, sans junk.

Requisite Words E19 – The Limerick

This episode is for anyone who wants to spend a little time getting creative while staying at home. It’s kid-safe, although it contains farts, and acknowledges the existence of adult themes. Transcript follows the embedded player below.

Kia kaha, whānau.

Episode Music:
Be Chillin’ by Alexander Nakarada |
Music promoted by
Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Photo is by Sharon McCutcheon, courtesy of Pexels |…blur-boy-1148998/Podcasts, Poetry

A puppy, in search of her tail
Was eager, though destined to fail
She tried clockwise first
Then she spun in reverse
Until stopped in her tracks by a snail


This episode is for anyone who wants to spend a little time getting creative while staying at home. It’s kid-safe, although it does have one scatological reference and acknowledge the existence of adult themes.
Kia kaha, whanau.

Opening theme

The limerick scheme is quite clear:
AABBA and you’re there
It’s forgiving – and fine
If you choose to half-rhyme
And the package is easy to share

The metre is easily found
Anapestic, as in “underground” –
Two unstressed, then one stress
And the rhyme does the rest
To establish that limerick sound

We shared a notable poem with the same anapestic metre back in Episode 8. The Destruction of Sennacherib by Lord Byron is not a limerick, but we can hear the two unstressed followed by one stressed syllable pattern repeating clearly through it:

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

From Byron, The Destruction of Sennacherib

Once you’ve read and listened to a few limericks, it becomes easier to internalise this rhyme scheme and metre.

The tradition is somewhat risque
But we’ll kibosh the kink for today
If your palate is fonder
Of double entendre
It’s only a Google away

So for ears that are somewhat more green
The limerick form can stay clean —
But will commonly stoop
To discussion of poop
Or to bodily functions obscene

Let’s consider a few demonstrations
That fit within these stipulations:
The stories are jest
And deliver the best
When exploring their own limitations…

Vitale was running a race
When a fly splattered into his face
It said “My good sir,
I am sorry to err—
I appear to have cost you first place.”

The ant and her grasshopper mate
Were consigned to a similar fate
When rains from the west
Had flooded her nest
And they both needed help from the State

The earliest bird in the flock
Was exposed to a bit of a shock
As the hunters took aim
She was heard to exclaim
“Tomorrow I’m snoozing my clock.”

The rabbit, meanwhile, had slept
While the turtle had silently crept
To the foot of his bed
Where she stood and she stared
As he woke in the morning, she leapt!

The dragon had hiccoughs again
And it rolled around panting in pain
Til it felt something funny
From deep in its tummy
And farted a fabulous flame

If you want to write limericks too
There is little preparing to do:
If you juggle the words
The rhymes will emerge
And the sillier ones will win through

If you write a limerick of your own and would like it shared on a future episode, record it on your phone and send the file to