Creative Control

Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist


Write Club is a monthly, literary bloodsport in which contenders face off against each other with 7-minute essays on competing topics. Below was my combatant essay based on the prompt “GLOOM,” facing off against “DOOM.” This essay was performed on February 21, 2023, at The GMan Tavern in Chicago, and was defeated in its bout.

This is not a sentence I speak often: “The thesaurus is inadequate.” 

This might be something you say a lot in your daily lives. I don’t know. I don’t work at your jobs or have spirited discussions around your dinner tables or the kind of wild, adventurous sex life where you and your partners consider the erotic potential of standard English reference books. But I do not typically have an impulse to say that a thesaurus is inadequate.

Halfway through another midwestern winter, you are assigned to describe the qualities of gloom. And because it is a midwestern winter, with its persistent granite overcast and icy, katana-sharp winds, its unsettling narrative twists from tundra to marsh and back again, because every year for decades this season in this region tends to wear you down to the nub, because of this you are now having an absolute hell of a time writing about the very emotional state by which you are now being consumed.

And so you start with a dictionary, which tells you of darkness and depression. It tells you that the word is not to be confused with the twilight state of gloaming or the morose condition of glum. The etymology eludes you; it is either middle English or the tribes they assimilated. All of this information caroms across the flint-shellacked surface of your mind without causing so much as a single spark, so you move to the thesaurus.

Which proves, as I previously mentioned, inadequate.

Because gloom is not quite twin to the nouns it calls kin. It is less cosmopolitan than malaise, for example, and more forgiving than dread. When it has had one too many shots of bourbon it encourages you to call it the blues or the blahs or the dumps, after a few puffs of a decent opiate it goes simply by meh.

Gloom is a creature of spontaneous generation, descending as if from thin air, without the forensic histories to be found in sorrow, or misery, or woe, or despair. It refuses to be characterized only as what it is not; gloom is not content simply to be mirthlessness or joylessness or hopelessness.

If gloom were able to grow a decent mustache then it could perhaps be mistaken, from a distance, for weltschmerz.

But all of this linguistic floor routine fails to find for you the core of gloom, and so you grab the nearest metaphor at hand, shape it into a shovel, and commence digging through an atlas.

Gloom is an adolescent’s perception of Ireland. Gloom is sixteen bars of Russian fugue. 

Gloom is the night sky shifting without pity over a murdered transient in an alley in Norway. You toss aside the atlas and consider an almanac.

Gloom is January 8, 1987 except you can’t explain why to a room full of strangers. It is something you get to carry alone behind your eyes, a time and space your mind will drift to when you least need it do so. Gloom is the realization that this memory is never going away.

And you stop. You stop running your fingers across the varnished wood of the bookshelves, stop searching for the silver bullet. You tell yourself that gloom is this. Only this.

Gloom is a breath you allow yourself. Gloom is a brief denial of the neck-breaking, spine-bending, heart-squeezing late-stage Calvinist capitalist ethos that demands you manufacture additional content. That demands you fret forever over this deadline or that deliverable, pacing within your brightly colored hard plastic hamster globes. That sometimes tells you to fight your own friends over fifty American dollars using nothing but an arbitrary topic and no more than seven minutes of performance.

The pressure of basic survival drove you to your gloom and then the thumbs that twist the knobs tell you that you must not wallow in the gloom. You are told terrible stories about the gloom, warned away from it like windowless vans filled with toothy sugar distributors. They warn you about the poets and the painters, they use words where the Y is a vowel, words like melancholy and hysteria and syphilis. They stand miles away from you and scream across the field that the gloom is a sign of your weakness.

But the gloom tells you: You don’t have to do more than you want. You don’t have to do more than you’re able. You are allowed to sit still, and feel the transcendence of inertia. To stop chasing the world you think you want and to let the world as it is slowly return to you.

You finish writing the essay an hour before you need to deliver it. You read the essay. You finish the essay. And maybe you feel better about returning to your gloom.

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This entry was posted on February 21, 2023 by in Essay, Write Club, Writing.
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