The Mulberry Tree
A print of Van Gogh’s The Mulberry Tree discordantly hung against the freshly whitewashed plaster walls of my recently acquired apartment. It wasn’t that the colors of the print didn’t aesthetically sit well amongst the whiteness; most colors do blend well with white. Simply, white is the color of tranquility, the color of the heavens, the color of innocence. But the burning mango oranges, lascivious reds, saffrons, and the sulfurous yellows depicting an arthritic and seemingly bereaving mulberry tree was all but peaceful.
Yet the arousing, sinister, piece was appropriate in my forlorn, fourth floor apartment. Fastened to the white stucco wall, it hung like a limp body, pre-rigor, bounded by a noose, above the oak kitchen table making an avowal of my mind’s state of being: lonely, depressed, and feeling lifeless.
“How did it come to this?” I asked myself while picking through my nightly dinner of dry, over-salted, chicken breasts and baked beans. It didn’t matter that I previously had worked in a gastronomic restaurant; I had little care to the cuisine I would serve myself. I could almost feel the brow beatings from past chefs I had worked with lashing out against my pitiful attempt I called dinner. The fact that I was eating in my depressed state was a laudable feat as it’s often passed up by many disconsolate souls. I was merely doing it for the likes of my mother as lying to her would only make me feel guilty, adding another shade of darkness to my mind.
“Are you eating well enough, Andrew?” My mom would ask nightly, as if on cue.
Well enough could be insinuating two things: am I eating enough, or am I eating flavorful, properly cooked meals.
“Yes, mom, I’m eating enough”, I said. I eliminated the “well” thus replying to the former of the two.
“Were you able to enjoy class any better today?”
“I’m miserable, mom, it’s killing me.”
She felt so far away.
After replaying the gloom of my day to day for my mom, I lethargically chewed the crude, desiccated chicken, catching myself dazing off into the psychedelic world where the mulberry tree stood, seeing the last two months of my life as the lurid painting.
“Selfish. Andrew. That was selfish,” I chastened myself, “you had a life back in Ohio. You just packed up and left.”
I chose pursuing a dream rather than pursuing reality. It was a dream I felt was tangible enough to chase, though at times it felt more like following a Siren. I was being seduced, yet the seductress was a fleeting chimera, always just beyond my grasp.
The temptress guided my hands to load my 2003 Ford Explorer with my two years worth of personal belongings: text books, guitars, computer and clothes. Like a hound following a favorable scent, I high tailed out of the dust caked country roads of Oxford, Ohio, past the derelict barns with their forgotten, now fallow fields and drove five hundred miles East to a little artsy town called Charlottesville, Virginia.
I had started this new life built on a lie. Not to myself, but to my parents. The real reason I had transferred to the University of Virginia was not because of its impeccable reputation for edifying its students with the nation’s top ranked professors. In reality, it was for the scene. I needed to immerse myself in a culture where my music could be nurtured, grown, and consumed by the population. I needed a town where artists roamed the sidewalks, where it was more common to see a guitar-slinging beatnik on the corner than a fraternity brother with a pink, popped collar (though to my disappointment, those were quite common there too).
Evilly, I convinced myself that people were disposable and dreams were not. With the discarding of my old life and the friends that accompanied it, like dispensing a fountain pen after the ink has ceased to flow, the consequences bared their identity. As with all action, a reaction piggybacks along. Depression, confusion and lonesomeness had now latched onto my back like a ruthless river leech, and rode me until I deteriorated and fell broken into the ground.
I sat in the love seat, cornered in my living room and colored as blue as my mind, making myself believe that the dream I was following was seemingly more and more like a mirage. My hope for being able to live the life of a touring musician was the refraction of light; the foreign environment I had plunged myself into was the hot air. I possessed the idealistic conditions for illusion.
It was a vicious cycle. The workload at the University of Virginia was far more demanding than I was expecting. It prevented me from having the allocated time to make meaning with my art; the sole purpose of an artist’s being and the primary reason for my transferring schools. Without the time to create, I felt devoid of meaning, lifeless. A weakness began to accumulate as if someone had hollowed out the marrow from my bones and injected it with a hydrous liquid. Lethargy, depression’s ally, kept me from doing the academics and like a spirochete, I penetrated deeper into my abysmal meaningless state, gleaning mass amounts of erudite readings and unwritten papers like a farmer does wheat. I was becoming exponentially more disconnected from my music until free falling was no longer feasible.
“Ms. Christie,” I said with a voice that paralleled my unease. “I’m having trouble balancing all of these courses with my music, I was hoping I might be able to drop a class and see if that helps.” Speaking with a guidance counselor was my final attempt at salvaging the wreckage.
“Transfer student,” she said with an inflection of academia. “I see you transferred from Miami of Ohio, yes well students here at Virginia are much smarter and capable than those at Miami.”
I mustered every last strength not to rip her erudite, tortoise shell, glasses off of her superciliously raised eyes. I felt the sinew in my forearms tauten and I excused myself.
There comes a time when the self’s downfall is halted, the limestone floor has met you and there is no more air for gravity to force you down. It’s at this point where you have a choice to make. Be weak and stay lifeless on the cold floor, giving into to the death of the self, or use every last morsel of energy to fan the smoldering embers of motivation and resurrect yourself, scarred soul and all. I began to look at the journey I had taken, the move from Ohio to Virginia and the downward plummet of my self, my music, and my dream. I began to realize that the depression laid on me was a gift, not a curse. It wasn’t a rut; it was the initiation point. It was my dream’s enabler, my personal catalyst to begin my musical journey.
Although we can only know the complete details of the journey we are currently embarked on, as I packed the cardboard boxes back up, quicker than I had unpacked them, I saw with complete clairvoyance the future that would have been written had I not left Ohio. Post graduation, New York City would summon me and my collegiate knowledge to work on one of its many over colonized avenues. I would commute by train, at an ungodly hour, only to spend the rest of my day in a marble constructed, box shaped, corporate office building constructed by some French architect with a last name that most Americans with college degrees couldn’t pronounce. Claustrophobia and lunacy would swathe me the way a feathery, slate, plume tresses around a smoker as I sat captive in a medical white cubical, spending my days on the phone schmoozing clients into using the product or service I was contracted to promote. At the days end, tired and frustrated with my life that disobediently strayed from a pipedream that was once pursuable, I would refuse myself to stoop so low as to make a dilettante’s art. I would give up creating all together. I’d spend the remaining hours of the night staring off at the television, feeling my pons jellify while diminishing into a comatose state until I woke up the next day and lived it again, like last night’s rerun.
Van Gogh asked, “What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?” (pg 3). Life would be as homely as the fallow, desolate, Ohio fields in November. A monotone melody or a meager black circle abstractedly painted on a cosmic latte hued canvas. But our minds, why they would be as anguished and bereft as The Mulberry Tree.
"Vincent Van Gogh Quotes." Thinkexist. Web. 31 Jan. 2010.