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Melancholy sounds so much better than depressed.  I guess it's a word from the past when depression was not an everyday term bandied about on television like there's a quick pill and a quick fix.

Today was a melancholy day.  Holidays can be that way, can't they?  The past creeps up, either holidays remembered fondly or those we'd like to forget.

I wonder if anyone has ever developed a study to determine whether artists in general are subject to more melancholy days than the general populace.  It seems that way to me.  It seems like those with talent often suffer.  We notice that they take drugs or overindulge in alcohol; but if you look into their soul, I think you'll find a depressed person trying to medicate their way to joy.  Of course, it does not work.

 Does the genetic predisposition that leads to great works of art also include a melancholy gene?

I fight melancholy thoughts every day of my life.  I have a routine to chase them away, a conscious routine.  I use the television like white noise in the evening to go to sleep so the sad tapes don't run in my head and disturb my rest.  I set the television on a timer, the voices low; within a few minutes I am lulled to sleep.  The challenge here is that any low volume sound on a television or radio frequency tends to lull me to sleep, car radios included, much to the distress of any partner.  

In the morning, I awake on my own at the same time every day.  My first act is to run around the house like a crazy person, letting in every possible ray of light as the world is slowly waking.  I make the bed next.  I make the bed with care and pile on the decorator pillows to guarantee I won't go to the trouble of undoing it and returning before the appointed hour of the night.  Then I shower, dress, and eat breakfast, including a handful of vitamins and stuff to be certain I outlive my chronological clock.  

I make sure I have a list, a list that is neither too long nor too short so that I will feel that something important was accomplished by checking off most of the top priorities for that day on the list.  

Exercise is next, a walk on the beach to feel the wonder of the vastness of the sea and sky and my insignificant little self, not so important after all.  I have a rule:  I must choose an exercise I love or I suffer through a 30 minute ride on my stationary bike.   I know I must exercise to keep the oxygen in my brain and the happy hormones sending their messages.

The day's activities may vary.  I must, however, keep busy.  I forbid myself to watch more than the weather report on the news.  I take my news on the Internet where I can pick and choose what I wish to read, depending on my strength of will to be happy that day.  The same holds true for reading emails.  If the sender is someone who subjects me to paroxysms of pain and agony, I hold off until I've something really great  to create some balance.

All of this might sound like an ordinary day that many people follow.  For me, it's not ordinary.  My psyche is pulling in the opposite direction the entire time, seeking darkness, wanting to pull the covers over my head and return to sleep, not wishing to dress and certainly not wanting to sweat on a hot day's walk on the beach.  If you come to the house and my bed is not made, you'll know that I lost the battle for that day.  An unmade bed is a warning sign - a slip of major proportions.

Why do I have to go through this every day of my life just because Abraham Lincoln said you're as happy as you decide to be and I choose happy.  All the spokespeople for prosperous lives tout the importance of choices - you are only as successful as you choose to be.  Have a vision and reach for it.  Positive thinking will yield positive results.  You attract what you think.  Every thought is a prayer.  The list goes on ad nauseum as if just thinking right will yield right results. What if your psyche doesn't want to cooperate with your choice to "think positive?"

My routine should be well entrenched by now.  I shouldn't have to make myself follow-through.  Yet, I can remember being 25 years of age with a young toddler and forcing myself to make my bed out of fear that the melancholy would win, and I had to make each day a positive one because of that beautiful child who depended on me. 

I have another rule: I must write at least one page a day.  I say in interviews, "a page a day is 365 pages in one year, almost a novel."  In reality, my page a day is to help me capture any melancholy thoughts that might slip, purge them, write them down and dismiss them.  Isn't it amazing how they show up in my characters, young and old, male and female, who also struggle against adversity and big surprise, overcome their challenges with grace, dignity and, yes, joy.

I spent ages 9 to 14 in a foster home of great love and kindness.  Unfortunately, at 14, the court sent me back to parents who didn't really know what to do with me  but definitely didn't continue my relationship with a family I had grown to love in a home where I felt safe.  A few years ago, I read in the paper about my foster father's funeral and attended.  My now blind foster mother cried, recognizing my voice before I spoke my name. The rest of the family circled round for on that day when I was 14, they had lost a child, me.  

Today, I'm going through boxes in preparation for hurricane season and found some of the youthful, smiling faces of a nine year old child and her foster family.  I made the mistake of letting memories flow, memories that were full of pretending to be happy because my life was perfect and I didn't want to be sent away; but I was sad.  Even then, making my bed was an important ritual.

I don't remember the years before the day I went into foster care except in spurts.  Does our childhood shape our emotional disposition or does our psyche shape how we react to that childhood and set patterns that follow us all through life?  I don't know the answer to these questions.  I only know that I see my own struggles with melancholy thoughts reflected in other people I know who are talented in different ways, their talents an outlet for their emotional struggles as the imaginary worlds I create in my stories are an outlet for me.

I don't think that fighting melancholy thoughts needs to be a big secret.  I think I have lots of company.  Many take those magic pills that are advertised on television and don't have to create a routine like mine.  They keep their secret and many find the joy that properly balanced brain chemistry allows.  I tried some of those things once; they seemed to have the opposite effect on me so I rely on healthy food, healthy living, exercise and my routine.  I also rely on living for the moment - everything I know is in this moment - to go back is a slippery slope to grief and to project forward is to invite anxiety.

In this moment, I find my vignettes of joy.  As the Zen masters say, make this day a Masterpiece.  My masterpiece starts with a made bed and sunlight streaming through the house.