The Old Disturbance

I cannot say how many days passed. The old disturbance had returned and in that state of blackness one can no more tell the days than a blind man notice the changes of light.

From Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair

I’ve been silent on the bava for quite some time as I’ve been struggling over the last several months with an uncharacteristically deep depression. It started in the fall, but finally consumed me for most of December and January. I’ve been fighting my way back out throughout February, and I’m definitely starting to feel better as the “old disturbance” retreats to the shadows.

One of the things I started doing once I could reclaim a bit of focus from the steely grips of anxiety and dread was read books, and I read a bunch—it felt pretty damn good. The quote above is from one of them, and it speaks directly to my situation in ways I was not ready for, but also deeply struck by. Turns out Graham Greene struggled with what is believed to be bipolar, and reading this novel was like looking into a mental mirror at various moments. Difficult, but also amazing, given how well he captures the emotional turmoil invisible to the onlooker, yet deeply anchored in the mind of anyone navigating a misaligned orbit of  tormented thought. Great narrative allows for that intimate relation with the reader, and while it was hard to manage at times, I was also strangely comforted by this frank confession from a fictional character in depressed, post-war England.

Antonella calls it bibliotherapy, and I think she got that term from Schopenhauer’s notes on aging with dignity, so I think I’m in pretty good company all around. It feels good to be back on the blog.

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28 Responses to The Old Disturbance

  1. Doug Belshaw says:

    Sorry to hear about that, Jim. Glad you’re feeling a bit better, and love the idea of bibliotherapy!

  2. Brian says:

    I’m sorry you went to this place, but want to thank you for taking it serious and taking some steps to address it head on. And not being afraid to talk about it. My own attempts at bibliotherapy have been hit or miss… When I scrape up to basic functioning I often gravitate to the darker readings. (Antonella’s descriptions got me reading Vollmann this year.) That odd comfort has its risks, as you say.

    As ever, you have a friend and big fan here.

  3. Eric Likness says:

    Yeah if Books are the self-medication, do T-H-A-T every chance you get. And play some video games too when you get the chance!

  4. Lauren says:

    I love reading but it’s a mentally hard process for me so I default to watching films when seeking catharcis.

    Partick Keiller’s trilogy London (1994), Robinson in Space (1997) and Robinson in Ruins (2010) are favourites of mine. They’re video essays of sorts weaved together by fiction centred around encounters and ensuing mystery with the central character Robinson. The themes mirror sensibilities and interests of mine as well as disussing how geography and environment shape many things including mental health. And they’re quietly funny.

    Keiller has a collection of essays published by Verso – ‘The View from the Train: Cities and Other Landscapes’ (2013). Elements of them get repetitive but there’s meditations on depression which you might enjoy, and lots to do with film making. I can’t remember which text it was but I remember that book was the first time I read someone in first person describing the sensory pain of severe depression – I really struggle with sound in particular and Keiler describes light hurting him similarly in deep depression.

    I like Von Trier films but they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. Melancholia (2011) is cathartic and soothing to me with being able to see my internal world when sick played out on screen. Eventhough set in an apocolypse the ending is embued with strength, sisterly solidarity and hope.

    But most of all realistic but positive stories soothe my soul the most. Remembering the good in humanity and almost the repetitive nature of going forwards and then going backwards only to go forwards again. It’s like the seasons or the tide, an inevitable pull that good and kindness and joy will eventually shine through again – even if everything feels shit and unending atm.

    Also you might like Ben Howard’s song titled after The End of the Affair. I haven’t read the novel but I hope to some day.

    Anyway. You know I’m thinking of you. Glad you felt able to blog and you’ve found comfort in reading. As always, big fan ?

    • Reverend says:

      As usual you are a wealth of knowledge, when I first start coming out of the deepest end of the pool I did start with movies, and worked my way through the Marvel universe, it was like a Snickers for a tired brain. Once I got off the couch I started on the books, and like Brian suggested, it was much harder, but also I felt re-connected.

      I’ll have to check out Keiller’s work, that is totally new to me, and sounds super compelling. I want to see how folks describe the process in search of trying to understand it better.

      You know I appreciate all your support on and off the blog, so let me be the big fan 🙂

      • Lauren says:

        Speaking of a Snickers for a tired brain… I am really tempted to watch all the Fast and Furious films as I haven’t seen any of them, but I don’t know if that’s some form of self-punishment haha.

  5. Maren Deepwell says:

    Back to blogging … welcome back. I love the concept of bibliotherapy.

  6. There’s been a hole in the blogosphere! Good to have you back(ish). Bibliotherapy is the best, although I’m not sure Greene is the best antidote to depression (and _everyone_ was depressed in post-war England)
    If you need trashy horror novel recs, let me know, I’m all about the low-brow now

    • Reverend says:

      You know I am no stranger to the low brow films and lit, but somehow my shelves are filled with the classics left over from undergrad and grad school. I am trying to work through a few, but I also remember our chat wherein you noted that freeing yourself from having to read the classics is akin, for me, to freeing yourself of academic writing on this here blog. \

      Also, I like your new pen name, and I am here for the chainsaw recs.

  7. Paul says:

    Would bringing back the Bava Book Club help? Cause I’m happy to help out there.

  8. Trip Kirkpatrick says:

    Glad you made it through, Rev, and glad to see you on this side.

  9. Glad to have you back on the Bava Blog, Jim!

  10. So glad to hear your voice again – I have missed you. Thank you for being so open about these last few months, and for taking the time to focus on being well.

    I was thinking of you just this morning as I did my little 6.5km loop round the river valley, working my way towards better physical fitness, trying to counter some of my own challenges. I was remembering some of your early blog posts when you first moved to Trento and got into hiking and I thought “Wow, maybe I’m a bit like Jim Groom right now” and then I felt cool for the rest of my hike. Especially as I sweated my way up some steep steps.

    Definitely a big fan of bibliotherapy. Groaning bookshelves here attest to my dedication to self-medication. For totally indulgent fun I have to recommend the Modesty Blaise novels. More Snickers for the soul. And I’ve been chewing my way through Anthea Bell’s translations of Stefan Zweig’s stories and novellas and they are utterly charming and quite moving.

  11. Aaron Davis says:

    Glad to hear you are finding your way through it all Jim. I thought I had never heard of ‘bibliotherapy’ before, only to realise I had saved an article from The New Yorker a few years ago about the topic:

    > Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers. “Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines,” the author Jeanette Winterson has written. “What they heal is the rupture reality makes on the imagination.”

    Source: Can Reading Make You Happier? by Ceridwen Dovey

    And a post from Kin Lane on the benefits of reading:

    > Reading a book is the answer for a lot of what troubles me. When I’ve had to much screen time–read a book! When I’m tired from work and want to turn on the TV–read a book. When I’m frustrated with the current state of things in this country–read a book. When I can’t shut down the voices in my head because I’m spinning out about something–read a book.

    Source: Reading a Book is The Answer by Kin Lane

    Personally, I have felt myself being consumed by the dots and really doubled down on books (and audiobooks). I find it useful to get out of my own head sometimes.

    Also, on other dots, I have turned to vinyl, and listening to albums in their entirety, in party inspired by your Vinylcasts.

    • Reverend says:


      This is awesome, I like the idea of reading as a salvo to much of what ails us, and how it somehow sutures the rupture of reality, pretty damn cool. Also, should have known Kin was down this road already. I should read more, like you!

  12. John says:

    Nice to read you again, Take care Jim

  13. Maryann Kempthorne says:

    This post has annoyed me because it set me wandering around the misplaced memories at the sight of Graham Greene’s name. It did alert and remind me that weeks ago I was not reading Greene, but I was reading all about him. And can I at all remember why??
    As ever you wake me a bit Jim. Thank you

    If I were pressed to invent a recollection I suppose I would go with the listening I made of this CBC radio podcast last month on my way home from a very dark healthcare day in January for my elderly parents. It was a bit of a cruddy January for me… but like you things are brightening now. I can listen to writers all day to lift my mind away, away to some mental gymnastics that settle me down.

    Anyway.. the podcast. I think it was Elizabeth Jane Howard. This headline is misleading.

    I enjoyed listening to EJH for her tales of deep escape from malice in the formation of her memoir and especially I listened closely for her aplomb with being busted up, old, in pain, irritable! It was very much needed for me as I brought a smile to a fucking roughshod mess for more hours I would like to count, of likely will remember.

    For sure much getting by-ness is attributable somewhat to bibliotherapy! Of that I am sure, and am a dealer. As ever I whisper to myself, well thank goodness for Antonella!

    I smile here to wonder if I remember it at all correctly for mental weakness are mostly attacks of AMNESIA. Relatively harmless in the librarian (we are so full of look it up time and excuses); Reverends are held to some higher standard I fear. So I am glad to hear you are taking some care for that tough patch. Wish you much recovery and that any part of the time past can be tossed aside as you like.

    I will mention as you chuckwagonn’ed North from LA last year and I was far away from you and Brian I did amuse myself with the stories published then. And also the movie you mentioned, Publish. <3 It certainly offered me good company in your absences.

    Great to have some of your time back in publish-land JIM. sending lots of love. Take care! It means to much to hear your voice break the air, audio or the type'y kind.

    • Reverend says:


      Wow, what a comment, a blog post in a comment, the old-fashioned kind, I am gobsmacked. I will check out EJH’s discussion, and it is amazing how much a funny book gives me joy. One of my very favorites is John Fante, and I was just reading 1933 was a Very Bad Year last night (a proud Long Beach City College alum), and it has been a while since I laughed out loud like that. I think you are right on about bringing a “smile to the roughshod mess” that comes with aging—as EJH seems to suggest. I am not sure I can fight, fight, fight like Dylan Thomas, I might need a separate peace , or something like that.

      Yo be honest, I was not ready for the abyss I was faced with, and coming out of it I just wanted to reach out to people, connect, break the deep sense of isolation, and a comment like yours reminds me of the awesomeness of people all around me—so thank you for this, I needed it!

  14. Tom says:

    Keeping the demons at bay can be a full time job.

    I tend to read compulsively as well. Although I avoid all things with even a hint of sadness.

    I also go through fits of home repair, drawing, and crossword puzzles to fight darkness. It’s bad if I end up in free cell, solitaire, or Tetris land.

    Lifting weights and the woods have also been a refuge. You’ve got a good dog.

    • Reverend says:

      I like the idea of levels of warning signs, like Solitaire, that is hysterical. My dog is currently being trained to be a therapy dog 🙂 I think lifting weights would be the most beneficial for me given I am getting old and flabby, but I have re-committed to hiking and that goes a long way towards the demons, the time during COVID threw my whole program off, and then things just started to change, people leaving, feeling alone, and then bam!

  15. Mo Pelzel says:

    Coming in late here, but just emerging from a rut of my own and catching up on all things from the Discord. The noonday demon, as the ancient desert monk Evagrius of Pontus termed it, seems to come for many of us from time to time. And midwinter might be prime time for that … but when the sun shines again, it is glorious.

    Yeah, for me, it’s weights and trail running on the exercise front, and sleep and all the other things we all know we should do for taking care of ourselves. And friends!

    Hey, here’s a piece of good news … my co-admin Tierney and I just made a big presentation on Sites and DoOO to our faculty here at Grinnell, and the place is still buzzing. Never forget what you’ve helped to create in so many places.

    It’s great to have you back on the Bava!

    • Reverend says:

      Never late to this party, Mo! The sun is shining right now in Trento, so I’ll take that glorious and raise you a hallelujah!

      In terms of good news, the fact that you and Tierney are still fighting the good fight, and let folks know there is another way to live the web is pretty damn cool, and makes me happy to know you. Thanks for this comment, and thanks for your awesome Reclaim Open post, and thanks for being you!

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