What are you? Who are you? These are questions I would rather ask than “What do you do?” at cocktail parties.

Mind you, I can count on one hand the number of cocktail parties I have been to. Sad, sordid affairs, they were. Little groups bunched together trying to make conversation before the drink or boredom renders them inarticulate, belligerent or both.

I am a musician. I am a father. And I am a son. I am a husband, twice. I consider myself to have had the privilege of partaking of this province’s mental health facilities.

On my business card I describe myself as a singer songwriter, among other things, and a darkside navigator.

That last one always raises eyebrows and questions. Without fail.

“What is that?”

Let me sing you the song of my people.

The description does what I want it to do: makes people ask that question so I can answer it like this:

I am a darkside navigator, because, at least for my part of the world, I have been sailing the deep, grey, featureless waters of depression, melancholy, and anxiety for a very long time. Some of it medicated, most of it without.

I have an idea where the shoals are. I narrowly miss the rocks and the breakers that can send me to an unreachable bottom. I have been in the flat waters of windless weeks and the motor out of gas. I have been a resident of the Slough of Despond.

This familiarity has given me a paradoxical gift. I have learned to name names, the markers, the landmarks, the lighthouses. I can see the way the wind flows over the water, I can sometimes use the way the currents take my vessel and navigate it out of dangerous places. I always see other sailors on these waters. We wave and signal. Sometimes we are close enough to speak.

“Where are you from?”

“Where are you going?”

“Do you have enough to eat and drink to make the voyage?”

I know what it is like to feel terribly alone when I awake in the morning and lie staring at the way the bedsheet folds in front of my eyes and wonder if I should get up at all today.

I cannot drift. That is why I navigate. If I drift I will sink. I have to navigate, to use what is in front of me and inside me to get me to wherever today’s destination is. It could be work. It could be the guitar I am using to write or play a song. It could be with friends I trust with nothing else but my heart. It could be dinner tonight with my bride.

It could be getting my feet on the bedroom floor and getting dressed.

This is not an exercise in positive thinking. Being positive is less of a solution than a slow-acting poison of denial.

So when people ask, “What is a darkside navigator?” I tell them.

It’s who I am.

It’s the beginning of a conversation.