At A Loss

I’m not going to lie. I really don’t have a clue what to write about today. I spent much of last week in Rhode Island for a wedding and, while extremely fun, it was also extremely taxing. During this time my computer died and I had to buy a new one, a cost that I could only afford because I couldn’t afford not to have a good computer (being an online worker) more than I couldn’t afford to pay for a new computer. I returned hoping to rest only to be faced by a series of obstacles to overcome in getting my new computer set up (why do they put so much adware on new laptops?) before I could get any real use out of it (p.s. Windows 8 really does suck). On top of this I’ve had to get back to work, do orientation for seminary, attempt to register for classes (which isn’t going so well), find a new office chair that doesn’t cost much money (I wound up going with an exercise ball… I may regret this), and deal with the general sundries of life (laundry, relationships, food, hydration, finances, etc). On top of this, the school’s system is trying to tell me that I can’t register for one of the classes that I have to take, which of course makes it very difficult to complete my degree program. In the midst of all of this, I’m afraid that I haven’t really given sufficient thought to a pithy and awesome post that I can provide for all of you fine readers.

That being said, I’ve written before about doing hard things and dealing with difficult situations. We all face hard times, whether these are emotionally trying circumstances, financial difficulties, pressures on time, energy, physical health, or all of the above. The past couple of weeks have been pretty thoroughly difficult financially (though I did have some significant help from an unexpected source), and on time, energy, and general mental well-being. Sometimes, these wind up being the times that are worth the most to us. These are times that teach us strength, that stretch us, force us to grow, and to mature. These are the times that, ultimately, make us worth-while people instead of egotistical, spoiled, simpering, entitled little brats (you have no idea how much I want to use a stronger word here) who make everyone else’s lives more difficult than they actually need to be. There are plenty of these people in the world, so anything that reduces their numbers (in a morally acceptable way of course) is something that I will applaud. Honestly, I’ve repeatedly found that the most difficult times in my own life and, in retrospect, some of the times that I most value.

Now, please don’t think that I’m saying that we all need to go out and try to find difficult situations. Masochism is unhealthy and it should obviously be avoided. However, I do think that we can see that when difficult or painful situations do come into our lives, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We can, and often should, view them as a blessing. This is why, philosophically, I have always rejected every form of hedonism. The idea that pleasure=good and pain=bad is simply and thoroughly false, and there are thousands of examples that support it as false.

This is as true for writing as it is for life. We all go through struggles as writers, some of us struggle more than others and we all struggle with different things. However, we all struggle. However, those struggles are what make us better writers. If you’ve never struggled with anything, then your writing has never improved. Some people are, obviously, naturally better writers than others. However, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement in their writing. It simply means that they have a different set of struggles that take place at a higher level, and will make them even better writers. However, I am convinced that in writing and in life our purpose is to always be better. To be better people, better at our jobs, better writers, better friends, better parents, etc. We must always strive to be better than we already are.

Literary Catharsis

Nevermore.
Nevermore.

The idea of using writing as a means of relieving pain or releasing negative emotions isn’t exactly a new one. Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft both used their creative processes to assuage their inner demons during dark times of their lives, and there’re countless other poets and writers who have done the same. In other words, what I’m discussing today isn’t exactly a light bulb moment that will change lives or anything. Instead, I want to talk about situations in which I use this particular method of pain relief, and some ways I’ve found to be effective in doing so.

First off, I want to talk about anger. I don’t mean the grumpy, wake up on the wrong side of the bed, someone is sitting in my spot kind of irritated bad mood. By angry, I mean the all-encompassing, blood boiling, evil genius ranting, rarely ever happens kind of angry. This tends to fall into two categories, for me: anger directed at a specific person or persons, and anger directed at an event, and my writing takes a different tack depending on which category of anger I’m trying to vent. The first one has only happened twice…once directed against an ex-boyfriend, and once against a good friend’s ex. My ex was abusive, and he continued to be so even after we broke up. I was inspired to Taylor Swift levels of anger, and since I couldn’t go break his face, I did what I do whenever I’m mad at someone: wrote him into my novel and did horrible things to him. Seriously, you would not believe how much better you feel after doing that to someone. In the case of my ex, he got his nose broken, and then later screamed like a little girl while being munched on very slowly by a very hungry vampire. After that, I wasn’t really angry anymore – whenever he tried to pull something, I just imagined him being eaten by the vampire and screaming, and I could laugh at him and pretty much ignore him. As for my friend’s ex, I had him polished off by a serial killer. What really helps get rid of the anger is to write the character down, do horrible things to them, and then shred the paper/burn it/stomp on it. It feels like you’re deleting them and their issues from your life. In my experience, this method provides a lot more relief than any physical action, and it means you’re also less likely to get in trouble with the police. Just saying.

Never forget.
Never forget.

In regards to the other kind of anger, that directed at an event, the method is slightly different, and will probably vary for most people. For me, I tend to write stories from the POV of someone who could have been involved. Sometimes I write very grumpy blog posts, but usually it’s a story. I was only a kid when 9/11 happened, but I was definitely old enough to understand what was going on. I remember watching it on TV and seeing the aftermath, and being really, really angry about it. It wasn’t even anger at the people who caused it – I was just angry that it happened. I didn’t know how to cope with that anger, so I just sat down and wrote a story. I was very young, so of course it wasn’t very good, but I wrote a “could have been” story about a young married couple in New York. The wife worked in one of the towers; the husband worked downtown. I wrote about the death of the wife and her husband’s grieving process. For me, it helped relieve the anger I didn’t know how to deal with and calmed it down into a grief and pain that was easier to manage. I’ve done that for several situations in my relatively short life, and it’s always worked for me.

Finally, I want to briefly talk about using writing to relieve extreme grief/depression. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m prone to severe depression from time to time. Sometimes there’s a cause, sometimes there isn’t. Recently, I lost someone who is very dear to me (not through bereavement, but a loss just the same). So for the past couple weeks, I’ve been dealing with both grief and depression, and that’s where my writing comes in. The only physical thing I’ve found that can really ease the pain is putting it down in words…it’s the only thing that can give voice to what I feel. In these cases, I mostly write poetry. Can’t write it at any other time, but I can when the pain is too much for me to handle alone. All that emotion and grief just pours itself into imagery that is best expressed through poetry. Sometimes I write creative non-fiction – a short story that uses imagery and metaphors to describe what I’m going through. It never completely relieves the pain, but at least it helps me understand what’s going on, and lets me reach out to someone else when I normally wouldn’t. It gives me hope, and that’s really the best kind of catharsis I can ask for.

I hope this post was insightful today, and I also hope that maybe it inspires someone. Writing is one of the best forms of catharsis in this world, and I strongly encourage you all to take advantage of it.

Philosophical Story Challenge

What can I say, pretty girl, pretty mountains... I like this picture. No idea who it belongs to. If it's yours, let me know and I'll be happy to give you credit.
What can I say, pretty girl, pretty mountains… I like this picture. No idea who it belongs to, but I got it here. If it’s yours, let me know and I’ll be happy to give you credit.

I hope everyone enjoyed last week’s challenge. That question is one that I’ve spent quite a bit of time on, and I was hoping to get some interesting responses to it! So, this is obviously another philosophical challenge, and you know what that means. I give you a classic philosophical question, and you give me a story of 100-1000 words that presents and defends your answer to that question. So, your question this week is very closely related to your answer to last week’s question. In utilitarian thinking, if pleasure/happiness=good, then pain/unhappiness must equal evil. Your question this week is two fold. 1) Is this assumption true, or is it possible for happiness to equal good without unhappiness equally evil, or vice versa? 2) Does pain/unhappiness=evil? I’m not going to give you my responses to these questions, though if you know me well, or if you’ve been reading this blog for at least a year, then you probably already know my answers. Have fun with this!

Working Through the Pain

… I know… but I found this wall paper and it just seemed… appropriate.

Does anyone else feel like it should be Sunday? This has been an extremely long week for me, and I still have a good bit left to go. Anyway, I’m writing this post late… it actually should have been up thirteen minutes ago as I’m writing. I apologize for this, and thus the post won’t be particularly long. However, I want to take a moment to talk about working through, and working with pain. It’s a cliche that we hear in sports all the time, ‘play through the pain’, but athletes are not the only people who have to deal with pain, and still maintain professionalism.

Sometimes we hurt. It could be physical pain, emotional pain, or spiritual pain. Regardless of the type, pain is pain, and all of these range from fairly small (a head cold, or a bad day) to debilitating (wracking muscle spasms, or destroyed dreams). The problem is that life goes on around us, even when we are in pain. Sometimes people are understanding, and sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes people don’t believe us, and sometimes they have reason not to. I am consistently amazed at the number of students who have loved ones die during my class. I average three to five family deaths in a class of twenty students, and sometimes I have to wonder if they are all real (not that I would ever tell this to one of my students, I do my best to give the benefit of the doubt).  Sometimes it just doesn’t matter how much pain we’re in, the job still has to get done, and that is very hard.

It means buckling down and working through the pain. Whether this means running down a field on a twisted ankle, dealing with the problems of others when you’re own are heavy on your heart, or writing even though all you can think about is how much you hurt, we all have to work through the pain sometimes. We all have to find a way to bear up, and to keep going, even when we think we can’t. It reminds me of a stanza from one of my favorite poems, If, by Kipling:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it all on one turn of pitch and toss

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breath a word about your loss

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew,

To serve your turn long after they are gone

And so hold on when there is nothing left within you

Except the will which says to them, ‘Hold on!’

Yeah, I love that poem. If you’ve never read If, I strongly suggest you do. Anyway, for all of you out there who are working through pain, whatever kind of pain it might be: You can do it. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep checking off things on your to-do list. Keep going through the motions of life, and give yourself time to heal. You will, although probably not as fast as you want, and maybe not without some lingering effects. Still, life goes on, so don’t give up.

Words Between the Lines

Sometimes, the most beautiful music is heard between the notes.

I tend to be an emotional writer, for the most part. Most of my stories (and all of my poems) have roots in some deep, powerful emotion that I feel or have felt and want to convey. Sometimes these emotions express themselves in poetry, sometimes in short fiction pieces, but once in a while I’ll sit and down and end up writing something that basically falls into the category of creative nonfiction. It’s about some important event in my life, and usually ends up just being a way to vocalize my thoughts and feelings around that point in time. The story I have for you today is one such story. I wrote it earlier this year during a really difficult, depressed time in my life. Maybe some of you will connect to it. At any rate, enjoy.

The Words Between the Lines

You were the words between the lines, everything that was subtle and beautiful about the world. You swept into my life like some fairytale prince to save me from the villains who hurt me and the demons that haunted my dreams. I was so broken, so shattered, I couldn’t even see myself as human anymore, but you could. You were gentle to me, gentle and kind. You picked me up from the ground I’d been thrown on, and showed me that not every character in my life’s story was a villain, that there were still some heroes to be found, if I only knew where to look. I saw adventure in your eyes, beckoning me to press on and explore. Not every tale has a tragic ending, you seemed to say whenever I looked at you. You said my story would be a happy one.

You were the music between the notes. Your soft words fell on my ears like a symphony, stirring me to greater depths of feeling. It was you who first called me beautiful, you who told me that no one ever had the right to say otherwise. The way you cared for me in my pain and sickness lifted my spirits as if I was listening to a sweet chorus that let me believe, if only for a moment, that I wasn’t hurting at all. Your strong arms around me held me close, and our spirits sang together like angels in the gathering twilight. We danced to the music in our souls, pure and lovely. There was great beauty in those moments, listening to that music.  

You were the light in the void. You showed me that I wasn’t alone, that someone else would help me share my burden. You touched the emptiness in my heart and filled it with your love. I learned to laugh again, because of you. You coaxed me out of my shell a little, trying to show me that I didn’t need to hide. I slowly began to lean on you in the tough times as you encouraged me to trust you. I started to look for you when things got rough, always searching for that beacon of hope, you who would let me cry when I couldn’t make sense of my world.

 

Few things are sadder than a beautiful book with empty pages.

But you weren’t there. I searched and searched for you, but you had disappeared into the darkness. Many were the nights I lay awake screaming your name as the emptiness inside threatened to tear me apart. I looked for you in the words, but your story had taken a different road. I looked for you in the music, but the notes were discordant. I looked for you in the void, but the light had been extinguished. Gone. All hope had disappeared with you, and the pain finally engulfed me in a storm I had no strength to fight against. I almost allowed myself to be swallowed up by the emptiness. And then you came back. I saw you, heard you, felt you, as if at a great distance, a dim figure shrouded in mist. But I’d gone back into my shell. I wouldn’t let you see me anymore. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, saying goodbye to you. You don’t know the eternity I spent in the dark, senseless, deaf, and blind. But I had to say goodbye. I watched you walk away again, and it was all I could do to not scream your name and beg you to come be mine again. But I couldn’t. You’re gone now, gone forever, and I’m all alone. You were the words between the lines, and now the page is blank. 

Why?

So today I decided to share some more poetry with you. This is actually the first poem I ever tried to write, and I wrote it about 6 months ago. I have a combination of chronic illnesses (including Fibromyalgia and Chiari), and they’re really hard to live with sometimes. One day was particularly bad pain-wise, and that’s what inspired this particular piece of poetry. It turned out to be a sort of one-way conversation with me and God. Enjoy.

“Why?”

There are so many things in life I just don’t understand,

Like why things are the way they are, or even if they’re planned.

Though I don’t worry much about what my life has to bring,

God, I have to ask a question, just one little thing.

Why?

You have laid a burden on me, one that’s hard to bear,

And though ’tis done in love, I often wonder if you care.

My head understands that there’s a purpose and a plan;

But God, I am frail and weak; I’m just a child of man.

Why?

The pain racks through my body, a hurt that runs so deep,

And oft’s the time in agony, I waken from my sleep.

The gift of breath you’ve given me, many times has fled,

And I lay here hurting, weeping on my bed.

Why?

I just don’t understand this pain you have given me,

Lord, can’t I serve you so much better if you’d made me free?

I’m hampered by my weakness, imprisoned by my fear,

All I want to know is why you’ve put me here.

Why?

You know sometimes I feel so very lonely;

And I want a friend there, just to hold me closely.

And yet, my pride holds me back from telling all,

As if my weakness might make them stumble and fall.

Why?

What is the reason, the purpose of this test?

I feel that if I knew, my mind might have some rest.

You know sometimes I think I can’t go on;

My strength and patience oftimes are all but gone.

Why?

God, I just can’t do this on my own,

Seeds of despair now in my heart are sown.

It’s at times like this I just don’t know where to go.

So please tell me Lord, just please let me know.

Oh God, why?

Full Circle

Depression is kind of like this. The colors change, but the cycle never ends.

Well, I’ve been in a rather poetic mood of late (not to mention extremely busy with pesky summer classes), so I’m sharing another one of my poems with you today. It doesn’t follow any classic style or anything, so don’t go looking for all of that. Any of you who read my previous piece of poetry (which you can find here) might notice that this poem is on a similar vein. That would be because it is. It just happens to be on a slightly different level than the previous piece of work, and expressed in new words and a different form. I’m attempting to show a different aspect of depression, my subject matter. It’s so very hard to break out of it, and even when you manage to, it never completely goes away. it’s always there, waiting to strike when you’re least expecting it. I’m hoping that this will help you understand why someone can be perfectly fine one moment and in a bleak mood the next. Anyway, I hope it speaks to you in some way.

Full Circle

Depression

Destroys the soul,

Creates

A gaping hole.

Pain

In heart and mind.

No

Relief I find.

Empty

Is how I feel

Apathy

I can’t conceal.

So much unhappiness within

At last I look for help and then….

 

Euphoric

I seem to be.

Cheerful

And filled with glee.

Wild

Beyond control

Insanity

Now fills my soul.

Nothing

Is wrong I say

Smiles

Friends’ fears allay.

Mad vigor beyond all ken

The universe seems fine and then…

 

Meltdown

All on my own.

Tears

My joys dethrone.

Nothing

Has an effect.

Sorrow

I can’t deflect.

Assistance

I now long for.

Help,

My calm restore.

A friend brings peace to me and then…

Full circle now, begin again.

A Poem for Hard Times

When you tell yourself that things can't possibly get any worse, they usually do. As the British say, 'Keep buggering on.'

I’m not gonna lie.  I’ve had a pretty crappy week.  There are times in all of our lives when we just want to sit down a cry.  There are times when we want to rage and fight.  And then there are times when we just want to give up and walk away.  Not doing these things when we most want to is a sign of maturity, but not acting on these desires doesn’t mean not feeling them.  This poem is about hope in the midst of hopelessness, about perseverance in the midst of pain, and it’s about the inevitability that the truly mature man will keep on going, even when there doesn’t seem to be any point at all.  So, for anyone reading this who feels the same way: I’ve been there, more than once.  Keep going, keep pushing, keep hoping, even though you can’t see any reason or way.  That’s what it means to be a man.

Unrelenting

In pain, I rage

Beating my anger against a rock

My fury spent, the rock remains unmoved

My broken hands are not so

In pain, I grieve

Sorrow floods my soul, washing against my pain

My grief spent, my pain remains unmoved

My broken heart is not healed

In pain, I work

Fruitful labor tires me, rendering my insensate

My labor spent, I rest, and my pain returns

My torn pride is not resewn

In pain, I believe

Faith enlightens me, fills my soul with hope

My faith spent, my pain abides unchanged

My broken soul is not renewed

I have no answer

And so I wait for one to be revealed

The Promise of Pain

Pain promises great benefits.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on the problem of pleasure, and I promised this follow-up post.  Obviously I didn’t get it written last week, but I have it for you today.  If you remember from the last post modern American culture generally defines pleasure as ‘good’ and pain as ‘evil’.  We tend to think that anything we like must be good (if it feels good do it), and anything that we don’t like must be evil.  My central point in the last post was the while pleasure can sometimes be good, the concept that pleasure is ‘the good’ is nonsensical because sometimes pleasure can have extremely negative, destructive results.  However, the opposite is also true.  We cannot define ‘the good’ as pleasurable because sometimes that which is good is not enjoyable.  Anyone who has ever taken Codliver oil can attest to this.  While it is ‘good’, it is not enjoyable.

However, this goes beyond simple ‘take your medicine’ metaphors.  The truth is that pain is, in many cases, man’s primary impetus to personal growth.  Human beings do not seek to better themselves when everything is going well.  There is no need, happiness is often the enemy of betterment.  On the other hand, constant misery is equally as destructive to personal growth, because the impetus to growth that pain provides rides upon a foundational assumption that things can get better.  It this assumption is removed, then the impetus to growth is stalled and no matter how much pain is applied, the person will not move.  This same dynamic can be seen in the application of a cattle prod.  The efficacy of the prod lies in the animals ability to escape it.  When a cattle prod is applied the animal desires to move, in order to escape the uncomfortable electric current.  If the animal cannot by any amount of movement escape the current, then the prod loses its effectiveness and the animal will not move.

Man is, in many ways, similar to cattle.  It is a rare man that will seek out personal growth without any discomfort to motivate him.  Generally we are motivated by one of two things.  The first is the pain of not having the things that we desire.  Imagine a man who is in love with a woman, but who has no means by which to woo her.  This man will seek to improve himself.  He will exercise regularly, seek more gainful employment, learn the skills of charm and romance – as much as is necessary to win her heart and no further.  If he were to go further, then he would be a rare and wonderful man, and if he were not to go far enough then he would not win the lady’s heart.  Similarly, imagine a man who desired more than anything to hold a million dollars in his hands.  This man would push himself to learn and improve in some means (whether legal or illegal) by which he could attain a million dollars.  Lesser men would choose a base and vile path, while greater men would choose a nobler path, but both kinds of men would set themselves on this path.

The second type of impetus to improvement common to the human race is having things that we do not want to have.  Consider for a moment a man who is significantly overweight, and the pain of this wears on him every day.  This man will try every means that he can find to lose this extra weight, because it is significantly painful to him.  Now if this overweight man is happy in his indulgence, and is not burdened by his extra mass, then he will not seek to change – until that mass becomes a significantly painful factor in his life.  At this time, again, the man will seek to escape it.  Consider also a man that is plagued by some manner of pest in his housing.  This man will see in many ways to change his situation, whether this is by finding a way to remove the pest, or by finding new housing, and in this manner will inevitably improve himself.  Both types of impetus have one thing in common, pain is required.

It matters less that you hurt, and more what you do with it.

Beyond even this, there are three primary responses to pain.  First a man might try to improve himself, to move away from the pain, and in this way grow.  Second, a man might fight back against, or choose to endure the pain, waiting for a chance to defeat or escape it – and in this way grow.  Third, a man might give up, growing bitter and angry at his loss, and convince himself that the world is against him and that he can by no means escape his pain.  Needless to say, this does not often lead to growth.

If we define that which is ‘good’ as that which makes one ‘better’, then we can see that pain can be, and often is, good.  More than this, we can see that pain is necessary for good to take place.  If a man never encounters any kind of pain, then he will never grow, mature, or become a man.  He will remain a child all of his life, and his caretakers will be forced to see to his every need even through old age.  While hope in pain is a necessity, and one that modern culture all too often denies, pain is absolutely necessary for the betterment of mankind.