Possibly the worst part of the week was that the terrible, horrible, no good, very unfair things... weren't happening to me, but to people I was in charge of protecting from said bad things. Which takes empathy to an unhealthy level, compounds it with feelings of frustrating failure, and dumps the whole lot into a cesspool of can't-do-anything-to-make-it-better.
Which is when I look to those wiser than I am.
Many months ago, I followed a link on Twitter to an article that has haunted me to this day. It's an advice column titled How You Get Unstuck, written by Dear Sugar at TheRumpus.net. When my week went south, I spent quite a bit of time trying to find it again. That I was successful was practically the only thing that went right all week. I couldn't remember the site or the title, but I remembered that it had something to do with Sugar and a dead baby. (Yes, that's exactly the kind of week I was having. You can imagine my search terms.) The tweet that led me to it said something along the lines of "it's not what you think." And it isn't.
The column starts out with Dear Sugar's advice to a woman who'd miscarried her baby... and then it talks about a group of teenage girls that the columnist mentored for a year. These girls had lives that would win any pity party you can name. Hands down. The rest of us shouldn't bother showing up to try to match our piddly little problems with what these girls had to overcome.
|This is the Dear Sugar logo. Oh, how I searched....|
Do yourself a favor and read the entire article, here. It's gritty and the language is rough, but you seriously need to read it. Go now. I'll wait.
Did you read it? Good.
The most heart-wrenching paragraph comes right after she finally realizes that, no matter how many phone calls she makes, she'll never be able to save these girls from the lives they're living. I'm keeping the original language intact because, let's face it, sometimes four-letter words only begin to describe the screaming wrongness of something:
As writers, we spend a lot of time torturing our characters. We laugh about it, tweet about it, and gleefully rub our hands together as we plan new ways to tear them down. This is not because we hate our characters--it's because we love them and we love the readers who might learn, through reading our stories, that awful things can be overcome. We don't tear them down for the sake of watching them squirm, but to build them back up. Better. Stronger. We writers love nothing more than to take a spineless character and whip all the weak out of him. To make her crawl so we can teach her to fly.I told her it was not okay, that it was unacceptable, that it was illegal and that I would call and report this latest, horrible thing. But I did not tell her it would stop. I did not promise that anyone would intervene. I told her it would likely go on and she’d have to survive it. That she’d have to find a way within herself to not only escape the shit, but to transcend it, and if she wasn’t able to do that, then her whole life would be shit, forever and ever and ever. I told her that escaping the shit would be hard, but that if she wanted to not make her mother’s life her destiny, she had to be the one to make it happen. She had to do more than hold on. She had to reach. She had to want it more than she’d ever wanted anything. She had to grab like a drowning girl for every good thing that came her way and she had to swim like fuck away from every bad thing. She had to count the years and let them roll by, to grow up and then run as far as she could in the direction of her best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by her own desire to heal.
And the sad reality is, art reflects life. It wouldn't realistically work for our characters if it didn't work the same way in real life.
Which means that brutal weeks are necessary for us. They prevent us from becoming spineless whiners. And, like our characters, and like the girls in the Dear Sugar column, we need to learn to deal. We are not so special that we can escape pain for ourselves. We aren't yet strong enough. We haven't crawled far enough to earn the right to fly.
And we all need to build bridges to our dreams out of our desire to heal.
What about you? You ever think your problems are insurmountable? Try to win pity parties? How's that working for you? :)