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Rewards of Despair



Okay there are several threads where I might post this op-ed with some degree of being relevant and not off topic, but Ive decided that here might be as good as anywhere. Just be warned I'm in a philosophical mood. As always, feel free to comment.

Rewards of Despair

© 2011

by Desmond Rutherford

The circumstances of one's life are often overlooked as being a significant contributing factor for creative work, and yet adverse conditions might be used to dismiss the opportunity to create. Trying to write, compose, or even live, whilst constrained by one catastrophe after another is, obviously, challenging. The uncertainty of not knowing if the bed you got out of this morning will still be yours tonight is not something that provides the most stable environment conducive to creativity. It seems that we can recognise the emptiness of our own personal apocalypse, simply through our life's circumstances.

Sometimes it seems that no matter what we do, life goes from bad to worse, to virtually impossible. Anxiety, fear, and terror may be the consequence of real dangers or they may be anticipations, the sequels of irrational conjecture, but the effect is the same. Sadly, they give rise to anxiety that we know will lead too many people into seeking a solution that is tragic for all of us. But there is also a less desolate aspect to threatening situations, that can permit us to learn from the experience, even though it nearly incapacitates us. Suffering does give us an insight into the human condition, with all its foibles and its hopes. And it does take courage and bravery to live through anxieties, and we are brave and courageous if we dare to look horror in the eye and scream, "I want to live," as loudly as we can. Just screaming that you aren't going to take it anymore, is not enough; you must demand to live. I know it can seem impossible...I've felt despair too. I've seen the horrors in the faces of others, reflected in and lurking behind their eyes, in the dungeons of their minds. And I am humbled when I have little, and they have nothing...but their determination to go on living.

Despair can lead to depression, and depression is restrictive, immobilising to paralysis, and yet courage can be born of desperation, inspiring us to find its truth, reality, depth and recognise that horror does not last forever, even though we may be affected for the rest of our lives, from having experienced the despair and depression. If we have ever asked why life is so full of such experiences, then we are on the brink of realising that life is those experiences, and it is our place to observe them, embrace them, use them, and make an art form of them, one that is as unique as we are; each of us.

To live through horror, persecution and deprivation is not unknown to many peoples; indeed, LGBTQ people seem to be rather adept at learning how to survive in a hostile world. And it's not merely a matter of what we survive making us stronger, it's a matter of daring to live and love in the face of adversity; daring to shout, “Yes!” to life and living it. And then, with that innate human desire to express ourselves artistically, we feel impelled to take our discoveries, our thoughts and stories, and scratch them into the face of the Earth, so others may see them, share them, feel comforted, informed, inspired, entertained, or just so someone else knows that wonder exists, and that we can tell each other about it.

Compassion comes in many guises, but it must be true at its core, real truth without superstitions, and the truth of reality is not always easy to handle, but is its own reward, because it demands we live life fully, in the here and now, searching for the only sane and satisfactory reason for existence...Love.

"The job of the artist is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.” - Gertrude Stein from the 2011 movie, Midnight in Paris.

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Thank you, Des, very much, for a moving and encouraging essay.

I'd very much like to see you submit that for publication at AD and CW, if you would please.

Despite, or maybe because of, all the crud going on in my life right now, I have story ideas floating around, percolating (or fermenting) in my head, for the first time in quite a long time in any seriously productive way. That feels good. So far, some has found its way onto pages on disc, but it's still slow going.

I had noticed, back when I was writing a lot of poems, that I would write when I was strongly moved by something, and had a deep emotional response, a need to get it down into words. My story ideas tend to be a scene or a few chapters, likewise from a strong reaction or inspiration. I had also noticed that for the poems, having (or believing I had) an audience or an individual to write for, also helped get the poem or story out.

Lately, when I had said I didn't know how I was doing, wasn't sure of myself, and was feeling weighed down, and wondering if the depressive feelings would be a bummer or turn off for readers, or were squelching (limiting) my output, a friend wrote back on a forum that I should just write anyway, that what I had to say was worth reading and sharing my experiences through writing was helpful to others. Well, it felt very good to hear that.

Many of us have to put up with bad circumstances in life. Low pay or crappy jobs, not enough savings, relationship troubles of one kind or another, moving due to whatever reason, health problems, so many things can happen, and some are just completely out of nowhere, then bang, there you are, faced with it.

Yes, not only do we have to get desperate and mad enough to say, "I can't take it anymore!" but further, "I'm not going to put up with it anymore!" and then onto, "I want to live!" and even perhaps, "I have to make people understand this, it has to change!"

I get, all too well, that sometimes, people reach the first two of those and do feel, entirely, like stepping away, leaving. Sometimes in fact, that's very healthy, to say, I don't need this crud anymore, I'm not going to put up with it, I'm going. There are times we have to tough things out, though, for whatever reasons. That's hard. (Been through that.) There are also times when at least some of us feel it's so final, we want to give up and take a very final, irreversible step. Well, but that deprives the world of a beautiful, needed person, a voice for the very thing troubling that person. (And yes, I've felt that way too, before. And yes, I deeply miss more than one person who took that step and died.) They are liked and loved, whether they know it or not.

So how do we respond to all the crap out there in the real world, all the tragedy and horror? We are forced to adapt, to change. We are forced to say, I must somehow change. This must change. People must learn and they must change. A roar of defiance at the monster or the desolation, and a stubborn insistence that "I want to live!" and "I will fight this thing!" are the answers. Even a mild-mannered person who means no harm can be a brave hero who defies the chaos and despair and horror, simply by being himself or herself. And that is urgently needed these days.

Art and beauty are needed too. Entertainment is needed, a chance to set aside the things troubling us and have a good laugh or a good cry, to pick ourselves up and go on. We need that chance to look outside ourselves and see in a way that someone else sees for a bit. Just maybe, then we discover someone in common, a kindred spirit, or the band of friends to carry us through and fight the horrors away, or wade through the mire to the cleaner shores ahead.

Bravo, Des, and thanks again.

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