This post isn’t really about art; it’s about emotions. If there is any connection at all between the two, it’s because emotions can create great art, but not for me; not at the moment. I usually like to post something at least once a week, but this week I found I couldn’t write anything, on demand. I didn’t have an idea in me. In semi-desperation to make life go on as normal, I tried to finish a half-written post I’ve been working on for some time, which has some really good information in it (even if I do say so myself), but I couldn’t even get that done.
This has been a year in which I have lost a lot. You have probably previously read about me losing my dream, in that I tried to make art a full time career, but didn’t earn enough to make it viable, in time. The money simply ran out. That wasn’t all I lost, though. In March, my mother was taken by cancer. This past week, my lonely father, suffering with dementure and grief, passed away too. Within the space of seven months, some very serious changes have occurred in my life.
I’ve found that I still don’t know how to navigate grieving. I’m no stranger to it, but I’ve never really gotten the hang of it or understood it. To try to sum it up in a single phrase, I feel lost. I know this is due to my grief, but I feel lost all the same. I feel a mixture of emotions, to be truthful, not the least of which is a feeling of being disinterested, disconnected, distracted, distant, disorientated, disquieted and destabilised. I find I am questioning the meaning and purpose of just about everything, at the moment. I also have no idea how to express my grief in ways that others can understand. Most of the time, I am faking a sort of “business as usual” facade, which makes people think I’m over it all, but I’m not. The mask is just a protective shell to avoid receiving any further blows, as if that were all you had to do to avoid them. I’m aware of it, but I can’t help it.
There are also feelings inside which are very vivid and real, but for which there are no easy and convenient labels or descriptions. I happened upon a very human web site that attempts to make up good words, with plausible etymologies, to describe some of these less expressible emotions. To save grappling with finding the right words to express myself, inarticulately, I’m going to borrow from some of those imaginatively created words to describe how I feel right now (and hopefully spread some of these well thought out descriptions). I realise this may be of limited interest to a reader, but it seems very important to me, at this moment, as a writer. With a little luck, though, maybe others who are grieving will be able to find some resonance and comfort in it.
Here is the link to the source of these creative words: http://www.dictionaryofobscuresorrows.com/
The biggest feeling I’m experiencing is a tendency to want to give up trying to talk about my experience, because I feel people I tell may be unable to relate to it. It isn’t that they can’t, of course. Obviously, many people can relate to losing both parents, but it’s a reluctance to discuss it, on my part, for fear that somebody might not be able to relate, so won’t express sympathy or empathy. I can’t risk the hurt that this would cause, so I clam up. The word that was given to this feeling is: “Exalansis” – the tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it. In this case, maybe they are able to relate, but I can’t believe in that and it’s too painful to take the risk. I find that people, in general, struggle to relate to my experiences and ideas anyway. It is much easier to simply stop talking.
The next feeling that is present, in me (though I can’t tell in what relative proportion to all the others) is what has been christened “Nodus Tollens”. This is the realisation that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore. Mine doesn’t. I can’t tell where I am going, where I ought to be going or what I want my direction to be. This is part of the feeling of being lost. I just don’t have any answers, at the moment. If my life is a story, I have no idea what the next chapter looks like, or even what kind of ending I can expect. I find myself wondering what it is all for and not coming up with tremendously good answers. The whole project no longer makes any sense to me.
That brings me to a worldly weariness with the same old issues I’ve always had and always struggled with. You get bored of examining your own flaws, shortcomings, anxieties and issues, after a while, especially if they have been gnawing on you for decades without any apparent resolution or even movement forward in them. I feel stuck, yet tired of the reasons for feeling that way. I know what’s wrong with me, what I need to do and how to move forward, but I haven’t been able to make those changes and still cannot see a way to do so, try as I might. I’m even tired of trying. In the dictionary of obscure sorrows, this feeling is named “Altschmerz”.
I’m currently given to bouts of obvious “ambedo”, which is described as a kind of melancholic trance, in which you become completely absorbed in small, vivid, sensory details. I find myself watching the trees, noticing the clouds and smelling the air, but dwelling on those things in unnecessary detail and with intense focus. I put this down to escapism, ultimately, but also a desire to experience and feel, to counter the numbness. They say it is a way of soaking in the experience of being alive – something that takes on a certain urgency and purity, when one is confronted with mortality.
The dictionary of obscure sorrows says that a “dead reckoning” is finding yourself bothered by someone’s death more than you would have expected, as if you assumed they would always be part of the landscape, but quite clearly they are no longer. I felt this wash over me the instant that I learned about my father’s demise, via a voicemail. My guiding beacon, throughout life, the person I looked toward for sense and insight, was suddenly extinguished and no longer shining his illuminating and incisive mind on my situation. In truth, he hadn’t been capable of this for some time, but this is the moment I became fully conscious of the reality. This is when the vague denial ended. I have one less significant landmark to navigate my life by now, so it’s no wonder I feel so lost and unable to find my bearings quite so easily. I feel much more adrift and rudderless than before.
As I mentioned above, I have a bad case of what the dictionary of obscure sorrows refers to as “rigor samsa”, which it says is a kind of psychological exoskeleton, or emotional armour, that can protect you from pain and contain your anxieties and sorrows. The problem is that it can crack under pressure or be hollowed out by time, but it keeps growing back, every time, until you find a way to develop a more sophisticated emotional defence. Resilience is the antidote. Building flexible defences, akin to tree houses, is preferable to building something rigid and brittle, like a fortress. The cracks don’t show so readily in a more supple shell, too.
Do you ever have that feeling that you got to this point in your life not through a series of definite, decisive, significant steps, but that events, which seemed innocuous at the time, ended up marking a diversion into an unfamiliar new era of your life? If you feel that your current course was set in motion not by a series of discontinuous epiphanies, but instead by tiny imperceptible differences between one ordinary day and the next, as I do, then you are experiencing what has been dubbed “keyframing”. This is the feeling that entire years of your memory can be compressed into a handful of indelible images – key frames. The rest of your life is the in-betweening that junior animators draw in, to make the motion between key frames seem continuous. So much of my current life feels like a blur of routine, unremarkable days, each almost the same as the last, which somehow led me to here. It doesn’t feel planned or purposeful. I feel as if I have been more reactive than proactive, responding to events as they panned out, rather than executing on some grand plan. I don’t feel I have controlled my destiny, but rather more like life has controlled me.
This leads to a co-related feeling, called “Olēka” – the awareness of how few days are genuinely memorable. Instead, most days form a grey, ambient background to one’s life. Entire weeks slide by, without anything to mark them as memorable. Few days are really outstanding, in my memory. Most of them were commuter days, to go and sit at uncomfortable, cheap furniture, in an industrial unit, where I pushed a mouse around a desk, connected to a shitty laptop and therefore, these days are largely forgettable. They form the overwhelming majority of my experience, however. Nothing much out of the ordinary happened. Even the truly significant events seem dulled, because the days surrounding them were so procedural, predictable and mundane.
When I think of my parents, brothers and friends, I find myself backmasking a lot. “Backmasking” is defined as the instinctive tendency to see someone as you knew them in their (or your) youth. I can’t see people in my mind’s eye as they are today, but only as they were. The signs of age, while real and noticeable, somehow don’t impinge on the picture I have of them, when I imagine them or call them to mind. They’re forever young and in their prime, in my memory, yet I am painfully aware that this is not reality. I feel regret that they are, in reality, no longer as young as I imagine them to be. It feels like youth has been lost and needs to be reclaimed somehow, though it’s a practical impossibility that defies the laws of nature.
That desire to go back and put my deceased parents back into a youthful context extends to a feeling that has been named “anemoia”. This is nostalgia for a time you have never known. I often imagine myself stepping into the world of my parents and grandparents; a world that existed long before I was even born. I think it’s fuelled by old photographs and redolent tales of their youth that they used to tell me, often with a knowing grin and a glint in their eyes. Can you reminisce for a time you have only ever known vicariously? Lately, I have a strong desire to experience the world of the early 1940s and 1950s. I know it was a chaotic, turbulent time, in world affairs and that these catastrophes directly touched the lives of my forebears, but I can’t help feeling I want to be there, with my family members still vigorous, young and hopeful, with the rest of their lives to look forward to.
For me, I find the process of grieving serves to dull my experience of the present moment. I’m not fully present. I can’t feel all there is to feel, as it happens, right now. I feel inured to the headlines and world events. Discussions are dispassionate, as if I no longer care (but I really do). The desire to feel intensely again, to experience the world in its fulsome, vivid intensity, is called “Yu Yi”. I long to be able to feel the joy of living again, with the same verve and enthusiasm that I once had. It would be nice to not feel like an emotional zombie. Grieving turns you into a walking automaton, to some degree; disinterested and disconnected.
To suddenly find oneself thrust into the role of patriarch of my immediate family, as I have been, feels uncomfortable. I’m not ready. I don’t feel I have earned it, or accomplished anything that would justify me wearing the mantle, being the sage repository of our family wisdom and experience. As a patriarch, I feel like an imposter. I don’t have the judgement or answers that the rest of my family will look to me to provide. I also feel I’m too young to be the oldest family member, even though I now indisputably am. I’m more inclined to defer to my wiser, older aunts and cousins, somehow, but I know this only works in an extended family sense. Otherwise, in my immediate family, I’m it.
So grief has brought me a huge melange of strange, new and unfamiliar feelings and emotions, many of which I was not and am not equipped to confront or handle. There are so many conflicting emotions, that I am never sure what to feel. I don’t know if I am projecting the “right” emotions, as expected of somebody that has suffered a loss. How are you supposed to feel when you grieve? How are you supposed to appear to feel? Is it ok to laugh, if only to stem the tears? Nobody can really tell you and I suppose it’s different for everyone that experiences it.
This tsunami of new feelings and emotions would be hard enough to cope with on their own, but they’re overlaid on top of a different kind of grieving that I was already feeling, related to my self-realisation and things that had gone wrong, in that sphere of my endeavours.
When I leapt and fell, face planting into pavement, I was already feeling a strong sense of what has been called “Zielschmerz”. This is the exhilarating dread of finally pursuing a lifelong dream, which requires you to put your true abilities to the test, in front of everybody, no longer protected by the cocoon of pure possibilities, where your hopes and delusions shield you from discovering whether or not you really can cut it. I didn’t make it. I came crashing down, instead of soaring.
In discovering my true calling and beginning to understand my true self, I felt a strong sense of “Lutalica”. This is the part of your identity that doesn’t fit into existing categories. I was already feeling like somewhat of a misfit and an oddball. Realising that there are very few, if any, people quite like you is both exciting, because you feel you have something unique to offer, but also incredibly lonely, as you realise that you lie outside of the majority of humanity and that your experiences and ideas are probably unlike most peoples’ and alien to them. That can be excrutiatingly isolating. Being uncategorisable is both a dream come true and a living nightmare.
When that period of my life, where I was a full time artist, came to an end, I experienced “the meantime”. This is that moment of realisation that your quintessential future self isn’t ever going to materialise and manifest. This realisation forces you to fall back to plan B, the inner understudy, who is the clumsy kid, for whom nothing is easy, who spent years rehearsing for the main role while standing in the wings. Having been thrust into the glaring limelight and fluffed his lines, well into life’s second act, all there is to do is to go back to being the artist in waiting. That might be the full extent of it.
Along with that failure to reach a paying audience was the feeling of “catoptric tristesse” – the sadness that I’ll never know what other people think of me, whether good, bad or at all. The image reflected back to me by other people is softened and distorted, not crisp and sharp. My art caused only gentle reactions, when it caused reactions at all, so I can’t tell if I and my art are good, bad or indifferent. Maybe I can, but I don’t want to acknowledge it.
It left me with a profound sense of “alimento mori”, the insomniac, sudden jolt of awareness that I will die and that these passing years are not the dress rehearsal; they’re the show. You can see your own footprints being washed away by the lapping waves on the shore. This might be just another chapter in your life story, but how many chapters are there to go? Am I reaching the end of the narrative? Will there be enough time to say my lines? Can I bring the arc of the story around to a satisfactory conclusion, with appropriate dénouement?
Trying and failing also leaves you with a feeling of “pâro” – the feeling that no matter what you do, it is always somehow inexplicably wrong. You feel like any attempt to make your way through the world, in relative comfort and security, will only end up crossing some invisible line that leads to failure. Part of you wants to believe that the way forward is obvious to everyone else and ought to be to you, but you just can’t grasp it. It’s as if you’re playing “blind man’s bluff” and blindfolded, you clumsily move one way and then another, never finding the target. Meanwhile, the rest of humanity keeps shouting at you that you’re getting colder, not warmer, as the target tantalisingly moves beyond your reach, every time you lunge toward it.
I was feeling excluded from the “silience”, which is the kind of unnoticed excellence that carries on around me, every day, unremarkably, as an ambient background of other people’s achievements. The hidden talents of friends and acquaintances, the brilliance of underground station buskers, the eloquence of random tweeters, the unseen portfolios of aspiring artists with talent to burn, all seem to be there and I feel I am not a part of it. All of these people would be renowned as masters and their works recognised as masterpieces, if only they’d been appraised by the arbiters of popular taste, who assume and assert that brilliance is a rare and precious gift, rather than abundant. It’s as if these buried jewels are overlooked. Although they might not be flawless, they are still somehow perfect and human. Do I dare include my own art amongst these buried treasures? Does it make the grade?
I have a pretty active social life, though nothing extraordinary. I like people and like to be with them, but sometimes I feel as though I have very few exceptionally close friends in near proximity. There are some excellent people, but maybe not the kind who I can drop my happy face in front of entirely, who take me exactly as I am and who I can feel I can share my deepest concerns with. Somehow, I feel the need to keep up a brave front and a positive, smiling face, despite the difficulties and challenges. This acute form of social malnutrition is named “mal de coucou” and it’s what happens when you feel you can devour an entire evening of idle chitchat, but still feel pangs of hunger for a deeper connection. I feel this often. There are very few people I feel I can trust enough to let my guard fully down. I don’t know anybody, as a friend, that I can discuss absolutely anything with. There are always self-imposed boundaries. I realise that this is me, not them.
Hungering for deeper connections, especially with people that know my story and what I have gone through, especially lately, I often find myself on social media, but that’s a place where the “conversation” is pretty unidirectional. Mostly, everyone is talking, but nobody is listening. The format of most of social media makes it highly improbable that a deep conversation could ever take place anyway and it’s all very public, shared with who knows who. There are things that you might want to say that you never will say. The potential reprisals and arguments just aren’t worth it, even if what you say is worthwhile, authentic or truthful. This feeling is named “anecdoche” and twitter is a veritable maelstrom of anecdoche. It’s like a game of Scrabble, with each player borrowing fragments of other people’s anecdotes, to increase their own score, but in reality people run out of things to say, or more correctly, things they are willing to say openly. There are fascinating people on social media I suspect I would really find a meeting of minds with, if I knew them in reality, but I fear that will never happen. They’ll forever be sketches of real people, in 140 character fragments, playing a public part, hiding their deepest thoughts.
This unbridgeable distance between me and other people makes me fear that my connections with people are ultimately quite shallow. They call this “apomakrysmenophobia” and like all phobias, it has an element of irrationality about it. Although my relationships are mostly congenial, at all times, an audit of my life, in retrospect, would produce a series of emotional safety deposit boxes, containing low-interest holdings and uninvested windfall profits. These safe little compartments are indicative of a life lived without the risk of unalloyed joy, sacrifice or loss, even though I claim I have experienced a great deal of loss and made some large sacrifices. It also hasn’t been entirely joyless. All the same, I feel that too many of my connections are not deep enough to feel satisfying and nourishing. Good, but they could be great.
How you are perceived by other people is frequently radically different to how you see yourself. I feel the frustration of knowing how easily I must fit into lazy stereotypes. Of course I never intended to, because stereotypes oversimplify and often quite unfairly, but I have the inkling that people think a different thing about who I am and what I am all about, compared to what I really am. There’s no doubt that part of the reason for this is the need to maintain a public face, especially on social media. We all wind up wearing a safe and predictable costume, masking our real selves, because we grow tired of answering the question, “What are you supposed to be?” I have a fair idea of what I am supposed to be and I tried to bring that into focus, by taking a year out to pursue my art, but explaining it repeatedly is tiresome in the extreme, especially when the project to manifest and demonstrate it, making it tangible and observable, unarguably failed. People either get you, or they don’t. I’m not sure anybody does. This feeling is called “mimeomia”.
As a consequence of all these feelings, which amount to different species of alienation, I have to admit that I feel “monachopsis”. This is the subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place, in the wrong time, maladapted to my surroundings and my peer group. I feel like a lumbering, clumsy, lumpen, easily distracted misfit, huddled in the company of other misfits, cool kids and ordinary people. I don’t ever seem to find my tribe in any significant numbers, or discover an ambient environment in which I feel fluidly, brilliantly, effortlessly and comfortably at ease and at home. Perhaps when I am playing guitar comes closest. I frequently find myself thinking, “I don’t belong here”. Very rarely do I feel essential, losing that stress of being a fish out of water. Mostly, I feel like I should make my excuses and leave everybody else to their thing. I’m not adding anything.
My inclination is to avoid dramas and to eschew the mainstream news. The reason is that I feel “anthrodynia” – a state of exhaustion with how awful people can be to each other. I can’t stand the abuse people dish out to each other. Social media has a distinct abuse problem. It’s everywhere and extreme. Something else about the modern world that deeply hurts and exhausts me is that our leaders are so hell bent on destruction, unashamed of their lies and inclined to degrade whole sections of society, especially minorities. Perhaps having suffered a humiliation and a lot of loss, I feel hypersensitive to the ill treatment of others, but it has to be said that there is an awful lot of it about. I find myself expressing a preference to be encouraging and uplifting, with affection for things that are sincere, not judgemental. I seek joyful things or things that just are. I’m not very interested in domination, conquest, victory, gloating, competition, savagery or even sporting contests. We’ve had enough violence and I have had my fill of bearing witness to it.
The actual feeling of having tried to fly and finding myself unable to do so is called “mahpiohanzia”. The disappointment of being unable to fly, unable to stretch my wings and soar, free from the constraints of a less authentic life, having finally shrugged off the ballast of expectations and the fears that held me back, weighs heavily on me still. I lit the blue touch paper beneath the fuel tank of unfulfilled desires, wishes and ambitions, which I have been storing up for most of my life, but they just fizzled. The rocket didn’t ignite and burn brightly. Ok, I’m creating mixed metaphors here and stretching them to breaking point, but you get the gist.
As a consequence, I find myself identifying more strongly with the life stories of other heroic failures, or people that were far ahead of their time and only really appreciated after they were gone. They call this feeling “moledro”. It’s the feeling of a resonant connection with an author or artist I’ll never meet, who lived perhaps centuries ago, or miles away. They get inside my head and leave behind morsels of their experience, marking some sort of hidden path through unfamiliar territory. Nicola Tesla, Vincent Van Gogh, Camille Pissarro, Albert Parsons, William Morris, Henry George, Edward Bellamy – these artists all resonate with me strongly. I’m not the first to have tried to do something good or something worthwhile, but which was ignored or rejected by humanity at large. There have been plenty of slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
The problem I found with instant, rapid immersion into the life of a full time artist is that I suffered what they refer to as “the bends”. Borrowed from diving, it’s a metaphorical description of a set of feelings I certainly felt, as I tried to make my music and commercialise my art. I felt quite some frustration at not enjoying the experience as much as I thought I would, mostly because I could never quite dispel the money worries and the feelings of obligation to support my family. Those stayed at the front of mind, arguably appropriately, even as I was trying to create my best works. I had worked very hard, for years, to make the break and get my chance, but the elation that should have accompanied being off the leash at last simply didn’t materialise. The whole enterprise was far more serious than that and the stakes seemed very high. Relaxing into painting and recording, or composing and writing, just didn’t happen. I could never find my groove and get into my flow.
That prompted me to plug in other thought combinations to try to feel something other than static emotional blankness, in response to my heart having been seemingly demagnetised by the sudden surge of expectations about how my life as an artist would be. It was a very confusing and unsettling time, not entirely conducive to doing one’s best and most creative work. It should have been the happiest time of my life, but instead it was actually quite stressful and felt more like shock, followed by desperation. I think that inhibited me and ultimately acted as a handicap. It may have been decisive in drawing my time as a full time artist to an early close.
These emotions and feelings are all varieties of sorrow, in the end, as the dictionary of obscure sorrows suggests, but it comforts me that the experience is common enough, throughout humanity, that somebody tried to give these feelings unique labels. Naming them gives me comfort. Identifying with other unfortunates makes it somehow less personal. My feelings are not so unusual after all, it seems.
When you come to sum it all up, a typical life consists of quite a lot of loss and grieving. Looking at my own life, there was the loss of my two close teenage friends, who lost their lives in separate misadventures, while not yet twenty. That was the first sudden taste of my own mortality that really hit me hard. Nobody my own age had lost their lives, so young, before. I’d previously lost my dearly beloved grandfather to a sudden heart attack and the loss was amplified, because of the distance he lived away from us and the fact that he had encouraged me in film and audio at a very early age – his two passions and vocational areas where I would eventually work professionally, for a decade or more. He died in the United States, while we lived in Australia. Both of my grandmothers eventually passed on, too. I miss them both dearly, as they were loving and doting grandmothers, demonstrably so. As my maternal grandmother’s first grandchild, I held a special place in her affections. My paternal grandmother always made sure I was indulged and treated. The loss of that love is still felt acutely.
I read an article, recently, which resonated with me on the matter of loss and grieving. It was this one: http://www.timjlawrence.com/blog/2015/10/19/everything-doesnt-happen-for-a-reason
In that article, the author said that “grief is brutally painful. Grief does not only occur when someone dies. When relationships fall apart, you grieve. When opportunities are shattered, you grieve. When dreams die, you grieve. When illnesses wreck you, you grieve.” There is a lot of truth to those words.
There was a lot of loneliness in my young life, both from being quite misunderstood and different to my peers, but also due to pure rejection. Relationships that were important to me fell apart utterly, sometimes with great suddenness, brutality and alarmingly, in ways I felt I was unable to do anything to prevent or stop. These relationships were swept away in a ways that certainly were not expected or wanted by me. I was dumped multiply. The ghosting that followed only served to redouble the hurt and loss.
As a young engineer with a passion for innovation and invention, I felt the change in government policy toward manufacturing in Australia acutely. There were politicians that, in an effort to ingratiate themselves to Japan and the US, were actively and purposefully dismantling the field I had studied so hard to be a part of, before my very eyes. The research and development jobs simply began to evaporate and world leading electronics and computer software manufacturing firms began to struggle and close. While I was lucky enough to work with some of the finest engineers that there ever were, in a very innovative and imaginative company, I could see that coming to an end, because of political choices made by people who lacked vision, courage or a spine. By happenstance and through meeting a wonderful partner, I moved to the UK, where I saw the whole thing play out, the same way, once again, for the same reasons, driven by the same craven, short-sighted and self-interested kinds of politicians. It was like watching a bad horror movie twice, but the film lasted the best part of a decade and a half. The research and development climate in the UK chilled and perished almost as fast as it had in Australia.
The personal consequences of the loss of research and development labs that actually made something the world wanted to buy, because of governmental choices to “open markets” to foreign partners they feared, is that my dreams of working in this field and being able to secure a comfortable life became very difficult. We scrimped and saved, as those jobs were first squeezed out of existence. Wages were low and stayed that way, as the firms I worked for struggled and failed. That meant not owning a house or a car, spending a lot of dead money on rent and having to wait a very long time to start a family. Our first attempt ended in miscarriage, which was also something that caused us to grieve for many years, at first. We’ve never owned a big enough house to comfortably raise a family, to this very day. Instead, we’ve crammed our lives into the tiny places we could afford on the now severely eroded earnings of an engineer.
Moving countries also involves the loss of contact with friends and family, who you’ve known all your life, as you try to eke out new friendships and make new relationships with people you’ve never met before. The loss of being able to turn up at your parents’ house, the family home, on a whim, just to see how they were or being able to visit your brothers, whenever you wished, was hard to bear, but a price I happily paid, to be with my wife. Nevertheless, there was a silent form of grieving involved at the loss, in any case. It would have been weird if there hadn’t been. That’s the reality of living in a different country to your parents, as my own mother well knew. All of her family moved to the US, while she remained with her husband, his extended family and us kids, in Australia. She never complained, but I came to understand the gentle longing and ever-present guilt of not being with them. As happy as your own family life might be, that distance never quite leaves you alone.
Throughout my working life, there have been many roles that ended unhappily or unsatisfactorily. I suppose that could be said of many people. You don’t leave a job if everything is going well, after all. Many times, it was due to the failure of the companies to thrive. In so many cases, the success I had dreamed of achieving, in my field, as an innovator, was simply not accomplished. I never had a chance. There wasn’t adequate support. It ended in loss and regret.
At one point, I started my own company and finally felt I had better control over the outcomes, but we were brought down by the failure of our main client, at a point in our growth where we were highly vulnerable to such a thing. That cost us our house, in the end. The scented garden I had created, nurtured and raised, originally so that I could enjoy the garden in the dark, with the garden lighting on, after long commutes from my place of work in London, was sold with the house. The new owner tore it all out, to make space for lawn. Finding that out, from old neighbours, really hurt.
A succession of rented houses and our eventual need to buy something of our own (albeit something too small) led to the loss of a workshop space. To somebody that prided himself on working with his hands, in wood, metal and electronics, as I was taught to do by my father, this has been a difficult loss to bear. My tools lay idle. Things I wanted to make couldn’t be made, for want of a bench and a place to make a mess. Projects that had been started were stalled for decades. This situation persists.
The friendships I thought I had made, most of which were with people I met through work, slowly drifted away as difficulties beset us. We just weren’t in a fiscal position to keep the socialising up and it’s a funny thing that when people see you going under, they want to create distance between you and them, so that they don’t have to witness the disaster at close quarters, don’t get embroiled in having to help and don’t want to catch the same difficulties, as if it were some kind of a contagion. Also, their own lives presented them with their own challenges. I’m not bitter, but saddened at the loss of friendships I made and which I valued. Maybe I wasn’t good enough at telling them so.
I’ve had brief bouts of less than ideal health, as has my wife. The struggles take their toll on you, physically. Fortunately, they’ve all been manageable and survivable incidences, but the loss of health, even temporarily, causes you to grieve. You never quite feel as well as you were, before the illness, no matter how completely you recover. Something of the loss of vigour stays in your memory. I find that a strange thing, but it’s an observable fact. Once you lose part of your health once, you are forever worried that it may happen again, or that something worse may befall you, even if you regain your health fully. I think we grieve the loss of the seeming indestructibility and robustness of youth.
That brings me up to the present year, where I lost my dream of making music and art for a living, followed rapidly by the loss of both of my parents. I also apparently had a small kidney stone pass through, for good measure, just to lay me low before last Christmas. That was just the cherry on the top, really.
In my own case, when I look back on it all, there have been only brief periods of time, in my life, that were not touched by grief and loss. I find that sad.
Well meaning people have told me that it was all to teach me something important about myself, to make me stronger, for a grand, mystic, cosmic reason known only to God, or that I somehow manifested this reality by wishing it upon myself, or by not concentrating on manifesting a different set of circumstances by focusing on being unconditionally happy. Please. No. This is nothing other than shaming the sufferer. It debases the grieving and the grief. I was not the author of many of these losses (though in some cases, I definitely was, faced with the choice of one loss, or the other). Pretending to be happy, when I had good reason not to be, would have been perverse and inappropriate, bordering on psychotic, whether or not you believe it causes bad manifestations.
Some things that happen to you in life come completely out of the blue, for no rational reason (or even for any reason that can be rationalised, after the fact). They aren’t your “fault”, you didn’t “deserve” them and they can’t be reversed or put right, through some kind of voluntary recompense. There are some things in life, as the above quoted article says, that cannot be fixed. They can only be carried. You can bear them, withstand them and carry on, despite them, but you cannot erase them. In these cases, there is loss and it is loss that cannot be regained. Permanent. Irreversible.
The article goes on to say, “Although devastation can lead to growth, it often doesn’t. The reality is that it often destroys lives. And the real calamity is that this happens precisely because we’ve replaced grieving with advice. With platitudes. With our absence.” People come and tell you what you should have done, what you should do now, why the loss has occurred to you, but these are platitudes. When you are grieving, rather than sharing that pain with you, in a genuinely sympathetic or empathic way, they absent themselves, leaving you alone to bear your loss, but adding to it the burden of having to listen to insulting platitudes.
When I posted a brief message saying my father had died, I was genuinely touched by the number of people that reached out to me with love and understanding. It was exactly what I needed most, at that moment and I am deeply, sincerely and boundlessly grateful for their love. This is what makes the loss bearable.
Loss often hardens you. If anything good comes of it at all, it’s due to you drawing down on your resilience reserves, but those reserves are finite and exhaustible. In some cases, you start with depleted reserves of resilience. It’s hard to pick yourself up and to carry on, when you’ve already been trying to do so, just as the next blow befalls you. It’s as if you’ve gotten back up onto your knees, from being knocked to the floor, only to have the next hammer blow rain down on you, before you have had a chance to stand back up.
I think, as the author of the article does, that all the platitudes, glib explanations, quick fixes, posturing and emotional distance are very dangerous to people that are grieving their loss. In unleashing them upon those with limited capacity to withstand them, who we claim to love, we deny them their right to grieve, to work through the myriad strange and conflicting feelings that accompany loss and to find a way to allow their own resilience to bear the loss and carry it.
When somebody loves me, in their silence, showing a willingness to suffer with me, holding my hand, alongside me and through me, that gives me the chance to feel and to heal. It is their quiet solidarity and support, rather than their judgementalism, their cold distance or their psychobabble, which gives me strength to dig more deeply into my resilience. Expressing their love through their desire to be as uncomfortable, destroyed, distraught and upset as I was, if only for a week, or an hour, or a few minutes, or even in a tweet, is what helps most. It’s the acknowledgment of the loss and the grief, accompanied by their sympathy and empathy, which makes the difference.
“Grief is woven into the fabric of the human experience. If it is not permitted to occur, its absence pillages everything that remains: the fragile, vulnerable shell you might become in the face of catastrophe.”
When we deny a person the time and space to grieve, we deny them the right to be human and to participate fully in the human experience. It robs them of a small part of their freedom, at the precise moment they’re standing at the crossroads of their greatest fragility, need and despair.
I have no idea how any of this helps a starving artist, but writing it helped one of us. Thank you for indulging me and for your understanding. Thank you most of all for your love.