Our Deepest Fear

I am a teacher, specifically college, mainly freshmen, most of whom are the same age as my son, and they are all beginning a journey I am honored to help them navigate.

Something happened at the end of one of my classes the other day, and I was as stunned as I was not, and that was, young people came forward raw with pain, in tears, one who had missed class last week due to a suicide attempt and subsequent hospitalization.

In the past couple years, two of my relatives have attempted suicide, my son’s best friend has attempted suicide, more than a dozen students have come to me and confessed they struggle with mental health issues and have contemplated and/or attempted suicide.

People are suffering.

Philosophers believe suffering is self imposed. We choose to suffer.

I do not disagree.

Often times, as artists for example, we choose to examine and explore that suffering, to make sense of it, to exorcise it, and in the process, become bogged down in it.

Overwhelmed.

If someone does something terrible to us, sexual assault, for instance, we are often in a position of helplessness. We cannot control the external force. We can try. But usually, all we are left with is our reaction. What we do with it.

Science proves our brains are not done developing until we hit age twenty-five, specifically the part of the brain responsible for impulse control, the part of our brain that is ancient and reactive, our Amygdala or “Lizard Brain.” I cannot help but wonder how social media lends itself to impulsivity and obsessiveness, which can lead to isolation and depression. Certainly, social media lends itself to social comparisons, which are deadly, especially for young people. Likewise, the social media creators themselves have admitted they created a monster, one which they designed to render us addicted to the “likes,” instant gratification, little dopamine hits. (A pleasure drug our brain manufactures.)

Online pornography also lends itself to impulsivity and obsessiveness, in other words, addiction, not to mention isolation, self absorption, and depression. Likewise, pornography lends itself to social comparisons. Wait. I don’t look like that. I don’t sound like that. I don’t act like that. Am I supposed to look, sound, act like that? Young people are impressionable. They are also vulnerable because their brains aren’t finished.

Before  anyone gets worked up here, I read the book, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask, readily available in my father’s library at thirteen; I read a buttload of Harold Robbins novels at sixteen; I had discovered my grandfather’s collection of Playboy magazines, which yes, intiated a life long struggle with “social comparison,” before the age of twelve, and by nineteen, I had seen my first porn. This explicit cinematic tidbit struck me as weird but mesmerizing. I watched it then shut it off and went about my business, if you know what I mean. Mainly, I relied on my imagination. I am a writer. I have a vivid imagination. Have always preferred to use my brain rather than hook it into a 24/7 IV drip. I think that is my point. Something about imagination versus a 24/7 cinema, something about limited access versus a 24/7 IV drip.

Nothing about “limited access” applies to pornography now. One click. Welcome to PornHub. Millions of videos. More. More. More. A literal never-ending supply that children can access if they have an electronic device. Phone. Tablet. Laptop.

I have never been to PornHub. My son has. My students have. A female student revealed her boyfriend showed her PornHub, wanted to try some of the stuff he saw there, and while she was uncomfortable with his request, she did not want to come across a prude. Same student revealed her boyfriend was “way too into porn,” used it everyday, and that most guys admitted using porn “Like, way too much.” They can’t stop. They are not supposed to, as PornHub has done everything possible to keep them coming back for more, longer, weirder, and often times more misogynistic, more racist, more violent. Subsequently, several female students have revealed to me that Snap Chat is rife with unsolicited “dick pics.” Apparently, young men these days deem this gesture “seduction.” Look at my dick. You didn’t ask to see it. Maybe don’t want to see it. But look at it. Look.

Honestly, what happened to flowers? Chocolate? Love songs? Poetry? Foreplay?

What happened to conversation?

I am not anti-sex or anti-sexuality or even anti-erotic. I have written an enormous amount of erotic fiction. Sex is beautiful. Children are curious. But while parents continue to resist comprehensive sex education in schools, our twelve-year old children are over at PornHub. And. Seriously? PornHub is a credible and compassionate teacher?

Bill Maher blames our current state of misery, specifically in young people, on the “Self Esteem Movement.” No one fails anymore. Meaning, no one can handle failure anymore. Everybody gets a trophy, regardless, so why try? I am entitled. Give it to me.

Believe me. Self entitlement is rampant in college. Among college students.

I am showing my students the Bill Maher video this semester. We will discuss the difference between self esteem and self compassion. They will write about the difference. We are also reading a poem this week by Marianne Williamson called “Our Deepest Fear,” which a character from a 2005 sports drama called Coach Carter recites to his coach in response to the question, “What are you most afraid of?”

Williamson suggests our own potential terrifies us most.

She also suggests we are most frightened by our light not our darkness.

Our world conditions us to misery. Look around. The more empty we feel, the stronger our impulse to fill ourselves with crap. Our “Lizard Brain” hooked up to its 24/7 drip.

 

“Pornography is as much a celebration of sex as gluttony is a celebration of food.”

Matt Fradd

The Curse That is a Gift That is a Curse That is a Gift That is a

If a person intends to kill herself, you will not know.

A suicidal person serious about her intentions will kill herself, finished. No warning. No phone call. No tweet. No Facebook status. No blog post.

She may leave behind a suicide note. She may snail mail thirteen cassette tapes to thirteen people explaining how they contributed to her death, which is a dirty rotten trick, if you ask me, and selfish, but suicide is selfish, vindictive even.

Fantasies are not so much selfish as self-indulgent. Suicide attempts are a cry for help. Suicide fantasies are self indulgent. Melodrama adds a gauzy-gold sheen.

Misery is a cinch. Misery takes zero effort. You slip your feet into misery like a pair of old slippers. There. Misery is contagious. Misery loves company. Misery brings everyone down. Happiness is difficult. Happiness requires monumental effort. Conscious effort. You don’t slip your feet into happiness like a pair of old slippers because you misplaced those slippers eons ago and have to hunt for them now.

Where are my goddamn slippers?

I know a lot of miserable people. Especially in literature. Especially among writers. When I was in college, one of my writing mentors said writers wrote because they were dissatisfied with life, and I embraced that philosophy.

I am dissatisfied with life.

Ghandi said be the change you want to see in the world.

As a writer, I have addressed many of the things I see as wrong in the world.

(Misogyny, homophobia, racism, poverty, sexual assault, sexual molestation, rape, child abuse, narcissism, the patriarchy, capitalism, greed.)

On

and

on

and

on.

For years, I have believed I would change the world three ways.

1.) Cultivate and nurture a kind and thoughtful son.

2.) Cultivate and nurture kind and thoughtful students.

3.) Cultivate and nurture the most emotionally honest prose possible.

All three my legacy, my immortality wish, the change I want to see in the world.

(Psychology term, “generativity.”)

My ex used to say he never worried about anything he could not control, which I decided explained why everything he wrote felt superficial, easy? I urged him to dig deeper. He suggested I dug too deep and ought to spend less time with pain and suffering. He was satisfied. Content. The world, he agreed as a straight White male, was his oyster. Neither of us were “right” in regards to our approach to artistic expression. But I could get as shitty about his lack of suffering as he could about the every looming presence of mine. We often came off as feeling superior to one another.

I am grand because I suffer.

I am grand because I do not.

The world gets off on suffering. Yours. Mine. Ours. We got off watching Jesus pay for our sins. The First Great Spectacle of Suffering. Live. See it here.

Cry.

Cringe.

Swoon.

Sin.

Jesus saved you.

Elizabeth Wurtzel suggested while we cannot chose what happens to us, we can chose how we feel about it. Philosophers believe all suffering is self imposed.

We choose to suffer.

Did Jesus choose to nail himself to a cross? To cook in barbecue-level heat and bleed while the vultures, I mean human spectators, congregated below to gawk, forks in hand? Open for debate. Anyway, just a story, an allegory, right? Point is, someone does something terrible to you. External force. You choose how to respond. Internal force.

You might choose victimhood. You might choose advocacy.

You might chose kindness, forgiveness. You might choose cruelty, vengeance.

We know which Jesus chose.

I saw a picture of Kurt Cobain the other day. Someone had photoshopped angel wings on his back. Cobain once said, “Thank you for the pain. I need it for my art.”

Imagine we could return Kurt Cobain to his daughter—happy, healthy, and whole—but in exchange, we had to erase every angst-riddled word he ever wrote, every song, every piece of art, his band, Nirvana, the entire “grunge movement.” Would you?

Imagine we could return Sylvia Plath to her daughters—happy, healthy, and whole—but in exchange we had to erase The Bell Jar, every last word of poetry, “Sow,” “Daddy,” and “Lady Lazarus,” her entire poetic legacy. Would you?

Were these two people great artists because they were miserable, or were they miserable because they were great artists? How paramount is suffering to art?

Suffering, we get off on it.

A poet friend once told she refused to speak with a therapist because there went her entire body of work. In graduate school, one of my mentors asked, “If it doesn’t hurt, why are you writing it?” Ehud Havazelet made us imagine we had done terrible things, the worst things imaginable, then write those things down. Imagine them. Transcribe them. Confront them. Hurt. At the time, the worst thing I could imagine doing was hitting my son. That was the least good time I ever had as a writer. Just the thought.

It hurt. The picture I composed for myself, hitting my son, lashing out at my baby. Through imagination, I had an experience that led to self-discovery, but also emotional empathy, and along with that, enlightenment. What is personal, even imagined, becomes universal, which is the gift of art.

But maybe I am elevating the experience.

Romanticizing art.

You could change Cobain’s quote around.

“Thank you for the art. I need it for my pain.”

Last night, I entertained an elaborate fantasy then woke thinking, “My life sucks,” to which I reached for a spiral bound notebook I now store under my pillow then began to journal all the reasons why my life does not suck, and for this moment, it does not.

 

“We are human. Unlike other creatures, we live in narrative. We are conscious. If you make up the right story, it will be so. I feel that if something is happening to me, it must be a good thing, so cancer must be a blessing. 

I am like that. I am excited to be alive.”

Elizabeth Wurtzel

 

 

The Edge

Then there was the time we hiked to Liberty Cap. We had water and sunshine. Red dirt and cactus. Wildflowers. Bushes to pee behind. He often reached behind him to keep me from falling on my ass. Later, at a plateau, we sat side-by-side, a practical distance from the edge. We had a breeze. We had the view. We had the moment. We held hands.

That was before New Year’s Eve.

The ball dropped.

Along with that practical distance.