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.)
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.
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.
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.”