Tag Archives: pain

Flickering Joy

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. October looks at humility.

“Find a place inside where there is joy, and that joy will burn out the pain” (Joseph Campbell)

There is pain inside us, and that is the hard truth of it. We can live with the pain, maybe, but can we live well? Can our families?

Pain is a poison creating more pain and spreading through our secret selves, those parts we consider dark. Joy is the antidote.

A young Veteran on campus asked how he was supposed to relate to the younger students. When I told him that was a good question but that I did not have the answer, he said that nobody does, only excuses. But, he also acknowledged that he had a better chance of relating to them than they to him. After all, he had been young, but they had never faced the fire.

It has taken me several days, but I see the answer to his question in his own acknowledgement.

“You’ve never lived until you’ve almost died. For those who have fought for it, life has a flavor the protected never know.” (Guy de Maupassant)

I remember the second line from a wall in our C-Team compound in Bien Hoa.

The protected cannot know the pain inside us—unless we share it, and that is hard to do, maybe even dangerous. It feels dangerous, like reliving it. Sometimes, it smacks of weakness. Always, it bares the vulnerability of being misunderstood.

We can, however, remember being young. We can find the innocence of our youth, faint as it may be, and reconnect with that. We can find the joy that still lives inside, the joy we knew before we faced the fire.

That is the part of us we can share with the protected. We can connect with them by touching the good things we still remember inside ourselves, flickering lights of joy we tend to hide beneath a bushel of pain.

There came a time when I could not find my joy. I had buried all the pain so deep that when I looked inside, all I found was darkness. A few gifts of humility helped me find my way back home.

Yes, it is a kind of humility to find good things inside ourselves. I know it can feel like betrayal to feel joy in the presence of so much pain in our brothers and sisters. It is not. It is necessary, for it is life.

Sure, we must track down our own pain and face it (but not alone); however, if we are to reconnect with the protected including our own families, we will do well to find the light of our own joy to show us the way back home.

Happy Tracking.

Does Writing Have to Hurt?

Ernest Hemingway has been quoted: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

A cursory search reveals a number of such references to pain and writing. As a journeyman writer, I have a few thoughts on the subject. I am writing about these thoughts in an attempt to place them in some cognitive structure of my muddled mind.

Many past writers of renown seem to have been troubled souls. I cling to a notion that reflection and introspection lead to trouble, and trouble arouses emotions. Many of these emotions hurt, especially if suppressed. They fester into anger and guilt.

Writing is an art form that allows expression of emotions through words on a page (or screen). Fiction is creative expression of emotion with the pretense of being imaginary. The writing of fiction becomes cathartic as suppressed emotions are vented through a narrative medium of characters and literary devices.

Instead of talking about myself, these other guys have this problem. How do they deal with it? In the labor of writing, I also process my own feelings. At least, that’s my journeyman’s hypothesis.

Readers love emotions. We like to identify with characters and partake in vicarious feelings with the detachment of fiction. We temporarily feel the pain of fear, rage, betrayal, and loss only to look up and close the book. I suppose we feel better, but mostly we feel without getting overwhelmed.

My conclusion is that emotions sell books.

The craft is the creation of art that expresses life so that readers can swim in emotions without drowning. The more realistic a story becomes, the deeper the experience (and the danger of drowning). I suggest that is why some readers prefer cozies and fantasies, lest they realize the story is about them. There is comfort in deniability.

Enough of what my friend calls Seventies Psychobabble. Why must the emotions be painful? The honest answer is, because in my case, I’m just not that funny. And, I am not nearly joyful enough.

Essentially, only pain motivates me to sit at the keyboard and bleed. Comedy is a substitute for the bleeding. If I could write humor, I would.

Joy is an emotion. I can, occasionally write that, but I am not motivated because I am comfortable enjoying my own moment. Then, readers seem to seek out their own cathartic “pleasures” in reading material (and other art forms). Joyful people don’t seem to find a need to read joyful material the way perfect melancholy personalities seek painful reads. Blood sells books.

Keep writing, and enjoy the journey (even though painful). It beats most alternatives.