Monday, 30 April 2012

Pollyanna vs Goth

In the Romance Writer’s Report last month, there’s an article about using your pain as a source of creativity.  It talks about how you can use your personal experience to make your character’s experiences (and by extension, your readers’) deeper and richer.  I won’t be arguing any of those points.  Art is one of the ways you can transmute pain into something meaningful.

However, there was a lot of talking about looking on the positive side and seeing silver linings and the rest.  Therein squats the toad of my problem.

I believe that encourage people to find the positive side of obstacles, difficulties and tragedies can be an important part of the recovery process.  But not while dealing with the event or challenge itself.

I think we’re too quick to dismiss pain and sadness.  We want it safely banished away from our comfortable lives.  We don’t like seeing people we care about in pain and so we push them to lock away their negative feelings so that we can feel better.

I’ve undergone grief counseling at various points in my life and one observation struck me.  We teach people how to do the Heimlich maneuver so they can save someone’s life, even though the vast majority of people will never need that training.  But we don’t teach people how to be there for someone who is in pain, who has been diagnosed with a frightening disease, who is going through a divorce or is dealing with a death.  Everyone knows someone who has gone through one of those things and possibly all of the above.  But there are very few resources to help you learn what is helpful and what isn’t.

Seeing someone who is in justified pain is awful.  We feel awkward, not wanting to make things worse.  Because we don’t know what to say, we end up avoiding the person in question, isolating them at a time when they need all the support they can get.  Or worse, we spit out clichés about God’s plan or finding silver linings.  Almost anyone who has been on the receiving end of those can tell you how hurtful they are.

Maybe instead of being Pollyanna and playing the Glad Game to find the positive in tragedy, we ought to take a lesson from the Goth community.  Granted, I’m not saying bad poetry about how awful life is and how your parents don’t understand you is actually any better.  But they’re facing the pain and rather than turning away, they acknowledge that it sucks.  It just flat out sucks.

Pain hurts.  Having to suppress your pain hurts even more.  Eventually you can reach through to the other side and then you can start to find the meanings and interpretations which will let you process the pain into your life.  But you can’t do it until you get to the other side.  So be gentle with yourself, let yourself listen to sad music and wallow for awhile in the colossal unfairness of the universe.

And if you write some bad poetry bashing your parents, I won’t tell anyone.

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