Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What Mysterious Cruelty

"What mysterious cruelty in the human soul, to have invented despair as a sin!" - Joyce Carol Oates, NY Times, July 25, 1993, "The One Unforgivable Sin"

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In her article, Ms. Oates defends despair against the totalitarianism of the Catholic Church. Despair is "inward, and thus independent" of the strictures of the Church's power structure.

She goes on to speak of the literature of despair - Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville and Franz Kafka all appear and she points to their works as proof of the illuminating power of despair, the transcendence of despair.

Except she misses the underlying truth: though their works were despairing, though their lives may have been frought with despair, each of these writers took up a pen against that despair. They may have chronicled the arc of human desperation, but they worked, they created, they pushed back against their despair and said, "Enough."

The fucked life is one that does not push back, that does not create, that does not use the raw material of despair, or longing, or love, or joy, or fatigue or anything that a human can feel and transform it, make it into something new, convert it into meaning. If only for themselves.

When I speak of creation I do not mean the arts, though that is one expression of it. No, creation, creating, the act of making something is not limited to the ghetto of artistic expression. Anything that you do can be made meaningful by your approach to it, by your willingness to provide meaning - even in those places, especially in those places where there is none.

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Many years ago I cobbled together a short film - about 4 minutes long. I knew nothing of how to do it, but it was done, and from that moment to this I have counted those four minutes as the most precious in my life. I pushed myself four minutes away from meaninglessness, helplessness and hopelessness. Those four minutes got me work in the film industry where I worked for almost 10 years. It is where I met a woman who would become my wife, and through her I now am the father of four children and the owner of a divorce so craven it curdles milk inside cows. Four minutes were the push back against nothingness and the ripeness of life was my reward.

What mysterious cruelty in the human soul that accepts despair and counts it an honor.

No, despair must be used to build meaning. Frankl asked if he and his fellow inmates in the Nazi concentration camps were worthy of their suffering. To be worthy of your suffering is the transformation of despair into meaning, of death into life.

Find that thing, your four minutes, and push away from the wasteland. Every act of resistance, every act of creation is a repudiation of despair. My four minutes are now counted with each word.

Unfuck your life. Build and see what follows.


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