In The Desert
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
who, squatting upon the ground,
held his heart in his hands,
and ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
because it is bitter,
and because it is my heart.”
I’ve been called negative more times than I care to count. If I respond by pointing to the experiences that contribute to my so-called negativity, I’m told the reverse is the case, that it’s my attitude that caused the experiences rather than the other way around. Nothing makes me crazier.
These same people who complain of my alleged negativity will, at the first opportunity, get me alone in a corner and pour out every detail of their mother’s recent death. Or their boss’s death eighteen years ago. Or their ongoing guilt about going to Canada during Vietnam to escape the draft . They know I’m probably the only person in the room who’ll listen.
They’re wrong: I do not want to hear their war stories, much less their death stories—I’ve got enough of my own. Yet I listen, or pretend to, while smirking and seething inside: what they call negativity isn’t. Rather, it’s an openness to the dark side of life, up to and including death, a willingness to acknowledge sadness and grief. Too often, it seems, this goes one way only: when I stupidly assume these people will reciprocate and listen to my pain, they attack me. Or abandon me. I’m such a drag, I bring them down, it’s no wonder I attract so much tragedy. I say, It’s no wonder I’m bitter.
(A relatively minor sample incident: I once went on a disastrous camping trip with a former friend. It rained mercilessly throughout the first night, and in the morning she freaked out: other friends were coming to join us, and she was afraid the rain would ruin the whole weekend. When I concurred and voiced similar misgivings, she got pissed off at me for ‘creating anxiety.’)
Listen up, people: Dark cannot exist without light. It’s all yin and yang. The positive cannot exist without the negative, and if you ask me, our world is seriously imbalanced. The overwhelming atmosphere, at least in this culture, is of non-stop insipid cheerleading: in the face of unspeakable horror, tragedy, and suffering, everyone’s shouting rah-rah-sis-boom-bah. The soundtrack of our culture is a kind of cheerleading syndrome, evident in self-help books, inspirational “news” stories, and everyday conversation. It’s our round-the-clock background noise. We’ll only listen to someone’s problems if they maintain an optimistic attitude, only pay attention to horrible situations if they do something heroic with them—help others, or write a book about god. For those who admit their nightmare’s a bummer we have nothing but contempt. We adored Christopher Reeve (and I did too) while ignoring the wheelchair riders on the streets of Berkeley.
Why is it bad and wrong for a person who, let us say, has random seizures, undergoes brain surgery, suffers worsening brain damage, and lives in isolation–why is it wrong for this person to cry, or be angry, or feel sorry for himself? The unlucky ones do have a right to sing the blues.
According to received opinion, everyone has been, or will be, touched by tragedy. But I’ve noticed it ain’t necessarily so, that some people live charmed lives without even knowing it. As Paul Simon sang, Some folks’ lives roll easy. I’ve met those folks with the easy rolling lives. They put me down more than anyone.
Why am I writing this? Why do I persist in blogging about heavy, painful topics? Shouldn’t blogging be entertaining? How dare I bring all this up one week before Xmas! What a Grinch! What a party pooper.
I’m writing this because I’ve had it, I tell you, I’m just plain sick of it. Any day now I’m going to morph into the female version of Gregory House, M.D. Better yet, I’ll stock up on copies of Candide and give them to the next few idiots who accuse me of being negative. Go ahead—MAKE MY DAY.