How do you design a life? I’ve been obsessed by this question lately, wondering exactly what it is I have to do or not do so that my mind can rest, so that I’m satisfied. On the one hand, people will tell you not to let yourself become complacent, but then when you’re not content with your circumstances that’s bad too. I feel sucked dry creatively. For years now, I haven’t been able to find a peaceful rhythm in my writing. My life has grown quiet, stagnant. I don’t mind the quietness exactly. Actually, I prefer it. But the stagnancy can be so anxiety-inducing as to become unbearable. I find myself creating projects I know I won’t stick with because I’m looking for a distraction from the things I want to do, but of which I feel impotent.
Saturday morning I stood at the stove cooking breakfast in silence. Usually, I put on a podcast or an audiobook, but I didn’t have the mental energy to follow along with anything. As I worked, I pained over the problem of my failing creative life. Why couldn’t I write? What was this block? Where had my spirit gone? When I was done, I placed the dirtied frying pan and spatula into the sink and a question sprang into my mind as audibly as if someone had been standing behind me. What interests you? it said. I stared down into the sink, at the plates stacked atop each other, several wine glasses circling them in tribute to a life just as neglected and chaotic. These dishes, I thought, these dishes interest me.
But every time I sit down to write I am haunted by the thought that no one will find what I have to say very worthwhile. It is the same agony I’ve picked at now for years, like a fiery scab. Last night, I was sitting up in bed playing a word game with my mom on my phone, and I had a thought that cracked the thin veneer of apathy I’ve been knitting together for the past year: “God may as well let you die, you’re not doing anything.” What shocked me was not how cruel it had sounded, but how fervently I believed it. I don’t consider myself to be a suicidal person, but the hatred I felt at my own mind was piercing. But then I wondered, how am I to know any better? We are not raised in this world to be kind, we are raised in this world to survive. When a horse is lame, for instance, or a dog has gone mad, you might issue a mercy killing. In that moment, I had failed myself completely, because I thought it would be easier to give up, to be put out of my misery.
I don’t write any of this lightly, but I don’t write it gravely either. I still have a sense of myself that is bright with future and longing. However, I don’t want to skirt past my weaknesses. I believe that in exposing vulnerability we build knowledge and authority—knowledge and authority for others to use as stepping stones, that is, not to dominate or belittle. It does not escape me that perhaps I struggle to write anything solid because I haven’t been completely honest with myself, so that when I write it is like a child who says what they think they’re supposed to say rather than what they truly believe or know. And maybe that’s the problem. I’ve distanced myself from God for reasons I’m not even entirely conscious of, and in so doing have robbed myself of any chance at growth.
I jump to him because he is the source of every ailment and happiness. If he created good, he also created the possibility for evil, and so I’ve come to understand that it is not my responsibility to prevent suffering but to design a life that behaves as an antidote to it. I will continue to be knocked down, but I certainly don’t have to stay there, and yet, I don’t have to push myself back up either. Usually, we have to sit with our suffering to build strength, and everybody sits differently. Writing is my antidote, writing is what I do when I sit and suffer. So many times I have built myself back up this way, and so many times I have fallen back down again, and so many times I have crouched in pain as though there is nothing I can do to help myself, until I realize that there is.
My point is that it’s okay to be wounded, it’s okay to need time, but don’t let yourself believe you are beyond hope, without tools, undeserving of compassion, especially your own. Christian teachings love to make us feel that we’re unworthy of God. But God is who made us, and “in his image,” after all. If we are not worthy of him, then what is?
Guilt is productive only as far as it connects us to our humility, but beyond that it is crippling and serves no one, a passive emotion that leads only to self-pity. There are things that are your fault and there are things of which you are innocent, and sopping guilt hinders our ability to deal with either. It did not occur to me until now that I struggle to write because I feel guilty about something, and until I figure out what that is and why that is–in essence, until I write my way into this discovery, until I acknowledge that writing is how I deal with this, how to heal myself–then my suffering will be wasteful, useless pain.