Tag Archives: hope

Just A Poet

Who I am is who I was made to be, and that’s OK.

I am starting this sentence with “I” because I write a lot about “I.” Perhaps it’s self-indulgent or maybe pathological. I don’t know. I’m just a poet.

Who I am is who I was made to be, and that’s OK.

A double reading here: (1) the fact that I am who I was made to be is OK; (2) I am who I was made to be, and I was made to be OK.

Let’s assume both are true. Still, how shall we define “OK”?

Who I am is who I was made to be, and that’s OK.

Does OK = average? Am I average? Perhaps. Compared to whom? Is average a bad thing? Am I an average guy? An average poet?

Who I am is who I was made to be, and that’s OK.

“OK,” in a broader sense, means something like: “There’s nothing wrong with me.” But here we’re saying what I am not, which is fine, but—compared to what I am—there are many things I am not.

Who I am is who I was made to be, and that’s OK. A teacher suggested I commit this line to memory. I did but I didn’t believe it. Perhaps she knew.

Who I am is who I was made to be, and that’s OK.

A step further: If I was made to be who I am, then who made me?

We’re getting into God territory here and we must tread lightly.

“Lightly.” God is called “almighty,” and this is fine, but right now I want to write: “God is lightly.” God exists lightly. The world—gravity, even—exists lightly.

What the world is, is what the world was made to be, and that’s OK.

A step further: Who God is, is who God was made to be, and that’s OK.

But, we’re told, nothing made God, so how does God, without a creator, know God?

Perhaps through my suffering. Perhaps through my hope.

Does God need me to know God?

I don’t know. I’m just a poet.

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Possibilities For Communion

Matthew Ratcliffe, in Experiences of Depression: A Study in Phenomenology, provides the most accurate description of depression I’ve ever read. For the depressed person:

“The practical significance of things is somehow diminished; they no longer offer up the usual possibilities for activity. Associated with this, there may be a sense of impossibility; possibilities appear as ‘there but impossible to actualize.’ There can also be a sense of estrangement, as possibilities that are inaccessible to self appear as ‘accessible to others with little effort.’ Other people might continue to offer possibilities for communion, but these possibilities appear at the same time as ‘impossible for me to take up.’ Together, these alterations in the possibility space constitute a feeling of isolation, which is experienced as irrevocable because depression does not include a sense of its own contingency. The resultant estrangement from the world amounts to a change in the sense of reality and belonging—things no longer appear available; they are strangely distant, not quite ‘there’ anymore. Certain kinds of possibility may also be heightened. A world that no longer offers up invitations to act can at the same time take the form of an all-enveloping threat, before which one is passive, helpless and alone. Hope, practical significance and interpersonal connection are not just gone. Their loss is very much part of the experience; it is felt.” (71)

Ratcliffe argues that most people see the world (without thinking about it) as a possibility space open to practical actions and meaningful projects. The depressed person inhabits a different world altogether, even as she stands before us in the same room. Her depression precedes her experience of being present in the world.

It’s not a matter of losing one’s hopes; the depressed person lacks a capacity to hope for any meaningful life at all. She is estranged from the world of non-depressed people for whom possibilities appear “accessible with little effort.” The possibility of believing in possibility itself feels impossible.

Hers is an altered world marked by inhibition and indecision in which she feels inextricably trapped. Her future is not her own, and she is “passive, helpless and alone” before it. Good things won’t happen for her; only bad things will happen to her.

What does all this mean? Why did I choose this passage?

While Ratcliffe’s detailed analysis of depression helps me understand my illness, I wrote this post for people who don’t know how awful depression feels. I hope my blog offers possibilities for communion regarding an illness millions of people across the world know all too well but often lack the words to describe.

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Hide And Seek Truth

In Please Follow Me, Jean Baudrillard sees a familiar game in a new light.

“Consider one of life’s original situations: that of a hide and seek game. What a thrill to be hidden while someone’s looking for you, what a delightful fright to be found, but what a panic when, because you are too well hidden, the others give up looking for you after a while and leave. If you hide too well, the others forget you. You are forced to come out on your own when they don’t want you anymore. That is hard to take. It’s like turning too fine a phrase, so subtle that you are reduced to explaining it. Nothing is sadder than having to beg for existence and returning naked among the others. Therefore, it’s better not to know how to play too well; it’s better to know how to let others unmask you and to endure the rule of the game. Not too fast, not too late.” (85)

When I was a child, an angry boy masquerading as my best friend bullied and abused me when nobody was looking. For example, after defeating me in a game of basketball, he’d hold me down and call me his bitch. Things only got worse from there.

I learned that it is safer to not play at all—to stay inside and curse the game, resent the players, refuse to participate.

I can’t say if trauma caused my depression, but it certainly didn’t help matters. Whatever its origins, depression is my default state, and my body won’t let me forget it. I’m tired all the time and spend hours in bed, hiding in plain sight.

Still, there’s more to my distress than meets the eye. When life is but a dream, an eight-hour nap is an act of defiance, and I won’t let my family forget it. I play dead for (negative) attention. The sick role suits me (un)well.

Before new people in my life figure out I suffer from depression and anxiety, I end up telling them (by putting myself down or cancelling plans at the last minute) that things “aren’t right” with me. The thought goes: I’m going to fuck things up anyway; I might as well get it over with.

Therefore—playing on Baudrillard’s words—it is better to unmask myself, on my own terms, before others expose me and deem me unlovable.

Take off one mask, and three more appear. In college I wore myself out trying to be the perfect student, the perfect employee, the perfect perfectionist. I gained recognition for my academic achievements but needed others to verify my self-worth. If everyone liked me, then no one would hurt me.

Today I seek validation by composing (and obsessively editing) obscure blog posts that I hope family, friends and digital strangers will find profound. I cite sad philosophers and wounded romantics to demonstrate, poetically, the complexities of living with my depression. And then I write obscure blogs about writing obscure blogs to sound intelligent.

Layers folding into layers, thoughts unfolding into thoughts—my blog is a revelation hiding in plain sight. Under the guise of a wise soul, I use words to cultivate an (in)active being-towards-death. As a philosopher, I always assume the fatal position.

However safe my bubble feels, I can’t live forever in theory. I can’t practice my faith in philosophy without other people.

The chaplain at my mental health clinic told me that everyone needs human connection, but trauma survivors whose trust has been broken need connection even more. Yet out of shame they hide from the world, and no amount of love or support from other people can save them. Survivors must learn to love themselves again.

But hope isn’t easy. Despite the power of positive thinking, it’s hard to flip the script when your reality is inverted. Somersaulting your way through the world is bound to cause vertigo.

In the mind of a child grown up too soon, youth is a weapon. Innocence is self-defense.

An early violation breaks more than the rules.

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Safe Words

Last month I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and I’ve been on medication to treat symptoms that include fatigue, weight gain, depression and general shitty-ness. My mood has improved and there’s a spark in my soul. It’s got me thinking about beauty again.

I spend a great deal of my life maintaining an illusion of control. My room must be in order; my to-do lists must be up-to-date; my schedule for the next three days must be fully spelled out, etc.

BORING.

A life immersed in beauty is the only life worth living. There’s no greater power than submitting to a beautiful song, a beautiful poem, a beautiful play on the baseball field, a beautiful woman shopping in the grocery store. I’m overcome with joy at the thought of what terrible things a gorgeous woman could do to me in private if I just said hello.

So here’s to a break from bleakness and despair. Here’s a YES, an unequivocal HELLO to all that might be, if I gave up control.

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You Have My Word

“But there is a professional obligation for teachers and writers never to abandon hope.” –Sean Cubitt, Simulation and Social Theory (2001) p. 152

A major criticism of Baudrillard concerns the pessimistic nature of his prose. Critics find his cynical perspective blind to the possibility of hope. Cubitt’s quote speaks to Baudrillard’s tendency to describe with a poetic flair the symptoms of our cultural sickness without offering a viable course of treatment beyond letting society implode.

I argue that teaching and writing, as creative activities, are grounded in hope. The subject discussed in the classroom or textbook—be it uplifting or deflating—matters less than the fact that someone is brave enough to float an argument. It’s not the content, but the form of teaching, the form of writing, that deserves our focus.

Baudrillard wrote over thirty books and countless articles. His prolific output indicates an immense faith in the power of writing and its potential to change minds, even as he chastised the masses for caring more about consuming than thinking.

When composing a blog I hope to secure not just readers, but people’s imaginations. In connecting ideas, I’m looking for human connection. When I write about Baudrillard’s notion that we’re beyond transcendence, I realize there isn’t much to cheer about. But in reaching for thoughts that wander off the beaten path, I challenge the world, renewing through its exposition the promise of the written word.

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Edge Of Tomorrow

“Nothing conclusive has yet taken place in the world, the ultimate word of the world and about the world has not yet been spoken, the world is open and free, everything is still in the future and will always be in the future.” –Mikhail Bakhtin

I propel myself into the future full of Desire, Hope and Freedom. Tomorrow is virgin territory, a blank canvas, an open field to unleash urges long suppressed. But, if I’m lucky, there’s a tomorrow after that. My Desire, Hope and Freedom speed ahead, relentless in their pursuit of fulfillment.

Of course there’s a twist. There can be no “fulfillment”; I must carry on knowing that satisfaction is impossible. I have glimpses of contentment, but ultimate relief remains out of sight. The chase proceeds, my body threatens to outrun me. Behind each rush the Craving lies.

The pessimist declares my efforts futile. The optimist insists life would be meaningless if I didn’t try.

 

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Make A Wish

As another birthday approaches, I find myself looking at the big picture. Like everyone else in the world, I’ve suffered through–and survived–some rather terrible things. Some experiences stung more than others. Their intensity and duration often overshadow all those amazingly beautiful moments that seem to fade so fast.

But I can’t allow myself to forget the good or relinquish my hope. Depression, by its nature, doesn’t leave the depressed much room for optimism. There have been many times in which I’ve encountered a challenge and thought, “OK, how am I going to fuck this up?” And then I’d find a way to crumble.

Lately, though, I’ve been working to flip my default switch from negative to positive. After all the pain and sadness I’ve endured, what if tomorrow will be better? What if the worst is over?

Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of strife and heartache with which I’ll have to contend, but I’m now operating under the assumption that the really shitty stuff has passed. And I’m daring myself to accept the possibility that not just a reprieve of suffering lies ahead, but genuine joy. That’s my birthday wish.

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