Thursday, September 6, 2012

Life Is Hard. Deal.

Last week was brutal. When someone pointed out that it was only Monday, I wanted to curl up in a little ball and cry. Tuesday was worse. By Wednesday afternoon, I welcomed the tickle in my throat that meant I probably wouldn't be at work the next day. It worked for the day after that, too. Ah, sickness: the gift that keeps on giving.

Possibly the worst part of the week was that the terrible, horrible, no good, very unfair things... weren't happening to me, but to people I was in charge of protecting from said bad things. Which takes empathy to an unhealthy level, compounds it with feelings of frustrating failure, and dumps the whole lot into a cesspool of can't-do-anything-to-make-it-better.

Which is when I look to those wiser than I am.

Many months ago, I followed a link on Twitter to an article that has haunted me to this day. It's an advice column titled How You Get Unstuck, written by Dear Sugar at TheRumpus.net. When my week went south, I spent quite a bit of time trying to find it again. That I was successful was practically the only thing that went right all week. I couldn't remember the site or the title, but I remembered that it had something to do with Sugar and a dead baby. (Yes, that's exactly the kind of week I was having. You can imagine my search terms.) The tweet that led me to it said something along the lines of "it's not what you think." And it isn't.

The column starts out with Dear Sugar's advice to a woman who'd miscarried her baby... and then it talks about a group of teenage girls that the columnist mentored for a year. These girls had lives that would win any pity party you can name. Hands down. The rest of us shouldn't bother showing up to try to match our piddly little problems with what these girls had to overcome.

This is the Dear Sugar logo. Oh, how I searched....
The columnist tried and tried and tried and tried to get help for her charges. But nothing ever happened. Child Protection didn't take them away from their bad homes. The police didn't arrest the 30-year-old lover. There just wasn't funding to handle all the problems, and the teens were left to take care of themselves.

Do yourself a favor and read the entire article, here. It's gritty and the language is rough, but you seriously need to read it. Go now. I'll wait.

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Did you read it? Good.

The most heart-wrenching paragraph comes right after she finally realizes that, no matter how many phone calls she makes, she'll never be able to save these girls from the lives they're living. I'm keeping the original language intact because, let's face it, sometimes four-letter words only begin to describe the screaming wrongness of something:
I told her it was not okay, that it was unacceptable, that it was illegal and that I would call and report this latest, horrible thing. But I did not tell her it would stop. I did not promise that anyone would intervene. I told her it would likely go on and she’d have to survive it. That she’d have to find a way within herself to not only escape the shit, but to transcend it, and if she wasn’t able to do that, then her whole life would be shit, forever and ever and ever. I told her that escaping the shit would be hard, but that if she wanted to not make her mother’s life her destiny, she had to be the one to make it happen. She had to do more than hold on. She had to reach. She had to want it more than she’d ever wanted anything. She had to grab like a drowning girl for every good thing that came her way and she had to swim like fuck away from every bad thing. She had to count the years and let them roll by, to grow up and then run as far as she could in the direction of her best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by her own desire to heal.
As writers, we spend a lot of time torturing our characters. We laugh about it, tweet about it, and gleefully rub our hands together as we plan new ways to tear them down. This is not because we hate our characters--it's because we love them and we love the readers who might learn, through reading our stories, that awful things can be overcome. We don't tear them down for the sake of watching them squirm, but to build them back up. Better. Stronger. We writers love nothing more than to take a spineless character and whip all the weak out of him. To make her crawl so we can teach her to fly.

And the sad reality is, art reflects life. It wouldn't realistically work for our characters if it didn't work the same way in real life.

Which means that brutal weeks are necessary for us. They prevent us from becoming spineless whiners. And, like our characters, and like the girls in the Dear Sugar column, we need to learn to deal. We are not so special that we can escape pain for ourselves. We aren't yet strong enough. We haven't crawled far enough to earn the right to fly.

And we all need to build bridges to our dreams out of our desire to heal.

What about you? You ever think your problems are insurmountable? Try to win pity parties? How's that working for you? :)

11 comments:

  1. I worked in foster care right out of college. It takes a special breed of person to work in that field long-term. I met some of the bravest and kindhearted women (mostly women) social workers. And most of them had a wicked dark sense of humor. the stuff you see is just so horrendous, you have to come up with your own way to cope. There are kids I worked with that I still think about. That advice is sage; the strong ones learned to survive and understand they could build a life better than what their parents had given them. It was heartbreaking, but those teens who got it are the ones I could see making a change and not ending up with their own kids back in the system.

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    1. And those who make it are such a stark contrast to the wimpy kids who think life should be handed to them.

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  2. Sorry you had a rough week. Last August I was in a tough place and several events took place that made me miserable. However, me and my family were all heathy, in a home with plenty of food, and together. Whenever I get down I remind myself that so many people have it much worse than I do. That makes me realize I have no room for complaints. Only to give thanks for the fortunate life that I have been granted. It doesn't make me feel instantly better, but it does allow me to put some perspective on my situation.

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    1. Seriously. I only win pity parties if I'm the only one in the room.

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  3. Wow, thanks for sharing that incredible story. It was so touching.

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    1. You're totally welcome. Isn't it awesome?

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  4. Oh my gosh, what an amazing site! Thanks for sharing. I'll keep those girls in my prayers. As a victim of sexual abuse, I know how it feels. Hate can eat you alive if you let it. It was up to me to stop it as well. Not one responsible adult was there to help, even after I told. And no, that's not okay. But God can turn ANYTHING around and with His help, I'm whole again. When I want to have a pity party for one, I remind myself of those days and know the worst is behind me.

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    1. You're so awesome, Jamie. Just saying.

      And, yeah--hate will eat you alive so much more than it will eat those who deserve it. One of my favorite sayings is that 90% of the people you hate don't know it and the rest don't care.

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  5. I just wanted to say that this was an amazing post that really touched me. Thank you for sharing the article.

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  6. Beautiful post. It reminded me of just how lucky I am. Thank you. :-)

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  7. Oh, Robin, this is a wonderful post! *sniff* And that quote was freakin' awesome.

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