Decoding suffering

If you suffer, and you will (because who doesn’t?), then do it successfully, according to both Marcel Proust and Alain de Botton. It’s not the easiest thing in the world. Drenched in sorrows, it’s easier of course to stay in bed, jump off a bridge than write a philosophy book. If you plan on ending your suffering once and for all (through say, setting yourself on fire, or drowning yourself in the bath tub), then fine, don’t try and get creative with how to ache. But if you’re not, you might as well use suffering to your benefit, either by creating a blog to tell about your experience, writing songs that breaks people’s hearts as yours have once been broken, becoming a motivational speaker, researching your pain and what it means, being inquisitive about life and the ‘big questions,’ whatever, the choices are endless. Proust chose to write books.

Proust was often sick, was unlucky in love and romantically pessimistic, un-comprehended by friends, over-protected by his mother, ignored by his father, had a failed career in theatre, but all this, if anything, has made him sensitive to the pains of others, and most importantly creative. He wrote: “A little insomnia is not without its value in making us appreciate sleep, in throwing a ray of light upon that darkness. An unfailing memory is not a very powerful incentive to study the phenomenon of memory.” According to de Botton, “Proust’s suggestion is that we become properly inquisitive only when distressed. We suffer therefore we think, and we do so because thinking helps us to place pain in context. It helps us to understand its origins, plot its dimensions, and reconcile ourselves to its presence. It follows that ideas that have arisen without pain lack an important source of motivation.”

Proust says, “Happiness is good for the body, but it is grief which develops the strengths of the mind.” He adds: “A woman whom we need and who makes us suffer elicits from us a whole gamut of feelings far more profound and more vital than does a man of genius who interests us.”

I know what he means. During a bout of depression, I wrote a short screenplay that I still think could be developed and could perhaps stand a chance on screen in one of those days. When I’m grieving, my head is usually full of ideas that wouldn’t have otherwise crossed my mind. I can guarantee that most stories, poetry and songs that touched us hide wells of pain.

But what a price!

And this comes to mind when I remember tales of genius marred by conflict, manic-depression, drug use, unhealthy obsessions, suicide, heart-break and chronic grief. Virginia Woolfe, Antoine de Saint-Exupery (without his explosive on-again-off-again relationship with Consuelo, world war, loneliness, perhaps the Little Prince would not have come out), Hemingway, Picasso, Mozart, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and if you will, Kurt Cobain and Eminem (sorry, but his songs get to me).

This leads me to a question that I have asked many times before: do we have to suffer in order to rise? Is it the old story of dying on the cross in order to transcend our ego and flesh, and become gods?

But that’s not what de Botton means of course. I’ve strayed a bit here. I believe his argument is, if you’re suffering anyway, you might as well learn, grow and create as you do. He says, “The moral? To recognize that our best chance of contentment lies in taking up the wisdom offered to us in coded form through coughs, allergies, social gaffes, and emotional betrayals.”

In addition, now in the words of Proust himself, “Griefs, at the moment when they change into ideas, lose some of their power to injure our heart.”

Listening to Abbady Al Johar here (not for the broken-hearted or the distraught, lyrics beautiful tho) there, there, and there. This too (lyrics here) and finally this very heartfelt song (and words).
Mood: sombre

Recommended:
Alain de Botton’s On Love/Essays In Love
Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life

They dance on my paper …

One of my drawings, this one didn't dance though. She flew!

I’m holding a shiny sword
I’m talking to three people
One of them I haven’t met since college
And two others who change faces
All of which I thought I forgot
I’m drawing figures but they’re already there
On paper
Already there
Dancing on paper
Dancing for me
Challenging me to pin them down and draw them again
I see them, I see them
And that’s why I think I can draw them with perfection

My mind tells me to write
Write what’s already there
On the paper with the drawings, dancing for me
And I see them, I see the words
And they’re already written
And that’s what my mind tells me
It tells me not to invent
But to copy the form
And to follow the form
And to forget that there is pen, that there’s paper
Only what’s already there for me to pencil and write

It’s a trick, my mind taught me a trick
And it was during sleep
Oh, it was in a dream

Now I remember the figures with hoods
And the robes
And the staffs
Dancing for me
Daring me to put my pen down
And find them
Daring me to change them
Daring me to think for my own
And I put my pen down to follow the lines
And they dance
And they dance
But I follow the lines

The voice in my head tells me to ignore it
Ignore the inventor
And become a god of lines
A god who follows the lines
As they twitch
As they switch
As they run from each other
As they rage
As they change
As they dance
Yes, they dance
On my paper

(I wrote it in 2009, after several attempts at trying to draw several comic book characters, as I saw them in my head, and failing. One night after giving up on the pen, I dreamt that someone was telling me -perhaps it was my Voice- to just follow the lines that are already there, to follow the form, to imagine that my characters were already there on paper and that I was just tracing them like kids do to learn drawing. I decided to try this the next morning. It didn’t work, but it produced this silly poem, which I like.)