I feel very intense and I want to make things. I feel so much desire and energy inside that wants to explode, get out. What then, if I don’t know what to do with it? Nothing I do feels quite right.
What is it that I want to say? I want to say that I am surrounded by beauty. I am feeding on a thousand tiny joys. At night, as darkness chases the light back into its bulb, I lay under a heavy blanket and I pull my love close. I place my jaw at an uncomfortable angle that I’m pretty sure gives me a neck ache, just to be able to push my face into his back, between two scapulae. I drool profusely, which gives me a dry patch of skin at the corner of my mouth. Love is not the same as prettiness.
Every night, I read Perdido Street Station by China Miéville. Every night I get to visit the terrifying world of New Crobuzon, amazed at the alien species that live there and the morbid psychic monsters that haunt its streets. A couple of years ago I went through an unhappy, accidental period when I only read non-fiction and it almost ended me. Reading literature now is pure joy. I thank all the writers that were and will ever be. I own a beautiful pair of new glasses. They are hexagonal with a thin, gold rim. Every time I look in the mirror I admire them. The gasteria maculata that was completely brown and on the brink of death a few years ago is growing chunky leaves and aggressively reaching beyond the edges of the shelf that houses it.
I am having to limit myself to checking the news once per day, for a few minutes only. I want to know, but a need to know quickly turns into a morbid curiosity. My imagination joins in and soon I am drowning in a swirling sludge of images, emotions and analyses of despair and suffering. In Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning I read how ‘suffering is similar to the behavior of a gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.’ I agree. But also, several contradictory things can be true at the same time. Beauty and joy can also behave like a gas.
Still, I feel like a long list of beautiful things sounds mundane and not enough, while one single item of suffering easily fills a room. For beauty, for joy, our standards are brutally high. I want to make some effort to lower them, bit by bit throughout the day, every day. The harder it is to breathe for all the suffering, the more I want to search for and pay very careful attention to everything beautiful, kind, joyous. It’s most vitally important!
Alok Vaid-Menon proposed that ‘love comes from inconvenience. Love doesn’t come from convenience. The people who love us are the people willing to be inconvenienced by us.’ I agree. I wonder if maybe beauty also comes from inconvenience. Maybe the people that are able to find beauty are the ones willing to be inconvenienced by it.
And still, suffering smells so familiar. I know and respect it way too deeply to even try to prevent its expansion within my spaces. I allow it to fill out the chambers as much as it wants to. Pain is real just as joy or beauty is real. And they can all exist simultaneously, occupying the same spaces. The same people. My gasteria maculata sits right beside another, nameless succulent that is slowly dying, stubbornly refusing all attempts at help.
People come to me when they struggle. It’s my job. They are going through all manner of hardship, and all I can bring to the proverbial video chat table are my ears and presence and compassion. It’s not enough. But, if done well, the following is possible: between you and me we make a space where you can place the things that are difficult and confusing, that are weighing on you. We put those things between us one by one and walk around them, turn them over, look at them from various angles. We get to know illness, loss, panic, boredom. We might be lucky and you might realise the things are not as scary, not as massive as you thought. At the very least, they can never be bigger than you. How could they be, if you were the chamber that contained them?