Archives for posts with tag: writing

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” You’ve heard people say it before. You’ve probably said it yourself. Hell, Kelly Clarkson sings so convincingly about it, I almost believe her. But I was thinking about it today, and it’s not true. In fact, it’s almost the opposite. The saying ought to be, “What doesn’t kill you makes you damaged.” Because anything painful enough to hurt that badly usually leaves a mark on your soul that never really goes away. And even if you can cling to the fact that the bad thing that happened to you did not, in fact, “kill you,” you are still walking around with a little hole in your heart that wasn’t there before, like a ticking time bomb, waiting for that hole to reopen or get bigger or eventually strain to the point that it blows a gash in your aorta that makes you tumble down a staircase twenty years later.

That bad thing didn’t make you stronger. It made you damaged. It made you someone who winces at film scenes reminiscent of the bad thing that happened to you. Sure, it might be happening to Sandra Bullock or Leonardo DiCaprio on screen, but all you see is you, and you brush back a tear from the side of your face and try not to let your date see you crying. Every song on the radio becomes a depressing tale in minor chords, and every one of those sad songs is about you, to the point where you become certain that some twisted lyricist from The Fray or whatnot has placed a hidden webcam in your living room – or possibly Morrissey has a GPS tracker on your car. The more damaged you’ve become the more sure you are that the world is conspiring against you. Of course that asshole at the gas station cut you off. Of course that inconsiderate bastard at the store took the parking space you wanted. You have been marked by the universe. Some cosmic force has singled you out to have no luck. Or maybe it turns you into someone who doesn’t believe in happy endings, so you become a self-fulfilling prophecy of romantic break-ups, troubled family relations, lost opportunities, dead-end jobs, pets that run away. You drift through life, carrying that little hole around, damaged from the bad thing that happened to you, and tell the guy at the liquor store, selling you your weekly bottle of Jack Daniels, “hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and he agrees with you and goes back to his endless stream of cigarettes and lottery tickets.

Damaged people are everywhere because everyone gets damaged. Even the silver spoon who got through school with the best girl, the best friends, the best sports team, the easiest life, who never got bullied and somehow never managed to bully anyone else. Even that guy has something. Maybe he didn’t get into the school he had his heart set on. Or maybe his best girl left for the West Coast with her family and never came back. Maybe his mom is battling cancer. Maybe Uncle Bob molested him when he was seven. Everyone’s got something. Everyone has at least one small hole in his heart. If all you have is a tiny pinprick in yours, then good for you. I mean it. You’ve either had remarkable luck or managed a tremendous accomplishment. If you’ve been able to walk outside every day of your life, thrust your fragile body into the seething hive that is humanity and make it back to your safe, benign home, relatively unscathed, year after year after year, I may just have to follow you around as a disciple and start worshipping the ground you walk on as sacred. You are indeed an anomaly.  But if you’re like the rest of us, somewhere along the line someone treated you badly. Someone broke your heart, or maybe your nose, or maybe your spirit. Someone took your dignity, your virginity, your innocence. Someone did something that made you feel like jumping off a bridge or a stage or the edge of a chasm of despair and falling into a bottle of something addictive, or a bevy of unfit partners, or a dark, empty room or a grave. And it either kills you or it doesn’t. And maybe you can look in the mirror and proudly see the person who made it, the person who didn’t die. I do it myself sometimes. And yes, it’s all well and good that something terrible happened and we managed to crawl out the other side of it like a cockroach, able to survive a hydrogen bomb. But there’s a big difference between surviving and enjoying. Between mere existence and supreme contentment, perhaps even happiness – or joy.

Damaged people create more damaged people. And it’s true. Look around you. You know without social statisticians and psychological research methodology that it is indeed true. You hear the neighbors fighting every night, see the kid with the dirty clothes and the empty eyes, have the girlfriend who sleeps with every jackass in town, know a guy who can’t go out for a drink without the night ending in a brawl, a grudge or a bail hearing. No one was born that way. Someone created them. Or a lot of someones. And sure, at some point we become complicit in the creation, adding new layers of paint to that majestic atrocity ourselves. But it takes a village. So how do we heal that hole in our heart, erase the damage, become people not mollified by our mere survival but delighted by our ability to live and thrive? Sorry, guys. We don’t. As long as there have been people, there have been terrible things to do to other people. The only way to stop the cycle is to stop doing terrible things. And as long as people have known this, someone has been around to say “love thy neighbor,” or “practice peace,” or “do unto others,” and it’s all really well-intentioned and extraordinarily reasonable and pretty much agreed upon by virtually everyone. So, remind me – how well has that been working for us lately? Oh, right. Well, at least we’re all in this together.

So, my only advice would be, the next time you look in the mirror – every time you look in the mirror, in fact – try to see not only your face, but that inevitable hole in your heart, and be a little bit kinder to yourself. Then, go out into the world and see not just the faces of those around you but the punctured hearts they carry within their shirts and be a little kinder to them, as well. And when that asshole cuts you off at the gas station or that inconsiderate bastard takes your parking space, see not just a face you feel anger toward, but a heart like a pincushion bursting with holes, and if you can’t feel forgiveness or patience, maybe at least try pity. As for the rest, the ones whose damage has taken them to extremes, that’s a conundrum for another day and another page, but keep in mind, life does not imprint us, other people do. And no, it does not make us stronger. It makes us weaker, like a twisted ankle that constantly twists again at the damaged point or a wound that keeps reopening until it forms a scar that aches for life. But at least it didn’t kill us. And that’s something. Right, Kelly Clarkson?

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My friend Michael and I have been writing a letter to each other almost every business day for the past three years. We take a day off every now and then or write the occasional weekend letter, but you get the picture. You would think that after all that time, we would run out of things to say. Our stories would start repeating themselves. Our topics grow stale. But you would be mistaken. Even when we think we have nothing to share that day, we write those notes – notes that often begin with a statement about how we have nothing to say that day. And ultimately that uninspiring start turns into three or four paragraphs of musings or jokes or personal info or observations about life, at which point we realize, “There’s always something to say.”

That’s why when Michael and I started toying with the idea of writing a blog together, I thought, “Easy. We write a letter a day to each other, and that’s no problem. A blog would just be a continuation of that process.” And then Michael set up this account on WordPress, and posted a charming entry and a gorgeous photo, and basically threw the ball back in my court. “Okay, Edwards, your turn now.” And I sat down in front of my keyboard, to write to my friend, the way I’ve done virtually every day for three years, and…nothing.  So, I stepped away and came back later. Invigorated. Refreshed. Full of things to say. Sat down in front of the keyboard again, and….nothing.

What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I write my letter?

And then it hit me. I write for Michael. Only Michael. Not an audience. Not the public at large. I write personal, intimate, uncensored, snarky, heartfelt, or – often – ridiculous comments meant only for my non-judgmental, infinitely understanding, unshockable, dear friend Michael, who also happens to get all my jokes.  And even though I doubt anyone will be reading this blog – at least, not for while – I know in my heart that I tell Michael things I might not tell anyone else. What if I were to expose my innermost thoughts and the details of my life to a world of people who may use that life as fodder for callous chat strings and other assorted atrocities?

As someone with a degree in Creative Writing/Poetry, I realized I was making the classic poet’s mistake. I was censoring myself. I would have to find the bravery to write the kinds of things I would normally write to Michael on any given day, unselfconsciously put those thoughts to paper, and hope for little or no fallout. I’m not a big fan of consequences. You’ll learn that about me. But on the other hand, my life is not poetry. Far from it. And some details need to be tempered (if only to protect the innocent….or guilty, as the case may be). So, yes, the people in my life will appear in my blog. They make frequent appearances in my letters to Michael and I think I’ve represented them well. But…those of you who have done things to me that I may not have liked very much can rest assured that I will not be using my new-found blogging power to exact my revenge on you. At least not while using your real name. (Case in point: if I dated you and your name was John Smith, I would not be so unkind as to refer to you in my blog as Jack Smyth or Ron Smith, or Bob Jones. See what I mean? Much too easy to decipher. I would probably just call you “that douchebag” or something harder to match up with a name). Yes, I’m kidding. I don’t think that way about any of my past relationships except for one, and that was so long ago he might be dead for all I know.

At least, one can only hope.

So, that last comment is more indicative of the style of writing Michael and I often use with each other. I’m very formal today, trying to wrap my head around the dichotomy between the desire to share and the need for privacy. But on a good day, Michael and I throw caution to the wind and no topic is taboo, no comment is beyond the realm of propriety, and no personal detail is too emotionally charged to share. On the other hand, no joke is too infantile, no bodily function too inappropriate, and no pissy venting beyond our capacity. You know what I just realized? Sure, I’m fond of readers and I like the attention, but honestly, I don’t care if anyone reads this blog.

As long as Michael does.

But we’ve had a lot of chuckles over the past three years thinking of how our last names, put together, sound like a stodgy, old Yankee firm.  Alas, we couldn’t sell our services as general know-it-alls, which is our shared and cardinal aptitude.  Really!  We’re naturals at solving most any problem, musing over details, and creating something of beauty (or at least something organized) out of chaos.

But what we concluded over the past three years of friendship is we have kept up a robust letter-writing discipline through Goodreads.com, posting letters to each other almost every business day; and it has been a most rewarding daily activity.  Naturally we find ourselves to be terribly clever and insightful so it seemed only right to share ourselves and our keen intellectual powers and creativity with the great masses.

But seriously, we agreed to challenge each other to take our writing to a new level – to broaden our sense of audience.  We hope this blog will demand an even higher level of effort (perhaps quality?) from us.

So here goes…

Oh, and I’m Michael and she’s Deborah.  You’ll see multiple posts from both of us.