Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Warm and Fuzzy Post, that Isn't

            Thoughts on Chapter 9 of The Artist's Way.  Part nine of twelve on creativity.

          "Symptoms, then, are in reality nothing but a cry from suffering organs."  - Jean-Martin Charcot

            Oh, the myriad ways to come undone.  There are, of course, the "real" diseases — cancer is popular these days, and of course heart disease — and then the less-than-tangible organs make themselves known, don't they?

            Somatization disorder is a long-term (chronic) condition in which a person has physical symptoms that involve more than one part of the body, but no physical cause can be found.
            The pain and other symptoms people with this disorder feel are real, and are not created or faked on purpose (malingering).*

            Alcoholic neuropathy is damage to the nerves that results from excessive drinking of alcohol.
            The cause of alcoholic neuropathy is debated. It probably includes both a direct poisoning of the nerve by the alcohol, and the effect of poor nutrition associated with alcoholism. Up to half of all long-term heavy alcohol users develop this condition.**

            Even depression is getting its day in the sun, thanks to the invention of happy-drugs.  After all, if there's a drug to make the problem go away, it must be real (and surely must also have been accurately described by those making millions off of it).
            The chapter for Week 9 of The Artist's Way has to do with compassion.  As with many other chapters, I remain ambivalent about much of what Cameron has to say.  I should warn folks who haven't read it that Cameron is fond of telling stories about how as soon as Joe started taking his art seriously he had a million people loving his work and throwing money and opportunities at him.  So I take her with a grain of salt.  Still, the takeaway on it is simple:  being your own enemy doesn't work out too well.  For creative work, or for just attempting to be human.
            Self-loathing manifests in more ways than I care to count.  But even calling it "self-loathing" feels inaccurate.  When we say self-loathing, I think we imagine someone sitting by themselves with phrases like, "I hate myself," "I'm so worthless," and "Maybe the world would be better off without me" running through their head.  And don't get me wrong:  people do this.  Believe me.  I date them.  It's a fucking blast.
            What I'm talking about is the generally endemic self-rejection which we all engage in all the time.  To some extent, I suspect (pessimistically, I grant you) that self-rejection is necessary to socialization.  After all, there are so many emotional reactions and counteractions going on in our own heads and hearts, in any given minute of the day, that we simply couldn't interact with others if we didn't suppress some of the internal noise.  Add in a vague notion of sin/shame, a dash of consumerism, and you get America.
            And to this, Cameron has a response which I know was difficult for me, and would probably be difficult for a lot of people:  affirmations.  The Artist's Way uses or recommends the use of affirmations on a regular basis.  And while I shied away from the idea initially, Cameron makes an excellent point towards the beginning of the book:  why on earth is it considered not only normal but expected for us to regularly say hateful things to ourselves — i.e., "You're always late and you know everyone's pissed off at you for it."; "You're never going to get it together and stop incurring NSF charges, are you?"; etc. — but we think it's super weird to say something nice to ourself even if we know it's true?  What on earth is so bizarre about saying to yourself every once in awhile, "You know, sometimes I write/draw/build things I like."  Or, "Yesterday I got up on time and had plenty of time to do tons of stuff during the day.  I bet I could manage that again."  Or whatever.  Why is this weird?
            My short answer is that self-love is weird because we believe that it is 1) necessary to reject the failing parts of ourselves in order to see positive change, and 2) a sign of resiliency to be able to survive the onslaught of rejection.  Of course, we're not surviving the onslaught.  If a world characterized by young women starving/sexualizing/smiling themselves to death, and young men drinking/drugging/earning themselves to death, can be described as surviving, you and I don't live in the same world.  If the soul is dead, you have not survived.
            The mind will find a million ways to make itself, and its pain, known.  And the path back to wholeness within oneself is, I suspect, not short.  But the only way forward on it is, at some point, to give yourself a break.  All failures, all repeated dysfunctions, are one pitiful ego's attempt to protect, provide, and care for you.  It's like, the hardest working part of your whole head, and you just keep finding ways to insult and belittle it.  So my only recommendation this time around for creative health, is to give yourself a fucking break.

*  "Somatization disorder."  Medline Plus.  National Institute of Health.  Web.  12 September, 2013.
**  "Alcoholic neuropathy."  Medline Plus.  National Institute of Health.  Web.  12 September, 2013.

Postscript:  In all seriousness, if anyone's ever interested in reading a book or two about genuinely reconnecting to yourself, less from a warm fuzzy position and more from a position of calling bullshit on self-hatred, I highly recommend Sharon Salzberg's Lovingkindness: the Revolutionary Art of Happiness.  My favorite story is when she is nearly assaulted by a drunken man while traveling in Calcutta.  Afterwards, she told one of her sweet, loving, peace-filled teachers about it, and he said, "Oh, Sharon, with all the lovingkindness in your heart, you should have taken your umbrella and hit that man over the head with it!"