Thursday, September 30, 2010

On Happiness, Rainbows, and Icebergs

I usually write by the “Poison Snake” method, in other words: I wait until the inspiration jumps out and bites me, and then I write.  Since coming back from Burning Man, I’ve wondered what to write about.  Things have been pretty normal:  I’ve run the gamut from despair to contentment, even felt bliss at times.  I’ve surfed the waves of relationships, and have fallen off the board a few times over the last couple of weeks, while triumphantly staying upright at other times when the waves hit. Mainly I’ve just been doing my thing: working, playing, loving, making mistakes, doing the right thing. Big whoop. Nothing exciting to write about there. So I asked sweetie today: “What should I write about?” Not fair, I know. It’s my art, and I should take responsibility for it. But my self-imposed deadline is coming up tomorrow and inspiration is out hunting field mice, for all I know. So I asked, and the answer was: “Write about something happy!” 

Of course, me being an Overthinker, my immediate response was “Why, Is my blog not happy enough?”, a question which he, smartly, did not answer. We won’t get into the rest of the conversation, but this exchange brought something up for me that’s probably a part of my resistance to writing. I feel like this blog – and by extension, myself – is a bit of a downer. I feel like I should be happier and write about happier stuff, like sunsets and rainbows. Really, I’m not being sarcastic. I do want to be able to craft beautiful, uplifting words about the loveliness of nature and the basic, core goodness that exists in all of us. Because I actually believe in those things and think they’re important. 

But something stops me.

I think the thing that stops me is a deep feeling that , while happy, light topics can be important and inspirational, they’re  easy to appreciate and to write about;  but what I feel compelled to explore – in my own life and in my writing – is the deeper current, the stuff that’s more complicated, intricate, sometimes hard to appreciate and even dark.  I love rainbows, who doesn’t? But if I were to write about one, I’d write about the beauty AND the shadow side of the rainbow. I can’t help it. It’s in my blood. 

To me, the beauty of life includes the darkness and the things that are hard, unexpected, or intense. In my own life, the most powerful lessons have come from difficult situations, even when it’s taken me years to digest the lesson. But I also know that more people want to read about rainbows and goodness than about struggling with intense emotions or difficult feelings, or even of exploring the nuances and complexities of a situation. I’m often the one trying to fill in the shades of grey to other peoples’ black and white understanding of people or situations – often to the frustration of the person I’m talking to. I can’t hold grudges for very long because I can understand other peoples’ motivations so well. I can’t write about blissful beauty without acknowledging the other things that come along with it, even if just my own complexities of mood as I observe the rainbow. 

But then I wonder if my propensity to swim in the ocean of complexity and nuance – to acknowledge all facets of a situation, including the difficult – actually contribute to my frequent depressions and other mood troubles. Maybe they’re right, that optimists are happier, that if you look on the bright side, good things will come to you. I know people of whom this seems true. 

Perhaps I should try to write about rainbows more frequently, or things that bring simple joy without complexity or darkness. I’m not sure; I don’t want to subvert my particular gifts at seeing  the whole iceberg, but I also don’t want to crash into the iceberg and sink into an ocean of despair. Maybe there’s a balance to be struck between swimming in the dark waters and basking in the sunlight that breaks through the clouds and creates the rainbow. 
The photo at the beginning of this post was taken by Scott Locker, follow his blog here

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