Faith, Art, Joy — A brief explanation

One easy description of the purpose of life is happiness. I think this is absolutely, one-hundred-percent, completely true. But, (there is always a but), I also think that there’s one more level to it. A higher degree of happiness, that only truly comes when you look for it. The kind of happiness that makes you slow down, contemplate, and think, this is why I’m alive.

This kind of happiness is joy.

Furthermore, each one of us is, I believe, entitled to discover for themselves what brings about their own joy.

For me, the first part of joy is faith. This can mean “faith” in the sense of “having faith in something”, and also in the sense of “belonging to a faith”. It’s a versatile word. So in spite of the fact that I’m not intending to write a “religion blog”, the nature of personal writing means that just about anything I write will have at least a trace of spirituality in it. I hope that I can do so in a way that doesn’t cause discomfort to those who don’t feel faith the same way I do.

Secondly, I feel joy through art. Naturally, this is often intertwined with what I call faith, but in some cases it could just as well mean “humanity”. I love art that addresses the feeling of what it means to be human — or, allowing for the existence of non-human intelligence, what it means to be sentient. I am a science-fiction geek, after all. When I see or hear works of art, in any medium, that inspire me to become a better and stronger person, or to understand the realities of the kinds of people that I am not, I consider that art to contain joy.

And I think the world is full of joy, and truth, and beauty, sometimes just waiting to be unearthed.

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Past, Present, Future, and Locked Doors

I’m someone who is prone to contemplation: about life, death, eternity, and how I relate to the universe. Since two of my greatest passions are religion and science fiction, this is probably my own fault. If I quit reading scripture or space opera, maybe I wouldn’t have to spend as much time worrying about the future. As it is, though, I can’t go back to fix that past. Instead I’m doomed to always worry about the future. It’s just my lot in life, I suppose.

This fate is not without its upsides, as it provides me with near-endless ways to redefine my understanding of the universe. I am drawn to stories, a trait which I think is common in human beings but particularly important to me. We tell our history and all our greatest myths and legends through story, with links of causality connecting the events in an ongoing web through time and space. An event is not simply an event; it is one link in the great fabric of human experience. Then, just as important as the logical links of causality, there are also the abstract links of theme, symbol, emotion, and association. These are the links that I find most fascinating. They are, in large part, what makes us human, yet also what helps us to transcend simple humanity and connect with something more profound.

Because that is what the abstract connections are all about: that quality which is called profound, and moving, and soul-stirring, and spiritual.

Still, I can’t deny that there is a downside to my contemplative fate, and that is the worry. It’s easy to get too bogged down in abstract thoughts and patterns, and to worry about how your story is going to play out. Will it follow the traditional arc, patterned after the stories that came before, easy to understand and predict because in a sense it has already happened, but unoriginal and sometimes tragic? Or will it take you somewhere else entirely, off the charts and away from the predictable frame of reality, exciting yet exhausting and frightening in its unpredictability?

It’s terrifying not to know everything.

The problem is, when you realize you don’t know everything, it’s all too easy to fool yourself into thinking you know nothing.

At the back of one of the many buildings in the garden of the Summer Palace in Beijing, there is a door. It’s not a door you can walk through, nor look through.  The entirety of the space within the frame is filled with bricks, of the same shade and shape as those that make up the wall surrounding it. It was put there sometime around 1898, when the Empress Dowager decided she’d had enough of her nephew the Emperor and his attempts at reform, so she ordered to have him placed under house arrest and many of the doors sealed up. He lived under house arrest, Emperor in name only, for ten years.

Most of us are lucky. We aren’t emperors of a dying empire, locked in a room by a power-hungry aunt and prevented from knowing what other people don’t want us to know. Our view might be obscure, and we might not be able to know everything, but we can still see. And hope tells us that there is a chance we might someday see more. Perhaps even, says hope, our knowledge might be perfect.

I don’t think I’m a very hopeful person, at least not naturally. I think that’s why I try to remind myself of it every day. Hope is not an easy trait to hold on to, but not everything has to be easy. After all, life doesn’t reward you for doing things the easy way. It rewards you for finding what’s good, and holding on tight, and helping as many people along with you as you can. Life rewards hard work, and endurance, and optimism. It rewards taking what you have and making it better. Sometimes our efforts get us locked in a room with a walled-up door and boarded-up windows, but at least we know that it wasn’t because we didn’t try. And somewhere, somehow, if we’re lucky, our efforts might just mean something, to someone.

Whether by luck, fate, or divine blessing, locked doors can be opened. And when that happens, I hope the future they lead me to is a good one. I hope it is full of light, but not so much that I forget the darkness that made me love light in the first place. I hope it’s full of peace, but not of the complacency that too often follows. I hope it’s full of art, and life, and beauty of every kind. And I hope that it’s full of potential, because life without progress is no life at all.

Open doors of a Roman ruin

Bleeding Trees

I read a lovely quote today.

In truth, I read a lot of wonderful quotes. This happens when you’re someone like me, one who eats words and ideas for sustenance and then throws them around into huge piles and files of stories and terms and theories and thoughts, things I might want to think again someday and things I hope I never have to. However, though I am afraid to admit it, I am not always happy with the way I read. How long has it been since I finished a book? Over a year, perhaps. At any one moment I’m reading at least half a dozen, then by the time I try to finish one, I’ve forgotten the beginning, so I find myself starting over. Though it pains me to say it, I skim. I wish I wouldn’t. There are just too many things to read, too many things to see. That’s what I tell myself anyway, while I sit on my bed and wonder why I don’t want to read anything.

In my efforts to make my reading have meaning, which in no way (read: every way) have to with my reborn desire to write a science fiction epic, I found myself looking back at old blogs and publications that I had long neglected to read intently. One of these led me to an essay, one by James Goldberg, a writer whom I have admired for quite a few years now but whom, clearly, I did not understand as well as I thought I had. He writes:

I like to think; I like to talk; I like to dream out loud; I love playing with language with the reckless abandon of a kid whose parents could only afford that one toy. But I hate writing. I hate losing layers of the human and interactive vibrancy of a good conversation as I try to force thoughts into the narrow confines of paper. I hate thinking about how to please a publisher and find an audience you can point to on a demographics chart and maybe someday get my name on a check after I finish marketing a piece. And oh how I hate the pretentious parts of the academic arena of writing—which, unfortunately, seems to be the clearest available economic alternative to mass publication.

Maybe most of all, though, I hate writing because when I write, I often feel as if I am trying to carve wounds into dead trees in the hopes that they will still bleed. Who exactly, I keep asking myself, shall I make them bleed for?

As I write, I wonder whom I write for. “Myself”, comes the obvious answer, but even as I say that I know it is not quite enough. If I write only for myself, the words might as well be put in a secret diary, locked first in a cipher for which only I have the key and then in a safe for which only I have the code. I write to be heard, even if only by the dim whispers of the vast frontier that we call the Internet. When I go about “carving wounds into dead trees”, I do it in the hope that the scars will mean something to someone, though I might not be there to witness the event. I worry that I won’t have an audience, that nobody wants to hear the pseudo-philosophical ramblings of a naïve young woman with a lot of words but not much substance. I worry that I will succumb to pressure to copy another’s voice, in the hopes of attracting an audience that would not otherwise be mine. And then I worry that I worry. Worry and me, we are old friends.

I will write what I like to write, and sometimes I will hope to write what others like to read. If nobody listens, well then, at least it wasn’t for lack of an opportunity. No one can hear words that are not spoken.

Original Poetry: Bittersweet

Stories are full of heroes and villains, of great men and of monsters. But what about the ones caught in-between? The ones who slide down the path towards evil, but are good in their heart? Through writing this, I tried to express what that meant to me.

Bittersweet

Pain, anguish, death, sorrow, heartbreak, betrayal. Old friends become hated enemies, we become the enemy of ourselves. Corruption, blackmail, espionage, treason. We ignore the good and forget to heed its wisdom. Homicide, suicide, fratricide, genocide. The wrong company and the wrong vice will lead you down the path of endless fire. Tragedy. It will eat you up. Vain ambition. It will tear you down. Your sacrifices will be for naught, you cannot hide forever. It all comes in time, no more than you deserve.

Peace, calm, healing, warmth, love, joy. Hated enemies become old friends, we come to respect ourselves. Honesty, integrity, kindness, dignity. We free ourselves of evil and become beacons of light. Forgiveness, charity, redemption, salvation. The right people and the right mission will lead you out of the furnace and into the light. Trials. They will bring you low. Faith. It will raise you high. Your sacrifices will have meaning, your heart will not remain hidden. It all comes in time, no less than you are entitled to.

O Death

The following is a personal essay I wrote for myself, as a therapeutic measure to help me find optimism in my depression. I am sharing it because I think it represents an important side of depression that should be talked about, but the anecdotes it retells do not represent my usual thoughts. Though true, they are intentionally extreme examples.

When I was born, I have little doubt that my parents thought I was perfect. I suspect they don’t think so anymore, but then again it would be dishonest of them if they did. While it’s unlikely that I’d had the chance to make any noteworthy mistakes by the time I reached five minutes of age, I’ve more than made up for it since.

Until I was eight or nine years old, I didn’t even realize that I wasn’t perfect anymore. That’s childhood arrogance for you, or perhaps just childhood lack of interpersonal awareness. The problem is, this epiphany about my lack of perfection occurred nearly simultaneously with my realization that I wanted to be perfect.

It was a volatile mix.

By the time the reaction reached its peak, I had spent a dozen years being told that God wanted me to be perfect someday. Of course, the same people who said that also told me that God would help me become perfect, but my pubescent, hormone-addled brain hadn’t written down that part. I just knew that everyone else was more quantifiably perfect than I was, and I was never going to get anywhere.

It’s not that I ever wanted to get nowhere. It’s that I didn’t think I could do any better. It took me a very long time before I realized that even though I wasn’t perfect, I still wasn’t worthless either.

The funny part is, you always think you’re getting better, and then something else comes along to remind you once again how your brain still thinks you’re worthless. That’s the thing about brains. They are so set in their ways, they never seem to get the memos you try to send them.

Do you know what it’s like to believe that you’d be happier dead? Not wishing that you were dead, just wondering if it would be better.

Have you ever stood next to a busy intersection and wondered what would happen if you just jumped right in?

Have you ever leaned against a fifth-story window and imagined what all your friends and family would do if they found you, with a broken neck and a puddle of blood, on the pavement below?

In all those wonderings, it never occurred to me what would happen in my end of the aftermath. Would I have floated along to the world hereafter only to have the Lord Almighty look me in the eye and say, “What the hell were you thinking? You weren’t supposed to be back for eight more decades! I had so many great things lined up for you to do!”

Life is a series of choices, bringing us from point A to B to Z and onward. Sometimes that means choosing to keep going, even if every fiber of your being save one won’t see the point. The Lord would have saved Sodom for the sake of ten honest people. I’m not nearly so depraved or defiled, so perhaps the tenacious will of one fiber can make up for the overwhelming apathy of the remaining spirit.

If I’m strong, true, and maybe a bit lucky, someday I will be able to look the Devil in the eye and say, “O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?” Such is the fall of Death and Hell. My God is not gone, the Devil cannot take hold, and the Lord still has mercy on my soul.

I had my chance to not be born. I came here anyway, and dammit if I’m not going to make the best of it.

Important Note: I am not, nor have I ever been, suicidal. I have never attempted nor wished to kill myself, or to die. This piece of nonfiction creative writing simply attempts to express the feeling of apathy that occurs when one is caught between wanting to live and not caring one way or the other.