Endurance is a virtue.
While “patience,” rightly, gets this treatment fairly often, let’s admit patience is often not possible. Sometimes – usually, even – we feel impatient with whatever awful we are going through. Or feel worse feelings than impatience, right down to despair.
This is why I want to take a moment to advocate for endurance – because endurance does not come with the baggage of often-impossible “supposed to” feelings. It doesn’t say that while everything is hellish you don’t, or shouldn’t, feel like hell, or like you are in hell.
It says: okay, this is hell – hang the fuck on anyway.
Endurance is an underpraised quality. A partner to frequently-misunderstood courage.
Courage is sometimes wrongly painted as a synonym for “fearlessness.” Fearlessness is not courage – it is either the absence of any cause for fear, or likely a serious glitch in the nervous system of a person in the presence of a threat.
Courage is often, accurately summed up as “feeling the fear and doing it anyway.” That is why courage is something laudable, something extraordinary. I have no fear of toast, or that the toaster is going to do me harm. There is nothing courageous about me making toast, because I fearlessly make toast.
If doing what I believe is right is likely going to result in some harm to me, or will require that I continue to experience something that is already harmful, painful, difficult, and those are things I fear, and I act according to my principles anyway, then I act courageously.
It is the presence of fear that makes an act courageous, that makes courage remarkable.
Endurance is living in the bad, the painful, the harmful, the frightening, the difficult – maybe sometimes feeling courageous, maybe not (though I would argue it is possible to be courageous without feeling or thinking of yourself as courageous – just as it is possible to be a person behaving decently, or behaving cruelly, or many other things, without necessarily being aware of the truth, or while denying the truth), and not giving up.
Endurance is pretty much always possible. Even when you cannot see an end to what is troubling you. Even when what you feel (putting aside for the moment whether or not your feelings are an accurate representation of the quality of your actions) is weak, or despairing, or defeated.
Endurance, while you are feeling whatever awful it is that you feel, is a show of strength.
Strength is what is required to accomplish what is difficult – and when you have been hurt, when you are suffering, when you feel – or are – alone with your pain, when your energy has been sapped by huge and/or prolonged challenges, doing anything at all can be enormously difficult. Doing anything at all, in such a state, is a show of strength. Including simply carrying on.
Give yourself due credit for the strength required to endure your difficulties, even on the days where you just don’t have the energy to take any constructive action, or where you can’t see what constructive actions you might take, or when there are simply none you can take. (Those additional obstacles mean your endurance is a sign of greater strength being exercised than in their absence, not less.)
I am not advocating denying your own agency, your ability to act, but there is some shit you really can’t – in the proper meaning of “can’t,” as in, actually not possible, rather than difficult, or not desired – do anything about.
Like when you are rejected, or a feeling is not reciprocated, or you regret something you have done, or when you lose someone you care about, whether because they walked away, or you did because their behavior was harmful or dangerous, or because they died. You cannot make someone feel something they don’t, you cannot make someone else’s choices for them, you can’t change someone else’s behaviors, you can’t change the past, and you can’t resurrect the dead.
You also cannot wish away grief, or make it end by trying to suppress it.
In my experience, the only feelings we can fully shut off for any prolonged period of time are some of the positive ones, usually as a side-effect of trying to shut off the ones we wish to mute, the painful feelings, which can only be turned down slightly – and which also prolongs them indefinitely.
And what we bury inside of ourselves, we carry with us everywhere.
We can’t leave what is in our own minds behind us, much as we might wish we could. And our internal burial grounds are straight out of “Pet Sematary” – that shit does not stay dead and buried, and if we won’t dig it up and deal with it, what inevitably claws its way out tends to be a much uglier, more destructive form than what went in.
You don’t have to see some deeper meaning in the moment in order to endure. You don’t have to know “the sun’ll come out tomorrow,” or have a reason to go on, in order to endure. You don’t even have to be able to pull yourself out of bed today to endure. You just have to keep drawing breath, keep doing the bare minimum to keep your body alive. And that, for some, on some days, in some circumstances, can be in itself something so difficult it requires enormous strength to accomplish.
Given enough time, bad feelings not buried, but felt and expressed, tend to abate. Given enough time, your odds are better that some unexpected, helpful person or idea or opportunity will show up. Given enough time, you are likely to do some healing, to gradually gain in energy to act, and maybe even feel hope.
It is okay if you can’t conjure a picture of what any of that might look like. It is okay if you can’t imagine a reason to hang on – because you don’t need any of that in order to hang on. You can hang on anyway. I know this from much and long and awful experience in my own life – you can endure through all kinds of hell, without any clue of how or when or if you will ever know anything else, without any conscious reason why you are hanging on in the midst of misery.
Unconsciously, at least, I think we all want to know, to live, to feel, something else, something better, something good, even if we do not allow ourselves to believe it might be possible for ourselves. And somewhere, however deeply buried it may be, I think all of us know we deserve things not merely to be better, but we deserve things that are good. (If we didn’t, I don’t imagine we would suffer in the absence of those things.) And the only way we might ever get there, to the possible-better, to the deserved-good, when our now sucks all kinds of ass, is to give ourselves more time, is to live to see the future, when none of us knows what might happen.
The future is always uncertain, is all possibilities, including some good ones.
Endurance is a virtue.
Please don’t give up.
Hang the fuck on.
At some point, when I am not fighting off a brain-fuzzing sinus issue, I will probably write about this topic at some length, but having come across a couple of relevant pieces, just want to share the links immediately, lest I forget later (as ever, sharing with the caveat that I am not a mental health professional, and whatever linked material I share is on the basis of personally, as a non-professional, having found it to be useful, and any other comments not referencing source material in some way are my own opinions and observations drawn from my personal experiences):
For now, I will settle for sharing the links, and the following caveats: neither piece is comprehensive, as, I would argue, none could possibly be, given how varied the specific behaviors and nuances of such abusive behavior can be; and that I think one form of gaslighting I have never seen detailed, but I believe is one of the most common (and most harmful) occurs when a person does something damaging, while maintaining a pleasant/cheerful/friendly demeanor, a passive-agressive but unsubtle signal for the person who suffers the damaging consequences of the behavior to go along with the aren’t-we-all-just-happy-and-getting-along bullshit. Polite assholes, I used to call people who engage in such behaviors – psychological torturers is a far more accurate name, I now believe.
(And while I have addressed the subject elsewhere, I strongly suggest any person who is interested in the subject, or, though I hope you are not, suffering such abuse, look up “narcissistic abuse,” especially descriptions of individual experiences of survivors, as a lot of the abusive behaviors associated with narcissitic abuse have relevant overlap with – or are themselves examples of – gaslighting. Including “smearing” and the recruiting of allies to the narrative of the person engaging in the abusive behaviors sometimes referred to colloquially as “flying monkeys” – which line up with items 9 and 10 in the “Psychology Today” piece: “They try to align others against you” and “They tell…others that you are crazy.”)
Yesterday, a friend found out they had lost a friend of theirs to brutal violence.
I have spent a lot of time thinking about my own experiences with violence, and the experiences of people I have known, many of whom I have loved – all having suffered violence, some also inflicting violence on themselves and/or others.
Needless to say, I didn’t get a lot of sleep.
I am too tired to say very much that is coherent about those personal experiences, or the broader problems they are representative of.
At the moment, all I can really think of is how desperately I wish I could sleep, and about Fred Rogers, when he talked to Congress in defense of funding PBS, and quoting the lyrics of one of the songs, from “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” about being mad, and how when you are thinking about doing something wrong, you can change your mind, and do something else instead. “What do you do with the mad that you feel?…It’s great to be able to stop, when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong. And be able to do something else instead… ‘I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. Can stop, stop, stop, anytime. And what a good feeling to feel like this.'” And how much I wish more people learned that lesson early on in life, so fewer people would externalize their pain by inflicting pain on other living beings.
And about how just because someone did not learn how to cope with their emotions in a healthy way in childhood does not mean they cannot learn, however much violence they may have suffered, or done, however old they may be.
And about how we all experience difficulties, and how exponentially more difficult they become to handle as they pile on. How unfortunately easily the human mind can be, and often is, overwhelmed – and how deeply the human spirit can be wounded, and how difficult it is for the social animals we are to heal without the support of other people.
If Mr. Rogers’ words don’t speak to you, for whatever reason, or if they do and you are so inclined to listen to someone else speak (with the warning that this speaker is explicit about his own experiences of being abused as a child as well as having engaged in violence toward others as he grew older), maybe Sammy Rangel’s words will resonate with you. He is a man who lived both sides of violence, suffering it being inflicted on him, and causing others to suffer by inflicting it on them. He has changed. He is no longer a person who engages in violence. He has started an organization called the Forgiveness Project.
Not unlike Christopher Piccolini, who used to be a part of a violent hate group, and who now helps other people leave such organizations. I have watched several of his talks, and he does discuss violence in some detail, at times more explicitly than others, and at the moment I do not have the wherewithal to watch again, but in any case, again, please only watch if you feel able to hear violence discussed in some degree of detail.
Eve Ensler also suffered a great deal of violence in her home as a child, and while her experience was not one in which she also engaged in violence, that I am aware of, she, too, grew up to work to help other people who suffer from violence. As with the above talks, there is explicit reference to violence, including sexual violence, so again, please, if that is something you feel unable to engage with in the moment, don’t watch.
To my knowledge, Scilla Elworthy did not suffer violence in her childhood, but she did grow up to be a person who has spent her life working for peace. Her talk (aside from its praise of Aung San Suu Kyi, who at the time was known primarily as a Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has since become the head of a government whose army is engaging in a genocide, a saddening, unfortunate change in perspective on who that particular person is) is wonderful in that she addresses a question of, as she phrases it, how to deal with a bully without becoming a thug. As with all of the non-Mr.-Rogers talks, there is some discussion of violence, and no reason anyone who does not feel able to handle the material at this time to engage with it if that is the choice you wish to make. (Also, on the TED site, the talks they have posted typically have transcripts available, if perhaps you find it easier to read such material than to listen to it discussed.)
I wish everyone the strength and support to handle difficulties, however great or small, and the sense of self-worth to ask for help from those who are able/qualified to do so; whether you need help because of being hurt, so that you can be helped to find a way to safety; or you need help because you are thinking about hurting someone (whether yourself or someone else), so you can find your way to decide not to do it, and do something else instead.
I am not a person qualified to provide that kind of help by a long mile, but there are resources available which are operated by people who are. An internet search can help you to find a helpline, warmline, hotline, support group, mental health care provider, or whatever other form of help might be appropriate to whatever your particular circumstances are.
The only other thing I can really say is please remember how precious life is – not just your own, but everyone’s.
Life is precious, and fragile, and uncertain.
Please treat it like it is.
WordPress tells you, if you look, that they use analytics that you can opt out of, and vaguely mention the opt-out can be found in your settings. That is the extent of the how-to.
Well, you won’t find the opt-out just by clicking on “settings.”
After you sign in to WordPress, click on “My Site,” then scroll down and click on “WP Admin.”
On the left of that page, click on the little human-from-the-shoulders-up icon, which is where you find the submenu for “users.”
Click on the icon, then, in the list that shows, click on “personal settings.”
On the left of the page that brings you to, click on “privacy.”
On the page that opens, drag the slider next to “Share information with our analytics tool about your use of services while logged in to your WordPress.com account” to the left to turn it off.
It is so easy, no wonder they very vaguely sort of almost but not really tell you where to find it.
Today has been pretty good.
Maybe not by anyone else’s standards; maybe not even by my own, in somewhat less bullshit times.
But pretty good.
Every day, every fucking day, do at least a little of what you love, if you can.
And I mean can.
Not if you feel like it.
Not if it is easy.
If you are able.
If you have three seconds and the minimal physical capacity necessary do whatever it is.
Fucking do it.
Life is a journey; death is a destination.
I thought I would put this out there, as it is something I have found helpful: square breathing, also sometimes called four square breathing, is a technique that is, as I understand it, useful for calming anxiety and panic attacks, as well as a really simple, no-mantra way to meditate.
It is basically just breathing in for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4, holding your breath on the inhale for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4, exhaling for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4, holding your breath after the exhale for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4, inhaling for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4…and repeating. Sometimes I have seen it suggested this be done for four minutes, but I find even if you repeat it for a shorter time it can be helpful. You can always try for longer, too, I suppose, if it suits you. I would also add I think it is a good practice even when you aren’t feeling especially stressed or triggered or anxious. (I think overall since you are briefly stopping your breath between inhales and exhales it helps to slow your breath even if you are breathing rapidly and counting fast.)
There are plenty of descriptions out there, if you want to read a set of instructions that might be more clear to you, or find out why this is recommended, or what other people’s experiences have been; searching either “square breathing” or “four square breathing” should bring up relevant results.
This also reminded me, tangentially, of Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk, because one of the things she addresses is research that suggests that helping someone else when you are stressed out can reduce its negative impact on your health.
I don’t know if it is applicable here, since I am not even sure this will ever be read by anyone at all, and maybe it is simply the stress-relieving effect of doing something that requires concentration (which Guy Winch discusses in one of his talks, I believe the one I will share the link for here; but the reason this occurred to me to write about was waking up and being too anxious to fall back asleep, and now I feel calmer and might be able to sleep, so I am not really prepared in the moment to rewatch a long video – if I fucked it up, I will try to remember to change it later on), but I feel better now than I did before I started writing this.
Granted, I generally find writing can help, especially when ideally there would be a person to talk with and there is not, but I don’t know that everyone would feel the same. I tend to like writing, anyway. Could be some people would find more relief in doing some other activity they enjoy.
I hope this is helpful to someone – like a lot of things, though square breathing is not something I have just learned, it would have been helpful to me to have known about it earlier on in my life than I did. Maybe I can help someone else find their way to something useful sooner than later in their own experiences that might be helpful on their journey. And I think both talks are worth watching, as both provide some information on strategies for dealing with stress and other uncomfortable emotions.
Should you be more of a non-verbal mind at the moment, I will throw in another link, this one to a long version of Marconi Union’s “Weightless,” which a friend suggested to me not too long ago when I was looking for lyric-free music for relaxation/sleep.
Now I am going to try to get some sleep. Best of luck to you.
* * *
No dice on the sleep, unfortunately, but aside from being tired, I still feel better than I did when I woke up.
I do find myself thinking I wish I had better equipment for taking and editing photos at the moment, and for digital drawing, because I do miss this being a more art/visual blog; and for the people who enjoyed that aspect, I can understand the reversion to the much-earlier word-based blogging might be a let-down.
That is not to say I am not going to carry on with the writing – being considerate is one thing, self-abnegation another. But at some point I will either resign myself to lower-quality images, or repair or replace some equipment when I am able, and there will be visual art again. It has been a long, long, long series of…well, decades, really.
I wish I had more resources to get past the current tidal wave of bullshit and spend more time and energy on artwork. Visual art is certainly another thing I have found useful in getting through the worst of times. I don’t know whether that is something that might make for general advice – again, a thing I enjoy anyway, so I can’t even claim my own experience to be a strictly therapeutic one.
I can see where it could be a general-use stress-relief practice, provided a person is not painfully self-conscious about how well or poorly they believe they can draw or whatever. I have personally made a lot of shit even I didn’t particularly enjoy the look of, and the work I have liked I am sure many people could find fault with. The end product can be alright, but for me, the real joy is the process – and typically the pieces I like best in the end are those I most enjoyed making.
Again, I’m not really feeling like reviewing something I have watched previously to summarize it in detail, but this talk seems relevant, insofar as the speaker talks about a lot of the benefits of idly drawing, and I think it applies whether or not you think of it as art, or yourself as an artist, or believe you have any particular skill:
Personally, I think all of the limitations people try to put on what gets to be called art or who gets to be called an artist is mostly people doing what many people who are injured, insecure, and immature often do – trying to dictate a set of “rules” that include themselves where they wish to be included, but fear they don’t belong, while simultaneously excluding a lot of others. Both because of projecting their own insecurities and self-loathing onto other people, and wanting to limit the in-group to themselves and people who have qualities they envy or admire or both, with whom they wish to be equated – the unhealthy, ineffectual practice of trying to counter insecurity by seeking to associate oneself with others with admired qualities, thinking those will then be seen as belonging to oneself, while simultaneously seeking others to feel superior to, others I tend to think are perceived as possessing the very qualities the person who feels insecure feels insecure about. And before I digress into subjects I have already discussed and provided links to related material about, I will just throw a link to that piece here, if anyone feels inclined to follow the digression elsewhere:
I think if you create something, without doing harm, with honest intention, expressing truth as you understand it – not trying to mess with people’s minds to sell a product or a candidate or a belief – with some honest feeling behind it (for the sake of the artist, I hope some enjoyment in the process), then calling it art and the person creating an artist seems well fair. That doesn’t mean everyone (or anyone) will like the end result, but that is rather my point. You don’t have to let someone else decide if you are an artist, or what you make is art. If they don’t think so, well, no one is obliged to agree with you. And you can still think so. In short, I guess, I see artists very broadly as creators. I think there are artists in every non-harmful profession and pursuit.
I also think I am just one person and not the be-all, end-all, and someone else’s definition of art might be different from mine and just as valid, provided, from my point of view, that it is not exclusive based on superficial bullshit.
You don’t have to go to school for art to be an artist, you don’t have to use certain materials, you don’t have to be an adult, you don’t have to be a “fine” artist. You don’t have to be getting paid to be making art, any more than you have to be getting paid to be doing work. There is nothing, I think, inherently pretentious in calling yourself an artist or your pursuit art, unless you are a person who fits the selfish, insecure, exclusive-of-others model I described above.
Pretentiousness comes, I think, from believing oneself to be the arbiter of something that is bigger than oneself. “Oneself” being a deliberately chosen word here. One self. One individual.
There is no one living (no one at all, I would argue) who can claim to be the originator of art as a pursuit or a concept. Art has been around for a lonnnnnnngggggggggg part of human history. Long before there may have been a word for it. Hell, I would have to look up whether estimated times for the origins of language predates estimated times for the origins of visual art. One could even argue that a lot of what defines us as human, as we think of that word today, is creativity, is art, whether the earliest simple tools made by our ancestors, or cave paintings, or the oldest sculptures. (Which if I recall correctly are “Venus” figures. My trivia-brain is coughing up “The Venus of Wallendorf,” but whether that is correct I will have to look up. I think it was last I studied the subject, but that was probably twenty years ago, and even if it was the oldest known piece then, could be there have been new finds…
Did a quick search, turns out I was nearly right. Ish. I was one letter off, the Venus of Willendorf is probably in the vicinity of 30,000 years old; but there has been a more recent find, in 2008. That figure, known as the Venus of Hohle Fels, is estimated to be 35,000 to 40,000 years old. And based on Wikipedia-quality evidence –
– so, you know, probably double-check the information if you are looking for a reference for some scholarly biz. No offense to Wikipedia. It is supposedly generally as reliable as print encyclopedias, at least according to my recall of a description given by Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture – which is an actual lecture he gave, and a book based on the lecture, worth watching and/or reading, in my opinion.
Pausch was a Professor who took an old teaching practice of some professors giving lectures based on what they imagined they would talk about if they knew that it would be the last lecture they’d ever give before they died, but minus the hypothetical aspect, since he knew he had terminal cancer. At some point in his career he was asked to write an entry for an encyclopedia, and he explained what he wrote was what was published, that it seemed that the publication process was simply to hire experts and trust they knew what they were talking about.)
There are plenty of people who work in all kinds of arenas who might call themselves artists. I can think of people of my own acquaintance who I would say are artists in the work they do, paid or not, as aestheticians, as cooks, as parents, as teachers, as friends, as healers, as technicians…
Maybe you express your creativity in the food you make, or the way you keep house, or the way you love. I think everyone is an artist in something, though maybe not everyone acknowledges their artistry, or even allows themself to engage in the work they love.
Writing that, I have to say, I think loving is an art form itself, one too few people really appreciate as such. Love is not just a feeling, love is an action verb. It is how you behave toward people. It is caring about another person beyond your self-interest. About someone else’s happiness, even if their happiness may not involve you. And really, as I am writing, I also think love is integral to art – I think artists are generally people who love what it is they do.
And I do think joy is pretty constantly an element of art – even if it isn’t fireworks-y or high-energy, joy nonetheless. Isn’t that what “flow” is, as a psychological state? I suppose there is another way of defining art in a different terminology – art is wherever we find ourselves in a flow state.
Or art is non-destructive work performed with honest joy and love.
Or art does not have a single, simple defintion…which makes sense, since creativity is essentially conjuring, making something new, something that did not exist before. Kind of hard to narrowly define a process that involves unpredictability and the unknown.
So also, art is peaceful coexistence with temporal reality (because even the next fraction of a second into the future is always an unknown – probability is not the same as certainty, and even if our expectations are fulfilled, it does not change that there was and is ever the possibility they would and/or will not be).
Or artists are all human beings, when we are engaged in non-harmful pursuits we love.
Probably going to hang it up, at least for the time being, since I am not getting less tired, and while I enjoy a good tangent as much as anyone, I still like my assorted tangents to make what is, at least for me, logical sense, and I am probably getting past the point where I can construct comprehensible sentences. But happily got to experience some flow in the writing – and the state known as flow is as purely happiness as anything else I know.
Not bad for a morning that started with waking up before the sun, already feeling stressed out. And so my circle of tangents ends where it began – because this wasn’t just a series of suggestions for possible stress-relieving practices and musings on art, it was a process of finding stress-relief in an artistic pursuit.
Practicing what I preach, and whatnot.
Not bad at all.