It is December 1st and against better judgment — I committed to publishing daily as part of NaBloPoMo — again.
As it happens just yesterday I read a post written by Maria Popova, the creative genius behind Brain Pickings, titled, In Praise of Melancholy and How it Enriches Our Capacity for Creativity, which featured the work of Eric G. Wilson, author of, Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy.
Although I have not read his book, the article really got me thinking about the roles both joy and sorrow played in my life from the human perspective and as a writer.
After my mother died in May of 2013, the 18 months that followed were on many levels excruciating. I was completely caught off guard by the grief I felt. I never expected to grieve for my mother. And yet the dark shadow of it showed up uninvited anyway.
It stands to reason that I could have pushed it back, stepped over and away from it. I could have pursued happiness, busied myself — anything and everything but — deal with my pain.
Yet I didn’t. To have done so would have required me to deny my emotion and in so doing I would have missed the opportunity to learn what was at the root of my sorrow, longing.
How would I move toward healing if I didn’t afford myself access to the countless feelings and memories that surfaced?
As a writer I can’t help but examine my life on the page, the myriad emotions I have experienced lend themselves to the creative process, in fact, they beg to be mulled over, then recorded and sometimes even shared.
Eric G. Wilson is of the opinion that happiness is an obsession unique to Americans. He contends that our cultural desire to expunge melancholy from our lives could, in fact, damage our capacity to be creative.
And then there is this:
…the full spectrum of human experience and the whole psychoemotional range of our inner lives — high and low, light and darkness — is what makes us complete individuals and enables us to create rich, dimensional, meaningful work.” -Maria Popova
I could not agree more.
Eric Wilson may be on to something when he infers that a manufactured state of happiness doesn’t serve us, let alone inspire our inner muse. Sentiments that call for people to smile their problems away, turn that frown upside down, be happy– although all are cheerful thoughts — to do so may, in fact, cripple what stirs us. And what stirs us tends to get written.
So, is it true that American’s are obsessed with happiness? I really hadn’t thought of it before. I have long thought that most are petrified of grief. In an earlier piece I wrote:
There is impatience with those of us who won’t swallow our sorrow, put on a happy face and get back to our lives. Sentiments like, “When the past calls, don’t answer, it has nothing new to say,” abound on social media. Yet few words would be written if we were intended to lead an unexamined life.”
How do we create joy in spite of our sorrow?
To me, one should not prevent the other. Being with my melancholy is not the same as being stuck. In the example of grief, by welcoming it as if it were an old friend with information to be excavated, I gave myself the power to pull what I needed out from the dark and into the light. And those are the things that haunt me…
Write what haunts you, lest you spend your life amidst drivel. Write what you care most about, the beauty, the absurdity, and the sorrow of the world.”–Jane Resh Thomas