Thoughts on life's many obstacles and storytelling.
I feel like, these days, there are so many obstacles to doing everything. It's like we tell ourselves, as a society, how great everything is where we are and that we have such freedom and so on. The thing is, if we really take a hard look at things, the truth isn't so rosy.
I have it good compared to a LOT of people--I know this--but every day I sit down to write or draw or post or make something and invariably something(s) get in the way of that. Whether it's a tech issue, like how my Mac decided to just fill up my system drive with no clear cause, or something like the January 6 insurrection happens and I am too concerned for the lives of the people in and around the capitol, that I'm not going to doing any work. (I really should just delete the Citizen app!)
Afterwards, after my day is done, I lie in bed and, essentially, lie to myself about how I could have done this or that better, or need to rely on this or that tech less or more, or how I should have done any number of things differently. For years, my wife told me that I shouldn't be so hard on myself--everyone makes mistakes, right? But I didn't view what I was doing like that. I viewed it as discipline--that I was being like an athlete or a soldier or even a scientist--learning from my mistakes and doing better!
A couple years ago, I started doing these guided meditations to help with (mostly mild) anxiety attacks I was having. A lot of these meditations focused on recognizing that my emotions were transitory. They fell just short of telling me "Don't like your feelings? Just wait 15 minutes!"
The thing is, they were right. The other thing they went on about, and were also right about, was self-care and self-compasion. The meditation where you tell yourself that you are a good person and that you are talented, and worthy of respect and success that also had me literally giving myself a hug, had me in tears. It was shocking how much pain I was in without realizing it. Where did it come from? My parents never beat me or even verbally abused me. Like I said, I have it way better than many--was my wife right? Was I just that self-loathing?
No. While it didn't help that I bought into the whole "discipline as way of life" mindset, I realized that it came from society, itself. Society on so many levels tells us how things should be--for decades, being openly gay was a crime. How crazy is that? Imagine if openly being a fan of Ted Lasso was illegal. Do we live in a free country or what? But the way I grew up, I thought we were all supposed to be self-sufficient, never ask for help, never show-off, never feel desperate, never feel confused, get everything right on the first try, and, worst of all, never fail.
I've learned that, outside of schooling, failure is, more often than not, the only time we have a chance to learn as adults. Well, that and stories, but I'll get to more on that in a moment.
So, picture this: an entire culture told that everyone needs to do everything on their own and never fail. What does that collectively do to a people? Life is full of failure--experience enough failure and, without the ability to ask for help, you start to feel pretty resentful and awful about yourself. But then you see someone who is different from yourself--they have a skin tone you've never seen before or too many tattoos or hair that is "weird" and "out of control" and your instinct is to think "What's wrong with that person? Why do they live like that? I've got problems but that person? WOW."
And, in the process of looking down on them, you feel better about yourself. This reinforces this exact behavior. Multiply that times the number of people taking part in our culture and you see where I'm going with this, right? It's a vicious circle that will keep going for generation after generation until we, as a people, recognize this behavior as part of the problem and stop it.
But how do we stop it? Well, remember one of the ways we learn is failure. The catch there is that we've all been programmed to think that failure isn't a good thing so we just feel bad and don't think there's anything we can do about it. There's another way we learn--stories.
Say what you will about Bill Cosby, but when his The Cosby Show was on TV it changed America in a subtle, but, long term, dramatic way. Untold millions of people saw a black man hold a high-paying job, have a wife who also had a well paying job, and together they had a non-dysfunctional family. It put the idea in everyone's mind that hey, a black person can be a normal, functioning member of society, and not just a pimp, prostitute, junkyard owner, or random mugger, as so many TV shows would portray them as.
Years before that, Nichelle Nichols starred as lieutenant serving on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, and none other than Martin Luther King Jr, himself, told Nichols to stay with that show. He knew that she was teaching people what a woman of color could actually do.
Over a hundred years before that, escaped slave Solomon Northup published his book 12 Years a Slave--a book that showed America that a black man, a slave, was every bit a human as anyone else and helped more white Americans toward the idea that slavery was, in fact, wrong.
Now imagine if Northup decided to never write that book. Would slavery have been abolished in the US just twelve years later if his book had never been written?
Granted, not all of us have as important stories to tell as Northup's (which is a good thing, really) but we all have stories. Also, for me, writing has always been a kind of therapy--a way to process things I'm dealing with in my life, both good and bad. When I was just out of college, I was living with my parents and I hated it and was really stressed about where my life was going and how I was going to get where I wanted to go. I wrote a script for a Spider-Man comic about him being visited by a future version of himself who had come back in time, mainly to tell him how to avoid his wife being killed but, along the way, how to make better choices in life. While reading one of the early drafts, I realized that this was what I wanted to happen to me at that vary time of my life (minus the wife part, as I didn't have one at the time).
Storytelling has always been how things change. Someone imagines something different, writes it down and the eyes of everyone who reads it are opened along with their minds.
Everyone's story matters. YOUR story matters.
So get writing! Even if it's something as mundane as a blog post, your words can help the world or a single person's life be a better place AND you can even help yourself in the process.
Just remember that no one gets through life without help. It's ok to ask for it. It's also important to remember that failure is NOT bad. It teaches you how to do things differently and hopefully better. Another term for this process is evolution. So, don't be afraid of failing. Be afraid of not trying.