This past weekend the boys and I visited my friend’s lake house. Saturday morning when everyone else was still asleep, my friend and I took kayaks out onto the lake to watch the dawn. Mist drifted along the top of the mirror surface of the water. Loons called to each other. A young loon, still brown-feathered, watched us paddle closer, curious about these odd, large waterfowl in his territory. We observed one another, and then he dived beneath the surface in quest for breakfast. The orange blaze of the sun rose through the distant forest, setting into sharp relief two islands partly shrouded in mist, the pines on them black silhouettes. It was breathtakingly lovely.
I thought, this is positively magical. Amazing.
I thought it. I did not feel it. My emotions were hiding deep inside, clutched into a ball with an unfocused stare, whispering softly to themselves in quiet desperation.
I appear to be functioning fairly well. But I have the distinct sensation of a tight, numb, knot in my gut where laughter and delight used to bubble out. This would seem to have occurred gradually. I read back over my past blogs. As recently as last fall I seem to have been in good spirits. Confident, optimistic. Finding joy in all manner of things. I can’t really identify a particular event that was a turning point. But over the course of the summer, I lost something. I know I lost my license. Lost my independence. Kept losing pieces of pride, confidence and self-esteem. Lost my sense of security and suddenly saw the future as a grey, featureless, unknowable void. Saw the world as a cold, pitiless, dangerous and incomprehensible place.
I pushed myself through the process of releasing yet another novel that I had high hopes for, but doesn’t appear to be taking off the way I hoped. That whole business of following your dreams, believing in yourself, never giving up, expecting miracles, all that motivational stuff. Just doesn’t seem to work for me. Doesn’t seem to work for most people, in fact. There’s a tiny number of people it does work for, and they preach the gospel of success. The rest of us believe it because we want to. We cling to hope. Next week, next year, that lucky break will come to me, it’ll be my turn, all that hard work will pay off, I’ll be on my way to seeing my dreams come true.
Or not. For there to be winners there have to be losers. Lots and lots of losers. (And I can’t seem to see the word “loser” without hearing Donald Trump saying it in my head, dripping with contempt.) Without those disappointed crowds of the not-good-enough, being a winner is meaningless. This is a pathological attitude, and our culture is built on it. So many people who are absolutely fine and worthy human beings, but suffer from the curse of being nobodies in a world which only values Somebodies.
“It is possible to make no mistakes and still lose; that is not a weakness — that is life.” And if I am confident of anything, it is that I have made lots and lots of mistakes. So I never really had a chance.
My poor novels. Through no fault of their own, they are burdened with a creator who sucks at marketing.
So what. I’ve blubbered in my beer about all that before. It’s the unanswerable questions and impossible choices that have drained my energy more than anything else. It’s the helplessness, the powerlessness. Every day getting up and facing the unsolvable problem that I feel pressured from all sides to solve. Failing to correctly answer the riddle again. Told to stop complaining, stop resisting, and go to the damn well to get the water I need, and nobody hears when I try to tell them that there is a huge hole in the bucket.
What’s the use?
Oh, am I committing the sin of giving up? Of not believing? Of not heroically shaking my fist in defiance and refusing to be beaten? We despise people like that, don’t we? Those weaklings, wallowing in self-pity, no courage, no guts. They deserve what they get. Losers.
You might as well heap abuse and contempt on a car with a dead battery. You can scream at it like a drill sergeant or preach like a megachurch pastor, but that engine just isn’t going to turn over. The battery isn’t going to surge with new energy because it mustn’t give up hope, it must keep trying, it mustn’t stop believing in itself.
A dead battery. No spark. Still, I remember thinking it was quite lovely on the lake that morning.