ON MOURNING, FORGIVENESS AND JOBU TUPAKI
(A question from our CORO/Office Hour that I attempt to answer with some allusions to EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE)
From your experience, if someone had an artistic talent and never pursued it after college cause you know, they had to make a living. Do you find that those people tend to miserable in their middle age even though they have a comfortable life? Cause they never used their abilities. Basically, can you just tell me to shut the f up and f'n create whatever it Is that that I'm supposed to?
There's always an excuse to torture yourself over choices made and choices not made. If one is given to self-cruelty there's always an alibi for why you need to reach for the lash. Worse still, we often romanticize the lives we didn't lead because these distorted fantasies are easier than being grateful and present. Gratitude and presence — essential practices for a Good Life, but which in our current neoliberal derangement are viewed as anathema. Instead, precarity, consumption, competition, hatred of solidarities, reactivity, are the orders of the day — not gratitude and presence.
None of us are perfect or omnipotent: we all make the imperfect choices because we are imperfect beings, and we all have to turn our backs on countless possible worlds in order to live in this one world called our present. That's life. We cannot live every reality in the multiverse simultaneously. We are not Jobu Tupaki nor should we want to be (look what that search for omnipotence did to her).
I'm not the expert here, but my sense from my own limited experience is what truly makes folks "miserable" about not pursuing an artistic path after college because they had to make a living is:
(A) when they don't forgive themselves for making the best imperfect choice they could under the circumstances, and
(B) when they don't mourn the worlds they had to let go, in order to live in the world they have now.
Forgive yourself for your choices, mourn the lives/worlds you didn't live -- these have been cornerstones in my own fight against my always-at-the-ready-misery.
And no, Allen, you shouldn't shut up — the opposite, in fact.
In order to mourn you need to bear witness to what you've suffered with someone who is sympathetic. Bear witness and keep bearing witness and, yes, cry (lower case mourning) and eventually you will achieve (upper case) mourning. Through mourning we metabolize our injuries, and the endless neurotic suffering we feel over these things will become manageable every day pain.
So says the literature. And so say I who have mourned many things and who can report the difference between neurotic suffering and everyday pain is the difference between being able to live in the world, grateful and present, versus being shattered and scattered across the multiverse, never fully there, never fully alive, never grateful, always lashing ourselves and others over what we’ve lost, Jobu Tupaki style.
Yes, it takes time to mourn, but so what? Mourning eats time and gives life and heals as opposed to neurotic suffering, which eats time and eats life and produces nothing but itself.
If you are an immigrant you will recognize this neither here-nor-there unpresence, the same distraction that poisoned the life of the Evelyn character in EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE. Evelyn’s inability to mourn all the probable lives she could have had, had she not run off with Waymon, nearly cost her her actual life and the life of the whole multiverse.
Now, my case might be more extreme or it might not be, but I spent the most vital years of my writing career too depressed to write. I lost two entire decades to depression and suicidal ideation, unable to cobble together a single sentence while my peers put out amazing book after amazing book. Sure, I wrote a few things, but there was way more no-writing than there was writing.
Trust me when I say I had to learn to forgive myself for those lost decades and I had to mourn them, too. Otherwise I’m sure I would have gotten myself into some real Everything Bagel type trouble.
Because whether we’re talking about you or me or Jobu Tupaki, big or small, late or early, it’s infinitely easier to write (and to be) when you’re not punishing yourself over what was lost; when you approach your past, your self, your work, with forgiveness and mourning, when you abandon the multiversal omnipotence of rage-disappointment, and accept the humility of presence.
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