Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Prayer Circle Anyone?

I worked with someone (Kathy) a couple of years ago who was, without question, one of the most positive people I'd ever met. Ever time i said hello, she would shake my hand, her eyes going wide like she'd just won the lottery.

"Steve! How are you?" Kathy would ask me, her face glowing. "Isn't this a wonderful day?"

She was very nice, and everything she said needed exclamation marks. While I appreciated her love for life, I did find it difficult at times. Every day wasn't a great day for me. Not just because of my mental health issues, but because. like many writers and artists, I find life upsetting. It bothers me how we factory farm animals. It bothers me that we're more interested in Kim Kardashian's belly ring than the treatment of refugees. It bothers me that we don't care about single moms in this country.

And so there were a number of days when I would avoid Kathy. It wasn't a wonderful day, and as an artist, some days were particularly horrible. All I wanted to do was get through the next eight hours and commiserate about the state of humanity with a friend or a bottle of wine or both.

That hasn't changed. And there are days, like this this week, that life feels particularly hard. I'm sure a psychologist may have a better idea why this is so, but since I'm poor and can't afford one, I don't fully understand the rhythm to it. I only know that waking up today was tough. Just like yesterday. Am I still writing? Yes. Did I still write a blog and two thousand words on my new novel last night. Yes. Do I feel like sunshine and meadows? No.


When I reconfigured this website a week ago to write about the thing that mattered most to me, people pursuing their dreams, I resolved to give you, whatever reader happened to stop by, some level of encouragement. Something to take with you tomorrow that would give you strength going forward. I resolved that this wouldn't be another writer's vanity site. It wasn't about me. It was about you, as much as I could manage.

Today, I don't have any happy stories to tell. I still have two thousand words to write, and I'm guessing the only reason I'm here is that I'm married to such an amazing person. Bethany not only understands me, but takes the sting out of my misanthropy, when I feel like humanity is nothing but a failure. When I feel like I'm nothing but a failure.

This has been a difficult year. I was fired from my job as a youth worker in June, three weeks before the school year ended. I was fired by someone I thought was my friend, and it was done in a way that left me a nervous wreck. The entire year had been stressful, so much so that I developed IBS. It became difficult for me to eat, and even now, I generally eat only once a day. After I was fired, I started to get the shakes. I wasn't working, so I took over house duties, and when I did the groceries, I'd pull out the bills before the cashier finished so she wouldn't see my hands shake.

I remember one incident at the grocery store where I'd failed to prepare the bills ahead of time. When I reached into the wallet, I couldn't control my shaking hands, and it took about ten seconds for me to pull out the appropriate bills. The cashier was very nice, but her expression was such that I felt my face flush with embarrassment.

Oddly, my writing has flourished the past six months. Depression and sadness are not a hindrance when it comes to art, though it is a hindrance in other ways.

I seldom go out now. And while things have started to improve, there are weeks, like this one, when it is all I can do to get up.

I don't say this to elicit some sort of "touchy-feely" commiseration, I say it because I know some of you are going through the same thing. And while we all want to be encouraged by people who "have it all together," I'd much rather listen to someone who struggles with the same shit that I do.

Artists like to hide their brushstrokes. Unfortunately, fellow dreamers become discouraged when these heroes, who have done such great things, achieve one success after another without understanding that pain is part of the process.


When I was a teenager, I was part of an active youth group in my church. Once a week we would hold prayer meetings. About twenty of us would gather into a circle and talk about our struggles and then pray together. Sometimes (too often) the meetings would dissolve into gossip. ("I need help with Diana, because she's been flirting with Tom and he doesn't know that God has promised him to me." Or, "I really like Jean, but her family doesn't go to church enough for us to be together, and I saw her hanging out with Jim, who's not a Christian.")

But generally speaking, it was a pretty amazing thing. It was good to share, and even if it went off the rails at times, there was a sense of togetherness, of everyone leaning in together. Leaning on one another.

I thought about posting something else today, because I really didn't want to write about the noise in my life. But if I want this to be a place where we can gather and be open together, we need to feel one another's pain. We need to see that we're not alone. That the dream we chase isn't just meadows and sunshine.

We need to see the brushstrokes.

These are mine.

Yes, I expect things to get better. And no, I understand that as a writer I will probably never think of the world in terms of sunshine and rainbows. There is too much pain for that.

But I remember how I felt in that circle. I remember how privileged I felt when one of my friends shared a private struggle. How connected I felt because I shared that same struggle.

We work towards our dreams, and we want to be encouraged. But we can't forget that part of our journey is to rally around those who are struggling. That we're all human. That we're all going to go through times when everything feels wrong.

My hope today is that this place can be part of your Prayer Circle, whether you're religious or not. I don't have all the answers. No one does. But what I do know is that there is a place for all of us, and that so long as we focus on pursuing that which makes us feel most alive, we have a chance to pull out of any tailspin.

You are loved. You will fail. Together, we can pick each other up again.