Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Empathy part III: the Truth



Four months ago a close friend made this simple comment: “I’ve had people tell me that they had to stop reading your blog because it was so negative.”

Wow.

What can I say to that?

I didn’t. I nodded, tears behind my eyes, and our conversation continued, ignoring the comment altogether. Ignored it ever since.

I’ll be honest: I have not considered myself a positive person, at all, in my life. Even now, positivity is something with which I deeply struggle. I have, on a whole, taken a very bleak view of life, the world, and humanity in general. Why I developed that part of my personality over all others, baffles me. See, I didn’t/don't perceive myself as negative; I have been ‘me’ my whole life, my negativity or a meanness unaddressed for my first 20 years. Pessimistic, yes. Dark, definitely. But not negative. Those few attempts to educate me fell on anxious and depressed and sarcastic ears. All I heard when people tried to address my pessimism: “you are a failure, and no one cares about you or who you are.” The truth of those feelings, of course, still cannot be substantiated.

During those years I considered myself a realist. I saw the world as I believed it was. I saw people as they were. I was the person ‘brave’ enough to tell it like it is. My favorite anachronism attacked the dichotomy of optimism and pessimism: do you see the glass as half empty or half full? Me: depends, did you pour water into the glass, or did you dump water out? I thought I was clever, that I knew better, that I knew myself better. I think we all do at that age.

Since hearing I'm “so negative” (accompanied with "it is toxic to be around you and your negativity"), I haven't been able to get it out of thoughts, troubled by the root(s) that feed these decaying branches. I spent time reading, writing, thinking, too much thinking in the middle of the night, praying and praying and praying, talking to friends (without revealing my concerns), and spending time (most importantly) with my wife and children. To learn. To know. To see why, why I nurtured this deplorable aspect of my personality. And when I stumbled upon the answer, the simplicity and source of it all, shocked me far more than it should. How I could miss something so obvious, so basic, so necessary and even instinctual, that it is no wonder I spent the last 30-some-odd-years in fog and shadow and darkness. The answer begins, first, with addressing a topic that has plagued me for nearing on a decade:

Empathy.

The word of mysterious meaning I devoted far too much time trying to deconstruct. I first wrote about Empathy in a less-than-positive attitude towards its meaning. Empathy and Masochism I wrote over two years ago. Littered with negativity and antagonism. The second half of that self-righteous diatribe was to follow shortly thereafter; but it never did. Instead, that same year I wrote Part II, a self-important ‘reflection’ on my writing that inadvertently begged the question: what are you doing? All my previous writings are littered with a litany of pessimism and self-proclaimed prognostications on life, the universe, and everything, with the caveat that I was now a University teacher. I considered it pragmatic, however, simply put: it was negative. All of it. I saw it. I read it. Negative against language, against people, against the past, present, and future of living. Not a shred of it bore any positive notions, outlooks, expectations, or conclusions. Even in an attempt to relate the word Empathy to a Godly attribute, it still manifested self-indignant maleficence. Through it all, I maintained the belief that Empathy is humanly impossible: we can never feel what someone else is feeling, cannot truly relate to another in an attempt to comfort, support, serve, or help; we are lucky if we can sympathize and offer love. But even then, we are mortal and selfish. That was the idea, anyway. It was negative. A bashing of a beautiful concept, an ideal that humanity should strive towards. Because I didn’t understand its meaning, I didn’t understand its purpose or its intentions. Or the need for Empathy's existence in our language.

Then (as cliché as it sounds), it hit me:

I had no Hope.

My understanding of Empathy was through a lens of Hopelessness.

As long as I can remember, I lived without Hope. No Hope in myself, in my talents, in my family, in my friends, in my passions, in other people; no Hope to be loved, to be wanted, to be desired; no Hope that I would, or could, succeed in life or find my place among the world, in the world, and be someone. Even as a young child I remember not believing in my abilities. Whether in sports, music, engineering (Legos of course), or school, I didn't believe in me or of what I was capable. Regardless of any positive results, I hated myself which came out in pessimism, sarcasm, and just the most negative personality. It was easier to dwell in self: pity, doubt, deprecation, loathing, and the list goes on.

This Hopelessness (I think) was generated from fear. Fear of living (which encompasses far too much to explain here). Unfortunately, that fear developed into a deep-rooted social anxiety that coupled with its ugly step-sister: depression. And once caught by those two, what little possibility for Hope that may have lingered, died.

By high school, I was completely devoid of Hope. I got up each morning because I didn’t know what else to do. I went to school because what else is there? I performed well in classes because it seemed miserable to do poorly (plus, academia came naturally). I went to church because I was raised Mormon. Everything I participated in came out of routine, or obligation; that's just what you're supposed to do: you do things over and over, year after year, and eventually you die. I didn't know what else was possible. I didn't think for myself; I didn't make choices. Instead, I thought about death a lot. Thought about suicide a lot. Never planned or strategized. But I thought about it, about how I would do it. I kept quiet, though. Because I ‘knew’ that no one cared. If I disappeared into the black oblivion, no one would notice. That mentality carried me to college, to my mission, to my marriage, to more college, to all my friends, to work, to my children, and to the last few years in Rexburg where all of the Hopeless feelings and stresses of life and work and marriage and family came to a head and something had to give (that story is for another time). I faced a choice: give up on life, or change my thoughts and actions. I’m still here, so you know how the story ends, for now.

To those I have upset, offended, turned away (I hope you might be reading this), frustrated, or brought down under foot: I am sorry. I want(ed) my writing to be a place where people could find reality, a place where the ‘dismal existence of humanity’ was splayed open for all to see, to help others realize that they do not struggle alone, that the fears and sorrows and disappointments often found in this life were not edited out from the ‘minor’ successes. Instead, my words became a pit of self-indulgent and self-important vexations to make myself feel better. Rather than build myself up to meet the height of others, I dragged everyone down to my level.

In the last eight months, after many doctors and counselors and medications (again, story for another time), I no longer allow myself to live Hopelessly. I have a long way to go, and I Hope to share a lot of it here.

There are many changes coming soon. And more true stories.

As it turns out, my blog has been nothing but pessimism that I cloaked with ‘realism’, as if my dreary perspective attempted to see the world for what it is. And perhaps it was, at least in the best way that I understood myself (which was limited). Still is, at times. I was disappointed when I read through my old writing, not at the quality--it sounds boastful, but sometimes I was impressed by what I wrote--no, I was disappointed at how I not only viewed the world, but I how expressed that view to others. Like I said, I hid behind the cloak of ‘realism’, of 'honesty', of not holding back when and where others do, being raw and uncut, laying it all out there in the bright sun for all to see. Instead, I took a magnifying glass and scorched every single person who read through these posts.

For that, I am sorry.

I say goodbye to THE YEARS AFTER, and Hope for something better. I Hope to find out what that is here, with you.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Day 1831 . . .



Give or take a day or two (you know, leap years)

It is officially over five years since I graduated with my Master of Art’s degree in 2012. I still find it difficult to comprehend how much time has elapsed since sitting in Douglas Hall around tables with eight to 10 other fledgling writers, all discussing the minutiae of our words and story and writing. All guided by brilliant mentors who gave more to us than we knew. I loved college; learning is one of my strongest talents. I can sit in class, absorb, answer, postulate, pontificate, defecate--all the -ates out there. There is something about being on a college campus, about the people you meet, the conversations and ideas, the smell. I don’t know, maybe I’m idolizing and glamorizing the past, but I loved college. And now, five years later, here is what I am doing:

-I taught a year and half at BYU-Idaho: an amazing experience where I was lucky to have students who are now some of my closest and dearest friends, where I was able to feel like I could make a difference in peoples’ lives, a place where I felt connected to the world;

-I have published over 30 stories and poems: there is something special about having someone else tell you that your work and time has value, that just makes it all worth it. I look forward to submitting and publish more in this coming year;

-I have two, healthy children: I could not imagine being a father would be this amazing. Holy crap is it hard, but it is wonderful and silly, and these two are just beautiful and brilliant and teach me more than I can hope to teach them;

-I have been married for almost 12 years: I met the wife when she was still in high school, I fell in love on our first date (true story, I promise I’ll tell it sometime), and I have loved her ever since. These many years have not been easy. I don’t want to give a false since of reality here. I want to be honest. We have struggled financially, emotionally, physically, and personally. We have had great moments, too, memories that I cherish. Through up and down, and below and above, it has all been worth it. She has taught me, helped me, and pushed me in ways I didn’t know I needed, and I will forever be in her debt for all that she has done for on my behalf. She is my love, and I will always belong to her.

-I am more emotionally stable than I have ever been: In the past, I have devoted space here to talk about my anxiety and depression (and there will be more on that in later posts), but I reached a low I did not know I could get to last year. Thankfully, I have family that was willing to help and get me the medical help I needed. I am grateful for the fields of medicine that we have available to us now on earth;

-We are back in California: among friends and family. Our living situation is not ideal, but we are here, and we are safe, and I am excited about the next six months, and years to come. I currently work at a Title insurance company, not ideal, but the best place I could hope for until I find what it is that I am supposed to do;

-I got accepted in a PhD program: I continue to awe that I got into Lancaster University. I believe in the work I want to do, my theories and research topics, and its importance to the literary community, and the world as a whole. But it is extremely validating to have others tell you that your passions and ideas are not only interesting, but deserve space and time to explore. And even more so, I have been fully funded for my three years of school, a dream I did not know would be possible. A true blessing for our family that I do not fully comprehend.

I could gush and go on, but I will leave it there for now. This last year has been the most difficult year in my life thus far. But I have learned more about myself, my family, my friends, and the world in this last year. More than my 32 years of living.

It is impossible to see the beauty of trials while going through them (believe me, I know this from experience). My trial continues, but each day I see more and more why it is necessary, why I needed this to grow as a person, in all aspects of my personality. I needed it be this hard in order to see where my shortcomings were and how to improve. I am grateful to be strong enough to survive this, to survive this long with the difficulties I have faced.

It’s been five years and I haven’t found my calling yet, or gotten my career job, and that’s okay. My life has so much room to grow and improve, and I could not be more excited about where I see this all going.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Last Lecture (part III)

At the end of every semester I write a "Last Lecture", which is more or less words of advice that I think the students need to hear, words I wish I had heard when I was in college (or even now). This is the third semester I have done this, and each year is better than the last. I find new truths that I didn't even know I knew until writing them down. Now I realized when I came on here that I never posted the last lecture I gave for the Winter Semester I taught. I'll find it and put it on here in the following week. For now, I'll post the last lecture I wrote for this year; it was the hardest piece to read in class since it was the last lecture I would give at BYUI. But more on that later. Here you go:



We are not perfect. None of us are. We will never be perfect while piloting these meat sacks around this rotating orb of inconspicuous existence, spirit bodies having a mortal experience, waiting until we return home.

Perfection: that word implying flawless exceptionality unreachable by even the saintliest, the richest, the most beautiful, the strongest, the fastest, the smartest; that word, denoting completed wholeness, no need for improvement or growth or continuation. Perfection is the antithesis of being. Mortal perfection is what we should aspire to overcome, to grow beyond, or around, or outside of; because it is by mortal perfection that we lose ourselves, that we become absorbed in the ‘things’ of living: those objects that distract from truth and light and happiness; those ‘things’ that prognosticate hollow realities devoid of sustenance.

Don’t be perfect. Perfect is not for this life.

Be curious.

Be growing.

Be learning.

Be improving.

Be loving. Love with your whole soul, with every molecule bonded throughout your bodies; love until your bones crack and your skin tingles and you can’t breathe. Give that love freely. You cannot force love, nor can you take it. Love is the embodiment of time devoted to another, given without restraint by the giver to the recipient without expectation of reciprocation. It is the purest form of honesty and truth that one mortal can give to another, that one eternal being can give to another. It is the only gift we can give to God that He does not already possess. It is the only gift we can give each other that we cannot attain independently. Give love and accept love, be loving no matter what.

Be passionate. Stop living for the system, for ‘the man’, for the voice in your head that sounds like your mom or dad telling how to feel and what to think and who to be and what to eat; stop living for other people and their manufactured ideals perpetuated simply because that’s what’s been done since the dawning of mankind. Start living for yourself. Start making choices. Any choices. Choose which shoes to wear: not because a commercial or a friend or an ad online or a price tag, but because they are comfortable and help make your posture better. Choose what career you want to have, not because of the money you can make or the possible prestige associated or the people you will impress or the bullies and naysayers you can prove wrong, but choose a career because you are passionate about the work being done; because you love the environment and the people. Because you found a love in doing. Choose to be better than what you think you deserve. Be better than just the you that has been given to you. Choose to be passionate about you and becoming more you than anyone else could possibly hope to understand.

There is no one else in this world who is youer than you. You are the youest there is. Sounds like Dr. Suess, and I’m pretty sure it is, but still, it’s true. The scariest part, is that you can lose you. You can lose every single little detail that makes you you. And often no one takes it, we just give it away because we aren’t using it. We lose sight of who we are and what we want and what makes us happy, and we walk down the street tossing out little pieces of ourselves like confetti. And soon, you, the you that once was you, will no longer be you, but will be some other. And that other won’t recognize you, and it will start to change how you look, what you think, what you eat, what music you like, what words you say. That other will take your collection of obscure Mexican geckos and sell them to an aquarium for creepy men to look at, all the while you won’t even realize that all your favorite clothes are gone and you find yourself eating wedge salads and talking about the price of butternut squash at the farmer’s market. It is so easy to lose you when you aren’t paying attention.

Pay attention.

Hold on to you. Keep you close. Get to know you. Develop you. Be passionate, and you will become more you. Never stop becoming more you.

And share that you with others. Whether in class, at church, at home, with a stranger at the Taco Bell after curfew; share yourself with others, give of yourself. Give of your passion for being. Give of that love.

Really, it all comes down to giving. To love and be loved. To be passionate. To be you. You must give. Give time. Give love. Give of yourself. Give to yourself. Give.

We are not perfect, and I hope we never will be, because I don’t want to stop growing and learning and becoming more me than I am now. It will be hard. I can guarantee it will be impossible. But the thing about impossible, is that nothing is impossible so long as we don’t know it is impossible. Some days you will want to give up. I almost did. But don’t. If you find yourself losing hope, thinking that you is no longer who you want, or that the omnipresent struggles of being weigh too much, never give up. Never surrender. Keep being imperfect. Keep making mistakes. Keep moving until you see yourself moving forward, moving upward, and you will start to become you again. The edge is scary, and easy to find, and there are many willing to lead to the edge and watch you fall into the down. Do not go there. Do not follow them. You are you, and you are more than just a meat sack, whether you know it or not.

You are loved. By many. By God. By your family. By your friends. By your ward family. By that stranger you held the door open for last week who was on crutches, or the person sitting alone who you smiled at in the Crossroads. But if you don’t feel love from any of them, know that I love you. You are part of me. You are part of my family. These last months have given me hope when I saw nothing but the darkness in the down while standing on the edge. I love all of you, not as students, but as friends. Keep being you. Keep giving. Keep loving.