Live Through This

Hello, Darkness

The sad parts of life are just as important as the happy ones.

Sometimes, disavowing the dark shit makes the world even darker. Last week, I was explaining to my friend Sasha that I had to watch all the USA World Cup matches by myself because I couldn’t bear the thought of being in a room full of people chanting, “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!”

He said he felt the same way me and told me that at one point in his life, he had wanted to get a tattoo of the American flag because, as he said, “I want to look at it every day and remember all the shit this country has done. I want to remember slavery, the genocide of natives, Jim Crow, racist immigration policies, building a fence along the US–Mexico border, criminalizing women’s rights to make choices about their own bodies. I want to remember all of it because it tests my love for this country. I do love America, but I will not forget the blood on our hands.” It was the greatest expression of national pride and love I had ever encountered.

“That’s how I want to love this country, too,” I said.

“That’s the only way I can love this country,” he said.

When Woody Allen fans crusaded to discredit Dylan Farrow’s account of being abused by her father, it seemed far scarier to me that anyone would go to such lengths to prove that their favorite director could not possibly be a sexual predator and abuser than to simply accept the possibility that maybe, yes, the person who made those movies that changed your life forever is a complete and utter irredeemable piece of shit.

My own paragon of optimism, my mother, won’t watch any movie or TV show that isn’t a straight-up comedy. When I was in high school, she somehow got sucked into watching American Beauty, a movie about repressed, disconnected, nihilistic, morbidly depressed people in the suburbs. She found it so deeply disturbing that she couldn’t sleep that night. In the middle of the night, she came to my room and asked me to confirm her hope that “everything in this movie is nothing more than a twisted, made-up fantasy.” She asked, “Are Americans really like that? You don’t know anyone like that, do you?”

I wanted to say, “Yes, I do know people like that, and actually, I’m kind of one of them. If only you weren’t so afraid to see that, maybe you would actually see me and actually come to know me.”

I want to be seen and known by people who are unafraid of seeing the admirable, the execrable, and everything in between. I’m not advocating party-pooperism, or defending the kind of person who’s always bringing everyone down with them by, like, going to someone’s birthday party and screaming at the birthday girl about global injustice, or showing up to a friend’s graduation dinner and talking nonstop about how shitty their life is (but congrats on graduating!). Wanting to confront darkness doesn’t mean being an overall negative person, a narcissist who is only interested in your own pain, or trying to find ways to downplay other people’s achievements or invalidate their feelings. I’m just wondering if there’s a way to acknowledge, every once in a while, the possibility that we are not always good people, that we do not always live up to the promise of who we want to be, that we may never get what we want, that sometimes we aren’t as brave as we wish we were, that we’re capable of being awful to the people we love the most, and we can act spitefully instead of honorably, and sometimes we’re lonely and terrified. I know I just dumped a whole lot of sad on you, but what if it didn’t have to be the saddest thing in the world to acknowledge that these are possibilities? What if acknowledging some of that stuff could feel like a moment of clarity, instead of one shrouded in darkness?

As I’ve gotten older, my desire to follow my dark thoughts to their fathomless origins has both diminished and bloomed. There are days and weeks and months where I binge-watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians or whatever other frothy TV show will give me a break from my brain (MAD RESPECT to any TV show entertaining enough to do that). I go through long stretches of time when the last thing I want to do is think about my hopes and fears, my disappointments, my selfishness, my monstrousness. Mostly, though, I find that confronting my darkness isn’t a choice I’m making. If it were, I could choose not to. But no one can ignore or outrun their darkness forever—eventually, it catches up with you, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. I’m not sure if that’s comforting or depressing, or if it just is.

Sometimes, I think it’s easy for me to acknowledge that the world is a scary place because I’ve never really had to deal with anything that scary. I think maybe the reason I’m able to dwell in darkness is that my darkness isn’t all that dark. When I’m feeling uncharitable toward myself, I think all of this is just evidence of my having had a fairly trauma-free, privileged life. And there I go again—seeing the worst in myself and focusing on that, while ignoring the good.

So here’s the good: My darkness makes me more compassionate and better able to relate to others, because I’m not afraid of other people’s suffering or sadness or pain. I think our little souls are capable of so much—they can handle the darkness with as much patience and grace as they do the sunnier parts of life.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s terrifying to be five years old and thinking about death between mouthfuls of cotton candy. But I’ve learned since that birthday that confronting what I’m most afraid of makes it way less terrifying. And when you realize things don’t have to either fall into OMG SO INSPIRING or OMG SO DEPRESSING, you can give your responses to the world room to be complicated (but also legitimately OMG SO AMAZING).

There’s no better time to set yourself on the PATH TO DARQUENESS than when you’re a young doe. The older we get, the more we tend to fall into the habit of fearing our old friend and doing anything to ignore it. So go forth, my dark army of Rookies! Embrace your darkness! Or at least test it out? Be lionhearted, be happy, be sad, be vast, be honest, be compassionate, be open, and let the darkness set you on the righteous path—the path of the true lover who is not afraid to see it all, and to love despite all that she has seen. ♦

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27 Comments

  • CBM July 15th, 2014 4:02 PM

    I’m loving all the “live through this” articles! Great job Jenny, I really related to this.

  • mimsydeux July 15th, 2014 4:08 PM

    Jenny, I’m on a train that’s stuck somewhere along the Hudson River in New York. I’m on my way to visit family in the States I haven’t seen in 5+ years. Thank you for expressing so beautifully what I’ve felt over the past few weeks I’ve been travelling. I haven’t always felt like the bubbliest person in the room, and I feel like there’s so much pressure to “prove” myself with relatives I don’t see too often. You’ve made me feel better about staying my authentic self and letting my light shine that way.

  • alexithymia July 15th, 2014 4:31 PM

    this is really inspiring and the tough week I am having just got a different view. thank you.

  • catharinerf July 15th, 2014 4:42 PM

    I’ve thought about this so much, especially dealing with anxiety etc.. I’ve given up the idea that happiness is the ultimate goal and I’m trying to just experience being a whole person

    http://www.chassagnewaterfalls.blogspot.ca

  • leighann July 15th, 2014 4:52 PM

    I think most of us think this way.
    I believe if we are good in our hearts we never die completely. I have a deep hope to see everyone again after I leave this not so perfect world

  • Estelle July 15th, 2014 7:54 PM

    I LUV YOU JENNY

  • JGrace July 15th, 2014 9:01 PM

    THIS IS FANTASTIC. I really, really love this. Thank you.

  • Abby July 15th, 2014 9:35 PM

    This is amazing. AMAZING AMAZING AMAZING. Thank you. I feel like I get a lot of flack for being sort of like this… I’m really passionate about social issues (as a soc/psych major it comes with the territory), and people always tell me I talk about bad things too much, or bring up the problems with the world too often, or just am a “downer” in general. But it’s not that I like to be miserable or anything, it’s just that I see a lot of problems that I think we need to work to fix, and my passion is to talk about these problems and their solutions.

    Also, that part about Jenny’s friend who wanted the flag tattoo really resonated with me. My dad works for the government, and he gets annoyed when I criticize America, because he thinks I’m attacking like patriotism or the american dream or some shit like that. But seriously, America has done some really fucking bad shit. And we’re STILL doing some really fucking bad shit. And I can’t say I’m proud of my country for the good things without acknowledging the bad things. I guess I’m that way with everything. I don’t really LOOK for the bad in everything… it just seems to stick out to me the most.

    Anyway, thank you sooo much for this article, Jenny… it means so much to me.

  • kimchi July 15th, 2014 10:06 PM

    It is weird how being dark or introspective is often perceived as being negative or antisocial. Sometimes I just won’t feel like talking to anyone at a party and then I’ll end up taking pictures of pretty lights for a few hours. A lot of times people will come up to me and ask me if I am okay because they think there is something wrong. There tends to be a misconception that certain people are shy and have low self-esteem, when really they are just thoughtful and extremely in touch with themselves and their emotions. Jenny’s piece makes me think of the first episode of Daria. It is important to be true to yourself and your emotions, but I suppose it can also be useful to show the world the fake grin they want to see to in order to get them off your back sometimes. Recently I’ve felt very weird about volunteering too. Certain types of volunteering such as working in kitchens or charity shops are pretty accessible to everyone, but the types of volunteering which involve travel often seem to only be available to those in positions of relative privilege. Volunteering itself is a noble thing to do, but in this new realm of social media it often seems like travel volunteering is often done to get on the radar of others more than anything else. I’ve come to know many people who have done volunteering, but it seems like travel volunteering is only available and accessible to a specific demographic of people which really sucks.

    http://glitterous-clitoris.blogspot.com.au/

    • Catrine July 16th, 2014 3:03 PM

      “There tends to be a misconception that certain people are shy and have low self-esteem, when really they are just thoughtful and extremely in touch with themselves and their emotions.”

      I love how you just said that. That is one of the most spot-on assessments of quieter people I have ever seen. Speaking for myself, I am not shy or intimidated easily, but there are times when I feel like being quiet and in my own head.

  • TessAnnesley July 15th, 2014 10:54 PM

    how do i find another way to say that everything Jenny writes is amazing

  • cestlaviee July 15th, 2014 11:40 PM

    this article was OMG SO AMAZING!!

  • juliamaine July 16th, 2014 12:26 AM

    This is honestly so beautiful and I can relate to it so much. People often tell me I spend too much time thinking about things that others tend to just ignore. I am always wondering if anything we’re doing on earth right now has any real meaning, because I know we’re all going to be dead eventually. As depressing as that sounds, it never makes me sad. I just see it as another fact of life. It does, however, hinder my ability to just GET THINGS DONE (“things” dealing with school, money, jobs, etc.) I am still trying to figure out how to function in society when, in the back of my mind, I am always asking myself, “What’s the point? I’m going to be dead one day.”

    Anyway, this made me feel a lot less weird about my own thought process. I’m also a lot more hopeful now that one day I will find someone to discuss these darker thoughts with. Thank you so much!

    • Abby July 16th, 2014 4:53 PM

      I totally feel this. Like… I constantly think, “why am I doing this?” when I’m doing something for school. I’m studying hard in college so that I can find a good job and get into grad school so that I can get a better job so that I can pay off my debt from grad school and have money to live so I can exist in society for so many years until I die. Like literally everything I do is so that I can just… function in society until I die. That’s so fucking shitty.

      Whelp, I just made myself feel bad lol. Anywayyy… Thanks, and I feel you.

  • Kal July 16th, 2014 1:42 AM

    Jenny I related to this so much. A lot of the times I feel like my ability to find some sort of darkness in everything is not an ability but a major character flaw. Although I agree with what you said about there being some sort of clarity there entirely.

    Such beautiful writing.

    Kali
    zymurgyprocess.com

  • Sophii July 16th, 2014 10:22 AM

    This is one of the most beautiful things that I have read on Rookie (and there have been a lot of wonderful articles.) Whenever I talk about the darker parts of life or call out casual racism/sexism/transphobia, the people around me just laugh like “here she goes again…” It’s kind of disheartening to recognise how terribly cruel human beings can be, but being aware of that is a benefit when it comes to recognising the great love and tenderness that people can show to each other. Seeing the bad makes the good appear even better, I think.

    http://prettypassionsfinefashions.blospot.co.uk

  • Knee-KeyK July 16th, 2014 3:18 PM

    I find “to love despite all that she has seen” quite difficult.

  • Me_Magalloway July 16th, 2014 5:14 PM

    My dad says that he likes to maintain a constant level of emotion. He describes it like a spectrum: While normal people go up and down, there’s generally a “line of best fit” (he’s a scientist, so you know). He likes to remain just slightly below that line, constantly, so that he doesn’t have to drop as low as other people do.
    And all I can think is, why would you want to give up those highs? By making your world “dim” you are missing the dark and the light. Cliche, I know, but still.
    Dark thoughts have permanent residence in my mind, and I’m always the one to share bad news and get in heavy political debates. You can’t ignore all these bad things, because nothing will ever change if you do.
    And the part about the American flag- to me, the worst thing is when a person is blindly patriotic. Those people who see images of freedom, equality, and bald eagles when they hear the national anthem.
    It just doesn’t seem honest. That type of optimism seems like the surface of an ocean- all you get is the reflection of the sky. I would prefer a deep sea, because you can swim in it and accomplish things, and see the whole picture.
    Thank you, Jenny, for writing these thoughts so eloquently.

    http://navigating-fairyland.blogspot.com/

  • Lillypod July 16th, 2014 5:25 PM

    The last few paragraphs really resonate. And it’s so true — I find these “happygolucky” people flake out in a crisis, too emotionally immature to deal with the reality of life. These people are literally scared of the darkness. Its not a good way to be and it makes you a crap friend.

  • Berries July 17th, 2014 11:06 AM

    I can relate to this a lot. I also thought a lot about death and dark things when I was younger, and I still do. I can look like a pessimist, when I think I am just more realistic than most people are. My mother keeps saying that other people are cheerful and deny their problems ‘to keep their heads up’. I was never like that and I think I can never be like that. I don’t even know how to do that, actually. I don’t understand that ”naievity” (though often it’s more a choice to see things ”too brightly” I guess, than actualy naievity).

    However, I think it also brought me beautiful things. I can appreciate things – not because they are PERFECT or JUST WHAT I WANTED or GORGEOUS but because they are beautiful, a sparkle of light when I need it, etc. I don’t take shit for granted, ever. I can write poetry, feel deep love for my friends and can experience compassion for about everyone because I too experience such a wide range of emotions. I also often think ”it could have been much worse”.

  • RobinF July 17th, 2014 1:01 PM

    I looove reading your writings, Jenny! You seem like such an interesting person.

  • hazylenses July 17th, 2014 5:57 PM

    I love the way Jenny examined living in a balance between pessimism and optimism–a difficult challenge for everybody. The very last sentence in particular I found to be extremely powerful.
    Beautiful article.

    hazylenses.tumblr.com

  • maggiehab July 18th, 2014 8:47 PM

    I relate to this so well. Didn’t know that anyone else felt the same way… Love this piece.

  • IrieJane July 19th, 2014 6:30 AM

    Jenny, I really love this article. I thought i was alone when it came to feeling this way. This article really helped me. Thank you so much.

  • calinash July 23rd, 2014 1:57 AM

    yes. thank you.

  • xomarielorene August 12th, 2014 9:17 AM

    OMG this article is amazing. I kept copying and pasting paragraphs to that sticky note thing on my desktop because YES. I’m going through a (mildly) dark period – I just broke up with my first boyfriend and it has made me aware of my own darkness and just the complexity of the world – nothing or no one is ever 100% great or 100% terrible. So YES. Thank you.

  • The Wandering Bird August 16th, 2014 10:13 PM

    I honestly think like this all the time and I never thought anybody would or could ever think the same way. Thank you.