• S.E. Burr

Harnessing Despair and Turning It into Creation

In the song "Holding on to You," Tyler Joseph sings:

"Tie a noose around your mind loose enough to breathe fine and tie it, To a tree, tell it, 'You belong to me, This ain't a noose, this is a leash, And I have some news for you, you must obey me.'"

Tyler's band, Twenty One Pilots, is one of the most successful bands in the world right now. What does it say about our culture and the time we live in, that so many of their songs are about resisting the urge to kill yourself? I'll let you ponder that one on your own, but I want to talk about these lyrics. "This ain't a noose. This is a leash." I think he's talking about taking despair, one of the most negative, most crushing emotions, and drawing strength from it. He's talking about channeling the incredible force of that emotion and making it into the thing that saves you rather than the thing that destroys you. The same current that can drown you can also push you to the shore.

In the book I'm writing (yes, still untitled) a woman meets a man who she thinks is about to jump off the bridge they're on, and she suggests that, instead of jumping, he go visit an elderly prostitute she knows. When she is asked later about the morality of the advice she gave since the man was apparently married, she says, "There are far more destructive things to a marriage than sex with a prostitute." As I wrote that line, I was entranced by it, because I think most people would say that having sex with a prostitute is incredibly destructive to a marriage. But it's clearly not as destructive as suicide, or murder for that matter. If your choice is between suicide and murder, then I'd like to wish you "farewell," and to thank you for the service you're doing to humanity by not taking any of us with you. But if your choice is between suicide and almost anything else, I would encourage you to choose the else.

Good news! The "else" can (and probably should) be a far more positive thing than banging a whore who takes her dentures out first.

I woke up Wednesday feeling an immense weight of despair pressing down on me. I don't like to talk about politics, but I'll just say that my impressions of the man we elected president have been that he is a very impulsive person who has questioned the foundations of our nationhood, like our First Amendment right to Freedom of Religion and our ability to hold fair elections. Perhaps I was being alarmist (I pray to God that I was) but I started to question a number of things that I have always taken for granted, like that my nation would continue to exist throughout my lifespan, like that I would always have food to eat, like that there would never be another civil war. I've heard these types of fears expressed after other elections and I always thought the people saying them sounded ridiculous. I'm talking about my own fears, not because I want you to share them (I hope my fears are unfounded,) but because I want you to understand the weight of the emotion that I was feeling. I still feel that weight, though thankfully it's not as overwhelming as it was at first.

So, what did I do? How have I turned that emotion into something good? Nothing dramatic. I deleted Candy Crush from my phone and I swore off the other time wasters in my life--YouTube and most of my use of social media. I decided that if I could only depend on a stable existence for a limited amount of time, then I would use that time to do the things I really value, which are interacting with my family/friends and writing. I feel that my words are what I have to contribute to the world. At its core, I think my compulsion to write comes from a desire to help people and to do my small part to hold us together and to keep our world from falling apart.

Being creative--creating something--is one way you can turn despair into something good. There are other ways, too. On Wednesday, a close friend of mine researched organizations she could join that promoted understanding and unity in America and that defended our most vulnerable citizens. She joined several of them, and has committed to do what she can to help our country through volunteer work.

Most of the people that history remembers did not have peaceful, happy lives. They struggled; they suffered; they fought. If you are feeling a weight of despair, please, please don't you dare let it crush you. These are perilous times and we can't afford to lose you, either to an early death or to a wasted life. Grab hold of your despair, tame it, and let it lead you to something better.

Links to recent blog posts:

Best Heard in Silence: Spoken Voice vs. Written Voice

The Problem with Romance: Mr. Right Can't Fix What's Wrong

I Give Up: Why Being Stubborn is Good but I've Decided to Quit Anyway

Link to recent book:

GobbledGoblin Fruit

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