Sunday, November 16, 2008

Life In The Penumbra

Today is Sunday, and I woke up feeling somewhat better. I took some Xanax yesterday, which scares me as benzodiazapenes have the potential of permanently scarring the brain, but drugs in the Valium family are known for their pain-relieving properties for facial pain. I don't have the same addiction issues with Xanax as I do with opiates--for some odd reason, addiction to that drug has never set in. I use it sparingly as I'm so leery of it, but what relief it can bring, even a small dose.

I tend to flog myself when I resort to any type of pain meds, thinking that I should be stronger in character to overcome things through mental means, but that's just as nuts as taking too much of something. The cliche "happy medium" comes to mind here--a concept I should perhaps consider more, if that's even possible for an addict.

I got up around nine, and after making my morning coffee, I popped on the TV, and there was that History Channel show again about the plague in Europe in the 1350s. As it has before, this show gives me great comfort, because it's a story about human suffering on an unimaginable scale--a story that was recorded with the written word (as opposed to similar human die-offs like the peoples of Central America who succumbed to European diseases in the 1500s).

It reinforced the notion that the scale of human suffering can vary wildly. Some go through life with the ordinary trials and tribulations of the human condition, while others suffer in such grotesque ways that we avert our eyes, as such unfairness is unthinkable.

Perhaps this is the reason for the current popularity of the philosophical/spiritual concept of the Law of Attraction, which seems to be taking root everywhere. While this idea has been around for ages, current books like "The Secret" have become red-hot bestsellers as they offer people a greater sense of control over what happens to them if they can just "vibrate" and visualize differently in their thoughts and actions. They have faith that if they expect more of life, they will get it, and surely there is some wisdom in this.

When one stops and thinks about it, it really should come as no surprise that this "law" contains such truth, as the evidence for it is all around us. We all know someone who had an ideal upbringing and marches into their adulthood having a natural love of themselves and others. They often find love and success early in life, and clearly it's because they're unencumbered by the baggage that plagues the person who suffered horrendous abuse in childhood, be it emotional, physical or sexual.

When survivors of these diabolical ravages begin to come of age, their view of the world and of themselves is grossly distorted, and much of their energies, if not all of it at times, is spent trying to repair the damage that never should have occurred in the first place. Yet at the same time, they must also embark on developing the survival skills that any human needs so that take can care of themselves and their families (provided they have the emotional stability to even have a family), and to lead an independent life.

For these folks (myself being one), the Law of Attraction provides a new hope and a clear map towards a better existence, whereby we can consciously tap into the power of expectation, which seems to come so easily to the products of happy childhoods.

Yet there is also a grave danger in thinking this law so absolute, for when bad things happen to good people, we can easily slip into the "blame the victim" mentality. If a child is kidnapped and killed, parents can wonder where their thinking went wrong that allowed this to happen. If we are felled by a disease that causes lifelong crippling, we can blame ourselves that we didn't visualize hard enough to prevent this terrible event.

I suppose my point is that there are limits to everything, and that there are no absolute truths in life, for if there were, we would indeed have complete control over everything that happens to both us and the ones we love just by creating a pretty picture in our heads.

A few years ago, I had a lovely friendship with a woman, Elle, who actually started out as a fan of my music. We had a long discussion over dinner one evening about my work and about art in general, and I attempted to explain what art was for me, and that I knew it when I created it.

I said that the click happened when my song was somehow able to encompass a broader statement about life than what was there on the surface. If it was a happy tune, there was also an aching sadness just below the surface, and if it was a sad song, there was a foundation of hope somewhere deep inside it.

Elle (who has a massive IQ) explained it much better. She said that art and music like this exists in the "penumbra" (which Webster's defines as "a space of partial illumination between the perfect shadow on all sides and the full light") and that this is the area in which the Supreme Court grapples with its decisions in order to find truth. It's never precisely in one location, but rather in the grey area between light and shadow.

I never forgot her explanation, as I'd discovered this heady concept all on my own in my dogged attempts to write something so seemingly simple as a pop song. It's wonderful when humans from such varied backgrounds can come to such similar conclusions via completely different routes.

I don't see Elle as much these days, as she's suffering greatly herself, only her trial is full-blown multiple sclerosis, and she's attempting, quite valiantly, to find her own comfortable place in the penumbra.

For both of us, the shadows in our lives are quite dark indeed. But I like to believe that it's in such a state of darkness that any light is best seen, provided we choose to open our eyes.

In a world where there seems to be no absolute truths right now, I suppose that's one truth I can count on.

Hope springs eternal.


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