The Unfinished Work

The other day I was horrified to open an automated “new post” email from a twenty-two year old blogger – she follows me so may well see this post of mine. In it, she detailed her past of bulimia and other self-harm, including cutting herself. It had started, she said, due to self-consciousness about her weight in her young teens.

I sat there reading her post with my mouth eventually – I realized – hanging half-open. I suspect I am lots older more mature than many of you. Tales such as hers break my heart.

What she endured. And as we all know, she is hardly unique. I found myself thinking: But youth is for making memories that will make you smile when you recall them when you are older

[Excerpt from Passports. Paperback. Photo by me, 2018.]

That excerpt is one of those happy memories sometimes I fictionalize in my novels. Of course I’ve also seen the decidedly unhappy in my family. A lifetime of heroin use killed an uncle at only age 48; and my sister (my only sibling) is also a troubled woman – but I do not understand what her fundamental problem is or what may have brought it on (and my parents always refused to tell me); and there’s more.

I have also witnessed sorrow, and even early death, among contemporary friends and extended family. In August 2008 – we are approaching the tenth anniversary – my sister-in-law’s brother’s five year old son caught septicemia after a fall on holiday in southern England and DIED. (I can still hear my now late mother’s shriek over the phone from America when I told her.) In February 2014, one of our best friends died after a long illness; she was only 45. Last week we were told privately by her sister that a lovely friend of ours – in her mid-50s – has breast cancer, and that it appears very bad.

Life can – probably to an extent will – wear you down over time. For many years, nearly every morning I have awoken not exactly eager to embrace the new day. My first thoughts are usually along the lines of, “Ugh, I’m still here?” This morning was no exception. It would be so much easier, my mind briefly pushes at me, not to be here or even never to have been here. For some minutes I feel almost overwhelmed, with my mind racing through never-ending troubles, assorted disappointments, and futilities, and even loneliness, and I wonder: “What’s the point?”

If possible, I force myself to ponder the sunrise.

[Sunrise over the Catskills, New York. Photo by me, 2016.]

I think of my wife. And I think of other family and my friends.

Clearing the dishwasher, and making a coffee – maybe a cappuccino – I listen to music I like: pop perhaps, but often a film soundtrack, or classical such as Mozart or Bach.

[Photo by me, this morning.]

I may think about God as well.

Some mornings are worse than others. (Today was pretty bad.) But I always tell myself that no matter how badly I may feel right now, it is only a moment. Moments arenโ€™t forever. We all feel at least a tad down now and then. (Anyone who says they don’t is lying.)

I may reflect also on what I hope to accomplish in the years perhaps left to me. (I have a suspicion I won’t have a long life; I don’t come from a line of long-lived men.) I suppose, in a weird way, I feel now as long as I’ve got a book in the works, I can’t die with it unfinished. I’m driven on by the desire to try to make a distant unknown someone, somewhere, if they read one or more of my books, happier and to take their minds briefly off their own troubles, and maybe even through my writing and my experiences to spur them on in their own life in some small way.

[“Controlled chaos.” The home office. Photo by me, 2017.]

The ugly feelings I awaken with gradually ease, and at last they do pass. Another day. Living is a series of endless challenges.

But of course a writer may die with a book unfinished. We will all die with some matters unfinished. Life is always an unfinished work.

The best way forward, indeed THE POINT in living is, I believe, to care for and try to help others.

It is understandable how some may feel we have only ourselves upon whom to rely in life. As individuals naturally no one else can live our life for us. But donโ€™t think you have to face life alone. Don’t hide. (And park the Insta-envy. The glam you see on it is phony anyway; and, believe me, those people have daily problems, too, just as you do.)

Above all, remember you are – I am certain – cherished and loved by many just as you are. They would be distraught beyond words if you were suddenly gone. As you live each day, NEVER forget that.

For us “oldsters” to feel a bit beaten up at times by living is one thing. But to see disorders and despair in the young? Youth is not for standing in front of a bathroom mirror in secret and shoving a toothbrush down your throat to induce vomiting up your dinner.

7 replies »

  1. I’m sure a lot of us wish it were so easy as to tell ourselves that depression, anxiety, and other disorders are not what are youth is for. I certainly do. But, sometimes, those feelings are damn hard to overcome. (I like the coffee/chai tea? photo.)

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    • Agreed. I think too that the passage of time and hard experience also puts aspects of life into different contexts. What was so bad when we were “17” we realize “thirty years” later is now “ancient history”.

      Cappuccino and (to the side) English breakfast tea. ๐Ÿ™‚


      • Is it thirty years I have to wait to get to that point. Damn. I’m only 32 and there was nothing bad, and nothing I can remember, about being 2. Haha.

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  2. Having raisedโ€”almost raisedโ€”a daughter, and of course, being female myself gives me great insight into this very real struggle. Keeping our young women on the straight and realistic narrow in terms of beauty and body image has been a constant battle considering, not only peer pressure, but our countryโ€™s obsession with airbrushed beauty, the mediaโ€™s tendency to focus on only what is beautiful, and to discard all that is not. Where does that leave the rest who do not meet the socially prescribed standard of beauty? For what itโ€™s worth, I’ve made it my mission to not like or follow anyone who posts a stream of bikini-clad, half-naked photos regardless whether theyโ€™ve followed me first. Iโ€™m neither judge, jury, nor parent, but I refuse to contribute to any young woman so obsessed with physical image, that she has nothing else to share with the world. This is simply not healthy. I have to ask myself, โ€œWhatโ€™s to become of her should she gain a pound, find a wrinkle on her pretty face, or lose a limb?โ€ The answer is terrifying. Not to be sexist either, there are men, boys, and gender variants going through this as well. It has become a very sad state of affairs that seemingly has no resolution in our beauty-driven society.

    Re your personal thoughts of pushing through ugly thoughts, I often wonder if this is the writerโ€™s cross to bear. So many of us share these feelings. Is this the price we pay for our inspiration?

    I am, as always, your long-winded but well-intentioned friend . . . ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Thank you for that. I have no children, but know countless people with them, and mothers of teenage girls currently, I know, live a perpetual horror show. They live in a world even more pressured than ours was. Ours was only magazines and TV and films. Theirs’s is an endless parade on social media. I can only imagine what some parents must go through now trying to keep daughters, especially, grounded in the face (no pun intended) of all they see.

      I think too, that I do think too much. I do think I see that in writers as a group – based on what they reveal. I have always been merely a bit of a pessmist and a worrier. As I’m getting older, I suspect that tendency is worsening a bit. I rarely have a “good night” sleep. My mind is the type that wakes me at “3 AM” and I see “dragons” everywhere. ๐Ÿ™‚

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