The thought-enhancing silence

The silence in the middle of the small town of Köyceğiz, in Southwestern Turkey, is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, though right now a cicada is trying to break it, or break its little heart trying.

Walking by the huge lake here, also called Köyceğiz, you can’t even hear the lapping of the waters, as they are becalmed a lot of the time, almost as if there is no organic beating heart within that huge expanse of water, when in fact there are, among many other sea creatures, a lot of massively huge turles that one can see swimming just below the surface. But their heartbeats aren’t enough to break the mirror that looks back at me as I peer into its depths.

There are very few people around, since the peak of the Turkish summer season is gone, but the heat is still oppressive to the extreme and it sears the soles of your feet and the inside of your mind, almost toasting you alive as you walk, very slowly, along the lake’s very well curated banks, as sweat pours out of pores you didn’t even know you had.

The place is absolutely gorgeous. The lake itself, of course, is idyllic and the mountains that border its horizon rise and fall, having different levels and different shades, almost as if they were shot by a Disney Multiplane Camera. And there are trees everywhere, and every few steps water pouring out of pipes that compensates for the heat-driven dryness. And it’s almost as if I’m alone in this world so beautiful it was gifted to me by well-wishing friends, who, knowing how darkness has engulfed my world right now, cared enough about my well being to do something about it, trying to push a bit of light to dilute, even if very very briefly, the density of the black.

The beauty is just amazing and unique, but it’s the silence that predominates. It’s a solid wall that wraps you round in abstract cast concrete. And of course, thoughts just reverberate in it. Loud and harsh and clanging, like the inside of a bell-tower during the feast of the village patron saint. And thoughts aren’t exactly lacking right now. They keep me awake at night, they share my down time as I try to work, they fight back against my life-giving creativity, they punch me in the stomach and my heart and my mind, they engulf my very soul. Because, as I have already said in preceeding blogs, my world has been turned upside down by a sudden, intransigent decision I was helpless to overturn, but which in turn overturned me and all that I am and can be and will be. Demolishing the past, destroying the present, and annihilating the future.

I am, of course, working hard to get back on track, since this way lies total destruction of my mind and soul. It looks anything but hopeful as I write this, but I need to believe it is, because giving up leads to places I do not want to go. And Köyceğiz, that has given me so much by way of beauty, has also amplified the thoughts with its silence, though maybe, in so doing, has also helped me embrace them, and with them, the grief that is such an integral part of what has happened. Because only through embracing it will I eventually wear it out. I cannot get rid of it. I cannot ignore it. It will bore a hole in my heart and kill me. I need to hold it to me as it tortures me, grabs my stomach and twists, stops me breathing… like accepting the drill of the dentist during a root canal (but without anaesthetic!) knowing that, at some point in the future… potentially a very distant one… it will help ease the killer toothache. A psychologist friend of mine has actually told me I have to do this.

So, in a sense, thank you Köyceğiz for your thought-amplifying silence. I cannot not hurt right now… it’s like existing with half of every organ amputated, and needing to understand how to make do with half a heart, and half a liver… and, much worse, half a soul… but the pain writ large helps me put it in some sort of order. Still painful, but a tiny bit more acceptable.

If only there was just the beauty to be enjoyed in this wondrous place… shared with the only one who mattered to me to share beauty with! But therein lies the insanity in the excruciation that underlies the mess I’m in. So I will also need to learn how to appreciate the beauty alone, till sharing Köyceğiz with someone who can regrow the amputated half of my soul becomes again an option I can live with.

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Happiness (and the lack of it)

Tear2

As I walked in Malmö city centre a few months ago, I noted a young girl… no more than twenty… walking on the pavement and crying. She had tears streaking down her face, her eyes were misted over, inward looking, her lips were trembling, her features distorted in a mask of misery.

I was uncertain what to do. Surely it was not my place to go ask her if she was all right? She obviously was not, so that would have been trite and out of place. In the end I decided that it was not something I could affect, and she turned the corner and was gone.

But my mind stayed with her. And I could not, for the life of me, conceptualise anything so hellish that would make that girl blubber in that way for all to see as she walked in the middle of a busy city. I mean…what could have been so impossibly bad after all? I thought.

Now, months later, I know exactly what could have been hell for her. Not what in itself, but the concepts that underlie misery and happiness.

You see, I could not conceptualise such horrors at the time because I was fundamentally happy. I was in a stable, long-term, happy relationship that had borrowed a lot more from fairy tales than reality, but held together very nicely thank you. I was doing well in my profession (was, in fact, about to be promoted), a serious health problem had been all but solved, I was working on a new children’s book that had enormous promise. My life was happy. Happiness was the overarching emotion that then coloured all other emotions. I’m not saying everything was perfect. Research is very clear about what the state of happiness is. Lyubomirsky, Sheldon and Shkade’s paper from 2005 called “Pursuing Happiness”, for example, quotes the literature in defining happiness “in terms of frequent positive affect, high life satisfaction, and infrequent negative affect. These three constructs are the three primary components of subjective well-being…” (p.115) There was no doubt, therefore that I was satisfying all three constructs, with the negative affect being my own construction of opposition to that very happiness… as I have had occasion to explain in the blog previous to this one. However, the other two constructs were by far predominating.

There was no doubt that my thoughts, feelings and inclinations were being coloured by my happiness, limiting my perception of reasons for sadness in others… and possibly, as a direct result, in myself. And this is weird, because for all intents and purposes, I’m an empath… a bit of a natural inclination in that direction enhanced by my communications training, particularly in the way I search for and collocate patterns of behaviour.

So even my empathy was being swayed by my natural happiness.

And then the main source of my happiness, my relationship, the very lynchpin of my existence, was brought crashing down overnight, and it died very fast after that, efficiently, intransigently, in spite of all my efforts to the opposite. And the overarching veneer of joy, that had coloured the world bright and found it difficult to understand the fundamental reasons for sadness, disappeared. My frequent smile went with it. My approach to life darkened. I stopped quipping, joking about everything (sometimes annoyingly… so I suppose it was a relief to some friends, at least), I stopped looking at sunsets and feeling their warmth on my face and letting their colours turn my soul to gold.

I died inside, and everything darkened.

OK… let me try to explain this as best I can. Think of an old painting that had warm, beautiful colours when first created by the master. Think of grime accumulating over centuries, in which the colours dull, the bright hues become pastel… the content remains the same and recognisable, but the verve and oomph… the pomp and circumstance, if you like… are no longer there. In my case it just took one day… less, actually, a few minutes, to do that, but the effect was undoubtedly the same.

And suddenly, the other day, I remembered the crying girl in Malmö, and my heart immediately went out to her, and OH, how I recognised her despair at whatever had instigated that bout of intense misery.

Now it was difficult for me to recognise the reason for laughter and joking… in much the same way that I had not understood what could have motivated the sadness. And none of my much vaunted academic prowess that makes me analyse everything everywhere even began to help, for the very simple reason that I could not recognise that there was actually anything to analyse when I was in the very thick of it. Because the happiness was a coating of the soul… a veneer on everything that I did and felt. That is exactly what the sadness is now, and it’s darkened the taste of good food and darkened the light streaming through cracks in the curtains early in the morning, darkened the intensity of an exciting movie, darkened the air I breathe, making it thicker and less filling (stopping in my chest, more often than not), darkened the silence and the smile on people’s lips. Darkened my whole perception of reality.

I have no clue when my next bout of happiness will come around. It’s going to need to be a doozy to clear out the misery that is weighing down my soul.

In fact, right now, it’s telling me that it is never going to happen. And no matter how I struggle, I find it hard to contradict it.

The Soul-Devouring Darkness

Robin Williams

The last couple of days I have thought a lot about Robin Williams, who died by his own hand five years ago. As is my wont these days, whenever I feel really close to someone who has died… or that person has in any way affected me and my life… I draw him. My drawings are usually just pen portraits, based on someone else’s photo (and I’m sorry I don’t always know the source, so can’t acknowledge it), but I always add my own little touch, trying to pull out of the likeness that predominant element that I see thrusting itself into my soul.

In Robin William’s case it had to be the eyes and the mouth. I increased the girth of the lips to the right to turn the smile into a sardonic one, and I put “water” in the eyes, making them liquid, inward looking, giving the lie to the character he played in public. The jovial clown there to raise a laugh, while fighting with demons inside.

And I empathise. Can’t not. I often fight with demons. I might not be a certified clinical depressive, but there are many of the symptoms that dog me… that run through my very being like soiled water, fouling my life and often ruining it.

I am known as the guy with the smile. A recent, soul-destroying, devastating breakup led me to draw myself without the smile (couldn’t put it on any more) and the reaction was massive. “This is not the Ġorġ we know”, “Go put the smile back on”, and the usual platitudes one tells someone going through a bad patch that often do more harm than good. But the smile couldn’t be there that time, because the demons had eaten it.

I’m a very moody person. I come across as an extrovert… a good communicator, a man of words. Which I suppose I also am. But I am also an artist. A poet. A writer. And those creative traits do really demand an introverted conceptualisation of life. In fact, when the inward eye darkens, when something triggers thoughts that become darker and darker and procreate like lice in a schoolgirl’s hair, I fold into myself, struggling with the inner me, letting no-one in till I push away the darkness, forcing it into as narrow a space in my psyche as possible, in order for lightness to once again allow itself into my being. But when I’m in my dark place, the darkness devours my soul, and throttles my stomach, tramples on it like a herd of demented buffaloes and kills all dreams, all hopes… all happiness.

Even those really close to me have found this difficult to take. And if there are enough of these incidences (and god knows I’ve had enough for a hundred lifetimes), then the effect on some people (even those who really should know better) is that they see the silence and the wall built around me at that moment, and take the rebuff as a rebuke… and stop trying to understand the cause and just take the (horrid) result as the outcome. This can be disruptive of even the most intimate relationships (as I have found out to my great devastation… but that’s a story for another day), with the accumulative effect of too many soul-devouring moments making people give up on me. And the irony is that, in so doing, they confirm that the darkness was right after all, and that it is the natural way of being, rather than the occasional blip in happiness.

So I empathise with the Robin Williamses of the world. I don’t think his final solution was the right one, but living with darkness as a delightful smile entertains the masses is a hell in all but flames and devils. Though, in actual fact, the flames are there too… flames of angst and hopelessness, of helpless turmoil and a shroud of gloom, demolishing dreams and killing futures… as the laughter in the street joins the feast band, and lights blaze.

Everywhere but inside me.