The human condition: vulnerable, poignant and delightfully, necessarily messy.
I saw a new book on a morning show last week called Bittersweet by Susan Cain – How sorrow and longing make us whole. I hadn’t yet read her book Quiet – but it was on my radar. I listened intently to her description of the book, and realized what she was saying spoke to me in ways I hadn’t considered recently. So I ordered it on Audible and began listening. In the meantime I shared the link with a friend. She was reading Susan’s book Quiet and got right on it! In fact, we met for afternoon tea and muffins (she makes the best muffins!) a couple of days later, and she had already devoured them both – the books, not the tea and muffins. So I thought I had better get to reading so we could discuss properly.
Quiz for life
In the book, Susan discusses longing and sorrow and ultimately how these emotions connect us to our joy. According to the Bittersweet Quiz – I score a 9.1 (a true connoisseur of bittersweetness: the place where light and dark meet) You too can take the quiz by clicking HERE. It is not at all surprising that I scored this way, knowing that I am not a romantic, but a creative, imaginative realist who is truly affected by the world around me. Not some make-believe, made up world of conspiracies or wishes, but the much appreciated poignancy of the real world. As an artist, I thrive on all that is unusual, messy, authentic, and above all – real. I believe that examining ourselves through our stories, not apologizing for the unique individuals that we are, is truly where the joy lies. So, onward, and upward. Going to be a week of the Bitter plus the Sweet in my studio, my writing, and my life.
Humans are messy
What makes my choice to read Bittersweet that much more apropos, is that last month I read Chocolat, by Joanne Harris and The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. Both of which deal heavily in the regrets department and how NOT to live there. I highly recommend both of these, but only if you are not a cynical person. Because if you live in the world of cynicism, you may hate all of these books. In fact, you may just want to stop right here and not read another word. But I would encourage you to continue…you know you really want to know what I have to say. Right?
Examining these ideas of poignancy, bittersweetness, regret, sorrow and longing, are important spaces for all humans to ponder. But these are especially rich spaces for artists. Most of us aren’t raised as children to understand these concepts surrounding longing and sorrow in the ways Susan Cain describes. We just bumble around as we are; no awareness of where our leanings lie or our hearts settle. But as artists, I feel we see differently the pain and suffering of a friend, the loss and unfairness in the world. We seek to understand and eventually share our views on the subjects through our respective art. We lean in. We listen. We aren’t afraid to light the way, cry with a friend, mourn a loss, sit with the pain, hold a space. We are often empathetic souls who may welcome the messy experiences of the human condition, no matter how ugly or uncomfortable. This space is where truth and unconditional love live. This space is where arts and culture live. The arts are alive with song, dance, theatre, paintings, design, and poetry. We write, create, share and perform all that brings the world to tears and laughter, joy and pain. We welcome what makes us think deeper and longer on a subject. We share these human experiences and observations through our art with love and understanding.
My take away from my recent reads is that in order to appreciate joy, we must experience sorrow. As explained on Susan Cain’s bio – “she explores why we experience sorrow and longing, and the surprising lessons these states of mind teach us about creativity, compassion, leadership, spirituality, mortality and love. These are my love languages: creativity, spirituality, mortality, love, compassion…omg, she speaks my language and is one of my people! She understands that humans are messy. Me too! We hurt each other. Ugh… Bad stuff happens to us right and left, and much too regularly to the people we love. So hard. But if you can’t say you know this to be true, but still choose to live it all, then you aren’t living or paying close enough attention to your life, others lives or the world.
The real jewel of Susan’s book is in the contrast. We can’t just experience and survive these challenging events and then develop a protective armor. We have to examine, learn from our suffering and then lean into the knowledge gained. We have to share another’s sorrow and listen. We have to embrace all that is the human experience and not shy away from the pain or only let in the joy. Understanding that the confusing tears we sometimes shed when we simultaneously feel joy and a twinge of sorrow is simply our own recognition that we intimately know and appreciate both. We learn to celebrate the honor of that knowledge through our life lived and our knowledge earned.
I also know that regrets play a part in this understanding. And like all of you, I have plenty. But knowing where to place those regrets and what to do with them so that they become a learning experience and not a weight on our shoulders is equally challenging. I am not saying any of this is easy. But that is the point. In life and death there is no play book or written test. There is only living it, learning from it, and moving forward. In speaking to a couple of friends who have recently faced great losses in their lives or are struggling with difficult illnesses or sorrows, I am reminded of my own past circumstances that brought some of the same feelings and regrets. This is where empathy lives. The place of understanding and holding space. We share, we listen, we learn, we grow. We are humans in this messy life together. We lean in so that another’s experiences can shine light on ours and in return we empathize. We listen so we can hold the others pain or share in their joy. And we move forward to tomorrow with the knowledge that we are not alone, but are uniquely held up by the universe of friendship, love and humanity we have nurtured.
I feel that love and support often. So often that it seems the only way I see the world anymore is through the lens of the Bitter and the Sweet. What a lovely, intelligent, poignant book is Bittersweet, Susan Cain. My recommendations come with great joy, passion and hope for all those who embrace our messiness and our humanity.