Pain, Universal

Let’s talk, dear chickadees. Pull up a chair, light ’em if you got em, pour yourself another bevvie.

Let’s talk about pain.

I really, really love this video of Jason Mraz singing “A Beautiful Mess.” My writing partner commented that he opens himself completely to both audience and song during this particular rendition, and it’s a moment of absolute amazement. Imagine being that vulnerable, opening your beating heart to an auditorium full of people. You don’t have to imagine, though. You already know. Every human being knows.

Life is suffering, Buddha had that goddamn right. We are perishable, fragile beings in a world full of accident and sharp edges–and not just physically, either. Pain is unavoidable. We fight it, of course. (I mean, sheesh. *cue Captain Obvious* Pain hurts, you know?) And we do not fight just pain. We back away from the idea of pain as well. We back away from a risk, real or otherwise.

Inherent in every performance, every piece of art–because a painting or a book is a performance just like a song–is the risk of rejection and failure. You could just say that “failure” is merely rejection; a negative judgment on a piece of art feels pretty goddamn personal when you’ve wrenched said art out of the bleeding depths of you. My ex-husband (no, this isn’t one of THOSE stories) once, just after I’d been published and was learning the horror of Amazon reviews firsthand (and oh, how I long sometimes for those innocent days when that was the deepest pit of iniquity to be found!), gave me a crooked smile and said, “Oh, Lili. You know what Samson would do? He’d moitalize the motherfuckers with the jawbone of a critic.”

…there was a reason I stayed married to him for so long, I guess. Maybe you just had to be there. Anyway.

Pain hurts. Pain nasty. Pain bad.


The advantage you have, when making art, is this universality. The willingness to stare your own pain in the face, to reach into its rawness and bring it forth (in your work, not on social media, but that’s–say it with me–another blog post), to transform it into something that another person can gaze into the mirror of and recognize…that, my darlings, is the hat trick. The jolt of recognition is what we hunger for when we hunger for art.

What other things are universal? Anger, certainly. Pleasure, yes. Laughter, oh yes. But the fear of rejection is exponentially bigger and doused with napalm when it’s our own agony on display. To bare yourself at your most vulnerable and to be laughed at–it’s a nightmare, isn’t it? (I could go with a metaphor about sex here, but I won’t. I have some couth. OKAY, FINE, THERE’S NOT ENOUGH SPACE. STOP LAUGHING.)

To create is to over and over again show the holes and cracks and flaws in your own heart. To stand there on a stage and sing, hoping to connect, but never quite sure that you will. There is always the fear that the audience will laugh and boo you off the stage–or worse, simply stare, shrug with boredom, and turn away. Our capacity for pain is matched only by our hunger for connection, the shock of recognition that gives us fleeting glimpses of the truth. What truth?

This I hold to be truth: we are born alone and die alone, but in between we have moments–always too short, always too few–where we can connect. We can share that static-electricity spark. It is a shining defense against the dark. To light a candle is to cast a shadow, yes–but is it better to grope in the blackness alone your whole life?

I do not think so. My point (and I do have one) is this: yes, it hurts. Life hurts, art hurts, the whole goddamn thing hurts. Do not look away. Feel the fear of opening yourself, sure. Feel the temptation to look away. It tells you where the juiciest part of the art is, the place you must not shy from. Yes, it’s terrifying. But do not let that fear rule you. Don’t let the fact that it hurts sway you. Do not look away.

Get up on that stage and sing. Dance in the cobra’s jaws. Invite your reader into the secret, bleeding-raw, embarrassing chambers. Tear your flesh open and show your heart. This is what art is.

What a beautiful mess…this is…



  1. says

    I tend to write about my pain in very oblique ways, shying away from poking the wounds too deeply. But when you do plumb those depths, it definitely makes your work more powerful. When I was on retreat in July, I read a brief scene from my novel-in-progress. There’s one point where my narrator’s brother tells her that if she runs away, she won’t have any hope left, and she thinks to herself, “I don’t have any now.” I surprised myself with the emotion in my voice when I read that line. But I got compliments on the reading from some writers I really respect, so clearly I did something right.

  2. says

    It’s like taking a guess, when the only answer is yes.

    Sorry, I get excited when others speak my language. There’s a Jason Mraz lyric for pretty much every moment of my life. I won’t follow demands and It’s never too late to save the only life you can save have been big ones for me over the last year. Despite being hurt, I’ve been working on opening myself up to the opportunities, disappointments, and everything else the universe has in store for me. Writing is pretty much the only way in which I emote outwardly, perhaps because I still feel a level of distance from my words.

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