“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.” ― Pablo Neruda
By Elizabeth Cutright
Sometimes, consequences appear unavoidable only in hindsight. After the fact, when the storm has subsided, and the tide’s washed out all the detritus, we survey the scene and say with all the pomposity and certainty of a seasoned big city police detective, “well, that was bound to happen.”
You can claim a bit of victimhood in those moments of course. Everyone can understand the schadenfreude of Monday Morning Quarterbacking. Occasionally, we can even blame ignorance – “if I only knew then what I know now.”
Now and again, we also manage to dodge the bullet and stand back in awe as the dominoes fall away from us instead collapsing in catastrophe.
“Phew! That was a close call.”
Today I’m less interested in the what-might-have-beens and the should-have-beens, and instead, I’m curious about all those “what the fuck was I thinking?” moments – those times when we know it’s all going to end badly, and yet we go for it anyway.
Why are we our own worst enemy?
Over the last couple of years, I’ve become a fan of the HBO show Girls. I’m certainly not their target audience (though I still vaguely remember the stupidity of my youth), but I feel such affection for these lost girls…these confused girls…these desperately wanting something girls.
In one of the episodes from last season, the main character Hannah (played by show creator Lena Dunham) explains to an afternoon fling how she handles her life.
“I made a promise such a long time ago that I was gonna take in experiences so that I could tell other people about them and maybe save them.”
In many ways, Hannah’s commitment to writerly experience mirrors the Garrison Keillor quote I have framed on my writing desk: “Nothing bad ever happens to a writer; it’s all material.”
To writers, journalists, or creatives of any breed and background, material is key. That’s why we go on Artists Dates to fill up the well. It’s why we go to art exhibits and sign up for weird adult education classes. It’s why we sometimes try a new Pandora station or opt for a different route home, an unusual vacation spot, or an unexpected friendship.
But there’s a dark side to this pursuit of experience. In the same episode, Hannah admits she once let a man punch her in the face, “Like that was my idea. That came from my brain and, like, what makes me think I deserve that?” She seems aware of the perversity of her actions but equally mindful of the fact that she’s compelled to seek out similarly abusive undertakings.
It’s a cliché we are all familiar with – you can’t have light without dark. There can be no shadows without a flame. Happiness and sadness are two sides of the same coin.
And sometimes, even when we know an endeavor is doomed, we push on through anyway. It’s a sort of desperate hope, I think, that compels us. A desire to challenge the gods, to raise our fists up to Mount Olympus and say, “not, this time, motherfuckers! Not this time!”
But you know what they say about the gods…. They delight in our misfortunes and will answer tenfold any mortal’s feeble challenge.
And yet…and yet…we tempt them anyway.
I am a fan of the lost cause. I always pick the underdog. I can read the same tragic story over and over again, and still find myself wishing for a different result. Why can’t the couple stay together? Why can’t he reach the bomb in time? Why can’t the horse be healed, the rabid dog saved and the fire extinguished before it destroys the town?
And this hope…this expectation that maybe once, someone, somewhere will beat the odds…this – along with my strong desire for “material” – is what compels me to make that regrettable decision, to stride forth blindly into the breach, and to shrug off the warnings and concerns of fellows and friends.
Sometimes, you’re just gotta do what you’re gonna do…
(But I’m sure there’s a great short story in there somewhere!).
Here’s the scene from Girls I mentioned about – about a minute and a half in, Hannah begins discussing her pursuit of experience.
- Sweat, thirst, and primal fear: Jack Zimmerman’s Crossing Iowa (chicagoreader.com)
- what we can all learn from Girls (hotwaterandlemon.com)