Jun 30 2011

Despair’s Siren

It’s been so long, and so much has happened between last post and this one, that the temptation is to give up telling the story.  Despair’s temptation is always that siren call, to give up the fight, give up the effort, just…stop.  It seems so much easier.  To go backward and tell the stories, the trials, the information that feels like it needs to be told but takes so much effort to elaborate (emotionally and energetically and other words starting with “e”)…well, it feels easier to just let the stories slide into forgetful memory.  To move forward as if the last couple of months haven’t changed everything.  To not move at all — to let the darkness of closed eyes become the all of one’s existence.

That isn’t the right description, however.  There is so much to tell, and tale, and teach, and talk about of this cancer process as well as so much else that surpasses mere survival, that going backward to tell tales becomes going forward into living.  As a writer at the beginning of her career, still, frustratingly so thanks to so many health and other set-backs over the past few years, despair trickles even here.  The messages from other well-meaning loved ones ring the same again and again:  you can’t worry about that now, your health must be your focus, healing your body, fighting the cancer; all the other efforts drain energy and need to happen later, once you know you’re still here to fight those fights.

And in many senses, that’s so very true.  The emotional trials have been so much worse this time around that it tempts despair’s presence to even come close to articulating the feelings involved.  It’s been both infinitely more and infinitely less easy to emotionally survive this round of cancer, for a variety of reasons — many of which I’ll probably write about, many of which are still ongoing, many of which I’ll lose to the sands of time or vagaries of memory fog we all encounter.

But as a writer, at the beginning of her career, still, and still fiercely dedicated to succeeding at that and so many other of my (both short and longer-term) goals, surviving cancer can’t be all of it.  Simple survival can’t ever be all you do, to be human.  Life is ever so much more than just getting through the day, whether you’re a shut-in with only internet friends or a best-selling dynamo or a physics genius or just one of the many solid people that fill the world each day with the simple things they do for others as well as themselves.

I close my eyes, and there is the stasis, awaiting.  The despair, regardless of what good news arrives daily, that the dreams are dead, the goals are withered, that the blackness will be all that remains.  That the stasis reality is the real one, and we fill our lives with the illusions of the rest; that reaching out to others will always result in not…quite…touching.  That I will float in that black and so will all the rest of you, islands lost in our seas of aloneness.

But as a writer, at the beginning of her career, still, every word I type changes that reality, moves that perception into something else, changes despair into hope.  Each complete breath can be as a person; and as a mother; and as a lover; and as a friend; and as a writer.  There is no way to illuminate the blackness that I know of, except by deciding to do.

And the feeling of futility is great, often, when making that decision, because there is so much, so very much to do daily just to survive, to keep breathing, not even counting all the other goals one might want to set for oneself.  Even with the enormity of the support group I have surrounding me, cheering me on, encouraging me to go and do and live…each new breath is so very hard to believe matters in the world, matters to others, matters at all.

It’s like creating a novel:  if I look at it as the entirety of what it is, it’s easier to never get started, the complexity and intricacy and fullness are overwhelming.  So I shall attempt to break it down into manageable pieces, bite-sized chunks, little posts like this one that shine lights of understanding onto pieces of the whole, in the hopes that one or more of those pieces will reach you, Fearless Reader, and touch something within your brain, your psyche, your soul, your selfness, enough that you want to pass it on to another, who will turn and share with another reaching traveler on this spinning ball of beautiful and terrible dirt we inhabit.

And whether that contact results in the culmination of my goals as a writer, lover, or mother, it will add to the strength to keep breathing as a person.  Because the struggle to live, just survive, is itself fierce and fragile, for all of us from ants to assholes.  The kinesthetics of contact, touching each other, is the first and most important sensory experience of our lives from the moment we become aware we’re enveloped in the womb.  The tragedy of so many of us leaving this world bereft of that same all-encompassing embracing is part of what is worth combating while we exist.



1.loss of hope; hopelessness.
2.someone or something that causes hopelessness
–verb (used without object)

3.to losegive up, or be without hope (often followed by of ):to despair of humanity.
–verb (used with object)
4.Obsolete . to give up hope of.
1275–1325; Middle English despeir (noun), despeiren (v.) < Anglo-French despeir, Old French despoir (noun), despeir-, tonic stemof desperer (v.) < Latin dēspērāre to be without hope, equivalentto dē- de- + spērāre to hope, derivative of spēs hope

1.The feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best: to give hope.
2.a particular instance of this feeling
3.grounds for this feeling in a particular instance
4.a person or thing in which expectations are centered:
5.something that is hoped for
–verb (used with object)
6.to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence.
7.to believe, desire, or trust
–verb (used without object)
8.to feel that something desired may happen
9.Archaic . to place trust; rely (usually followed by in ).
10. to continue to hope, although the outlook does not warrant it
before 900; (noun) Middle English; Old English hopa; cognate with Dutch hoop, German Hoffe; (v.) Middle English hopen, Old English hopian

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Despair’s Siren”

  1. Mary Basson 30 Jun 2011 at 9:08 am


    In 1992 I wrote this poem and it has been published a number of times. Little did I know when I wrote it that it would be a “now” message to me in stronger and stronger manner through the years as I’ve battled debilitating and destructive disease and so much that has come with it. You’ve just written of despair and the opposite — hope — both of which are included in this poem.


    Seeing Through The Battle

    Here I am, a product of my creased and wrinkled dreams,
    scattered promises fulfilling over time.
    No happy ever after as foretold in yon wee days,
    fighting across the chasm of confusion in my mind.

    But lo, one small light in a dark valley
    evidences a gradual lightening of my blues
    and provides a beginning understanding
    for which I need no audience, I need no clues.

    Although I’ve paid the price of dreams,
    I’m ready for the challenge.
    With prayers for winds of happiness and cleansing fires of spirit,
    to find well sought alternatives on opportunity’s edge.

    Step by baby step I go, sometimes with one amiss,
    finding as I struggle forth, ah — to pay my dues,
    there lies uncovered many types of bliss.
    All are mine, just mine, from day by day to choose.


    There is suffering, there is disappointment, there is sadness, there is despair. Somewhere, somehow, amid all of the black, all of the gloom, there is light — there is hope. To risk an overused tenet but one that is meaningful if one allows the depth of complete meaning: after the darkest night there is the dawn.

    The thought of giving in and giving up can be wonderfully enticing. The temptation to quit can be painted as bliss. The lure, the attraction of these directions, however, is treachery. To abandon hope and cast aside your dreams, your aspirations, your longings is to recreate yourself from being a vibrant person with much to offer to being a dull, pale, quivering hulk of misery that offers nothing to self or to others.

    To fight the good fight and to continue to be the person you want to be — the lover, mother, daughter, sister, friend — is the highest calling you can ever hope to achieve. As for you as a writer, I say you can do it all: you can fight cancer and write. You can write as much as possible while you are fighting cancer. I believe writing, for those of us who do, adds a very positive dimension to our lives that can’t be replaced by anything else. I believe it gives us strength. I believe it gives us courage. And happiness.

    Although there may be days in which you feel you cannot write at all, I would wish you could strive to write on as many days as possible. If you only write 10 or 20 minutes a day that is a meaningful achievement. Look forward to the writing. Plan for the writing. And, you know how to edit. Remember that editing is also writing. You can do it!

    Perhaps, you’d like to develop some adages for yourself; whatever your choice. Examples: write for me, write for strength, write now (play on ‘right now’, of course), fight and write. If so, you can repeat your adages (as I do) to help you keep going and stay focused. Sounds easier to practice than it is, naturally, but there is power therein.

    I’m here for you in any way and every way. Call on me anytime. I love you very much!!!!!!!

  2. Cherylon 06 Jul 2011 at 4:55 pm

    I really am very glad that you have not given up on writing, or anything else. Sending you good energy.