The Antidote To Despair

It’s been a year this week since my sister Sally died. This drawing I made depicts her at the age she was when I was born. I see a lot of my daughter in her, especially her eyes, which seem to imply a wisdom beyond her years and shadowy presentiments of disappointment that life couldn’t somehow offer more than it does. We had been estranged for many years, but the news of her death still came as a shock, and I suppose the best way to measure its effect is by how little artwork I’ve managed to complete in the 12 months since. When all is well, my burn rate in terms of artistic production is thermonuclear, but throughout 2019 my desire to make anything was a feeble candle flame, fluttering in the dark. The conviction that it’s even worth the bother is a hard one to maintain, especially when the realities of job and family and everything that comes with it, cast your inner Blake into exile. As a way of preserving some sense of purpose, I’ve found myself turning to the words of writers I admire, especially Nick Cave who, in recent years, and after everything he’s been through, has become a wounded but wise magus of the sentence, and in his Red Hand Files has been creating a body of writing that echoes Rilke’s Letters To A Young Poet. Example:

Do I believe in signs? Well, I prefer to say that I have made, for reasons of survival, a commitment to the uncertain nature of the world. This is where my heart lies. I suspect it always has. And I am joined in this enterprise by a legion of fellow grievers, many of us deranged by loss, and embarrassed by our sentimental inclinations. We tread gently around each other’s irrationalities because we know they are the fragile foundations of our vacillating sanity. You may hear some people say that feelings are not facts, but this is untrue. Feelings, to some, are facts. Sometimes these intuitions hold more truth than the rational world can ever hope to offer – when we are faced with a world that has long since stopped making sense and, indeed, lost its reason.

I think we disregard our intuitions at our peril. If you are left feeling the world is more mysterious than you perhaps once thought, and this feeling provides you with some sort of comfort, I would move toward the meaning, in whatever form it presents itself, because meaning is the antidote to despair, and, well, sometimes meaning can feel in scant supply and despair seems all around. My advice to the both of you is quietly, covertly, embrace the mystery that presents itself. It is yours alone.

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