No Pain, No Gain

Do you have to be depressed to be funny? Do trauma and sadness make people more creative?

When my son was five years old, he loved making up stories and drawing pictures to go with them. The problem was that his little hand couldn’t keep up with his busy mind, and he couldn’t spell for shit, so he drafted me as his transcriptionist. We had just finished a story and were parting ways so that I could tend to his sister, when we had this conversation:

Me          I love your stories and I love you, Buddy.
Him         I think I love you, but I’m not sure what love means.
Me          Ummm…..Okay. Well, ummm…. Okay.

And from that point on, I knew I was screwed. No matter what I said or did, my son was in the process of observing and interpreting his experiences using his philosopher soul, and was beginning to try to make sense of what he had learned in his five years on the planet. I also believe that he was pissed as all get out that his almost one year old sister was sucking up too much of the time that used to belong to him.

I was both impressed and aghast. Impressed because he was continually demonstrating his creativity and intelligence, and aghast because the therapist in me interpreted his words a sign that the inevitable depression that has plagued both my family and my husband’s family for generations was rearing its ugly head a bit earlier than I had hoped. My uber-creative and usually happy little KINDERGARTNER was pondering the meaning of love – ALREADY? An example of how a genetic pre-disposition is triggered by environment. Poor fella felt that he was being deserted by his momma. Not the first time he would feel sad due to something I did and certainly not the last.

I can’t begin to explain the grief and frustration that day caused me. It’s impossible to protect your child from pain, but being the one to cause it, albeit it unwillingly and within the limits of what is just part of life, SUCKS!

Must this happen for all of us? Do we have to delve into the depths of our own personal hell in order to discover the greatness it can give our lives? Is sadness the key to unlocking the creative genius?

It’s a question asked on the regular about people who have a gift for turning observations about life into humorous anecdotes or fabulous stories. In Stephen King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, he can’t quite remember if the morbidly obese babysitter who shoved his head under her skirt, suffocating him with her farts, locked him in a closet for the day because he puked (where he continued to puke until he passed out), and regularly walloped him upside the head only to hug and tickle him moments later, was named Eula or Beulah so he just calls her Eula-Beulah.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading this decadent morsel of sheer inspiration for writers, Eula-Beulah was completely unstable and King was at the mercy of her unpredictable moods and behaviors along with many other goofy adult while his single mother worked her fingers to the bone trying to support her children. Here is what King had to say about it:

“…while what was happening to me was sort of horrible, it was also sort of funny. In many ways, Eula-Beulah prepared me for literary criticism.”

King’s words stunned me when I first read them. Let me get this straight, a GIGANTIC and abusive babysitter tried to snuff out his little life with her ASS and he saw it as a growth opportunity? Damn right he did and she wasn’t the first or the last of the reasons why he could have become a repulsive monster.

But he didn’t. Instead King tapped into his inner FUBAR (fucked up beyond all recognition for those unfamilliar with the term) and wrote stories about beasts and terror. So cool!

Amidst a sickly and stressful childhood, King started writing. He wrote a little something and showed it to his mother who celebrated and encouraged him. She shared it with the rest of her family so that her son knew just how much she valued the way he expressed who he was. As an adult, he acknowledged her efforts to do the best she could as a single mother, not blaming her for the traumas and troubles of his early years, but demonstrating just how observant, resilient and brilliant children truly are and why so many so called “damaged” souls go on to become quirky, creative, powerful, brilliant and talented adults.

King’s story is just one of many told for the purpose of explaining how his gift revealed itself and encouraging others to discover their own. Everyone has a story full of inner fubar just waiting to be examined. All parents do the very best they can, but I’ve yet to meet a grown-up who doesn’t have a story (or 10 or 20 or..) of pain and suffering experienced during childhood.

My inner FUBAR wasn’t teased out by a bat-shit babysitter. I actually had this very cool babysitter who let me and my friends use food coloring to dye our 7-Up blue and green so that it would look like the stuff that Scotty and the alien drank to get all shit-faced on the Starship Enterprise. And we pretended to be drunk like this

Not traumatic. I wasn’t traumatized, but I was damaged. As a child, I had the unfortunate circumstance to be in close proximity to more death, illness, tragedy and emotional instability than most kids my age. And it was and wasn’t normal, no matter how vast the range of the definition of normal is. But I really wanted to include that Star Trek video so even if my little story split this blog completely in two and was totally unnecessary, I don’t care. Scotty getting shit-faced is awesome. But I was trying to make a point.

I’m not denying that damaged is most often the trait most associated with people like me who use biting wit and pithy stories to escape painful feelings in attempt to heal some of my emotional wounds. But the point I guess I’m trying to make here is that EVERYBODY is damaged. EVERYDAMNBODY is, and the more willing we are to use whatever observations and experiences we have about our own lives, the easier it is to embrace the gifts they reveal to us if we are inspired and encouraged.

King’s book came to me at such a perfect time in my life as a parent. My son is becoming a clever and often harsh interpreter of people and experiences, with the ability to crack a whip of words so powerfully observant and exacting that I’ve been wondering just how much damage I’m responsible for. And I wonder just how much of the damage I’ve unwittingly inflicted on him will influence the way he interprets the damage the world will do. I try to encourage him and be generous with my time, not because I have to, but because I am crazy for him, even if we now have a lot of conversations like this:

Him          I made something in art class for you to pretend to like
Me            I don’t even know what this is……..
Him          Just say that you like it.
Me             I like it.

I know that he knows I’m doing the best I can and the rest is up to him.


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    Agreed, 100%. We are all damaged, and what matters is how whether we use our experiences to make ourselves and the world better. This is why your writing is so important... We need to be ok admitting this, so we can move forward better.

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    You are awesome. Excellent post.

  • I've never met you or your family, but I love your son!! One of my boys just turned 7 and his snarky, sarcastic side is starting to come out. Awesome!! We communicate so better because of it.

  • Fantastic post, Nikki, and so very true. xoxo

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