Obstacles

Day Six of Thirty Days of Writing

Art by Shawn McDaniel

I wrote before that the only thing holding someone back was their own fear, their dismissal of possibility, potential, and their surrender in the face of any resistance. I forgot to mention all the distractions, distraught memories and moments, all the injuries, and repeated falls, all of the down times and people and things lost along the way. I forgot to mention all of the things in the world whispering fail, all the obstacles blocking the path, every single negative thought that flies through a head compiled by the countless thoughts considering what the others think, what will they think if I fall short, what will they think that I think if I skew from this noble path and succumb to destitution? I can’t do that can I? They will see that I am a failure; they will think that I am villain. If I flee they’ll call me a coward. If I fail they’ll call me a fool. I think they think I’m nothing. I think they think I think they think I think they think…

I forgot to mention how in order to situate oneself in “reality,” in a social sphere, and to achieve a goal, one often places themselves in relation to other beings. We are constantly surrounded by numerous bodies and minds. Our achievements demand recognition. We judge and are judged. We support and are supported. We consciously and actively pursue a thing and wish to be consciously and actively pursued. We hope for reciprocity; it is a sign that the things we do have merit to others.

(What about the merit to oneself? First and foremost we must meet the demands of our most stringent critic: our own intellect. Through collaboration of body and mind, we create a thing. Is the next step to place that thing in the world for others to see? It depends on the intention of the thing. The purpose…)

I know what you’re thinking: this is just untrue. I am a giver. I expect nothing in return. The act of giving and another receiving my gift and knowing that it helped them in some way is reward enough. This is seemingly a selfless attitude that I often aspire towards. However, it remains relational, and it misses a key element in the act of giving and receiving, namely the conditions of the receiver. How well do you receive? Will you just give and give yourself away until there is nothing left? And if another is trying to give to you, will you stop them and say, no, I am a giver, I cannot receive, receiving is not an act which brings me joy, it merely adds another thing which I must soon give away.

What to do with the gifts we receive? When someone offers us something, do we debate if it is something we desire before accepting it? And if we do decide to receive this person’s offering, what do we make of it? Does it belong on a shelf for admiration, collecting time? Should it be put to use and worn down to a nub? Should we pass it on to another who needs it more? If the intention of the giver was for us to keep it forever, should we honor that intention, or do we use our best judgement to decide an action?

Consider the practice of writing. These thirty days act as an outlet for that which would otherwise be left in the dark. I cannot help but adjust what I write with the knowledge that it will be read by you. This is both good and bad I think. In my attempt to polish the end result and create a cohesive habitat, I omit certain vandals that occupy my mind. I am not trying to deceive you. I am trying to find a way to communicate, in a concise manner, the shape of my thoughts.

Writing is often a solitary act, an act of self-discovery. A writer and an empty page collaborate with language to create a thing, whether a story or a stream of thoughts giving shape to a complex idea or belief. But here, when these posts are published, they are done so in hopes to attract readers. I am no longer ruminating for the mere pleasure or practice, I’m trying to say something to you. I am trying to give you something and I hope that it is something worth receiving. Conversely, when you read this you are giving me something, namely your time and attention. You give me a chance.

Yet, I doubt it is your generosity that leads you to reading something. Generally readers want something from a piece of writing. Readers desire any number of things: connection, insight, knowledge, pleasure. Whatever it might be, there is a hope to gain something through reading. Furthermore, if you are a comprehensive reader, you are also reading critically, judging style and content to determine if something is worth reading. Writing is often initially a solitary act, but go beyond the initial act, into revising and publishing, and the process becomes collaborative. Authors need readers, and readers need authors, otherwise who are we writing for and why?

This all might appear painfully obvious, or perhaps you disagree entirely. So what is the point? Circle back. The initial fear of achieving a goal is failure. Not only failure but the supposed belief that something is impossible. This belief may be reinforced by all of the apparent obstacles purporting to thwart a goal, and the many instances of failure one experiences along the way.

I want to climb. Not just that, I want to improve so that I can climb the most advanced routes. I know that I can achieve this goal for I see that it is not impossible when other climbers complete difficult routes. I know that it will take a great deal of practice and patience to achieve this goal. I fail constantly. I fall and am injured and despite my will I am now unable to climb. I am thusly defeated and despite my desire there is little to be done until enough time passes and I heal. This feeling of helplessness and anxiety begins to permeate into other areas of my life. This feeling has in fact already been setting up shop for a long time.

To subvert these shortcomings that are overwhelming me, I turn to alcohol to numb my senses. I don’t want to feel like a failure. I don’t want to feel anything at all. Keeping with this line of reasoning, I don’t want other people to notice I am a failure and so I detach myself from others. Any form of connection runs the risk of being noticed as such. This doubly damages me because I want to be able to help others, but I have systematically removed myself and am unable to support anyone who might need support because I can hardly support myself. And so I am a failure in every aspect. I fail at climbing, I fail at helping anyone, I fail at being a human being in a social world where human beings rely on one another to create, to give, and to receive.

There seems to be a conspiracy. It is only natural to play the victim, to protect oneself, to remove responsibility, to deem the world a heartless place that devours the weak. I believe, though, that people know all too well that this premise is a fantasy. That despite all of life’s trials and the ways in which humans act dependent upon one another, the only true obstacle is one’s own sense of doubt. One must be willing to aspire to the greatest heights. The “trials” of the world, all the failures, are meant to build character. These moments are necessary so that we can measure how far we have come. These hardships test our abilities, strengthen our grip so that we can continue climbing.

It doesn’t always seem that way. Too often I slip into the role of the weak victim, the hopeless failure. My mind constantly constructs tiny boxes to place the self in, it sounds simple and safe, and it is a defense mechanism. But I want to assure you that things need not be this way. We all have the ability to change, we do it unconsciously all the time. I paint my own picture of the world. I want to paint it to the best of my ability and beyond. I need to remind myself of this every time the world looks heartless, every time my desires are dashed, every time a person inflicts pain on another, every time I hurt someone I love.

I apologize for speaking in circles. After gazing long into the looking-glass I nearly forgot who it was that was gazing back at me. A human being. A being with limitless potential. Now that I remember this, the next step is to establish an intention.