Jorie Graham on Capturing the Past

Writing, like any art or discipline, takes daily practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you. In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week I have chosen a quote from the poet Jorie Graham.

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Jorie Graham was born in New York City in 1950, the daughter of a journalist and a sculptor. She was raised in Rome, Italy and educated in French schools. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris before attending New York University as an undergraduate, where she studied filmmaking. She received an MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa.

Graham is the author of numerous collections of poetry, most recently Sea Change (Ecco, 2008), Never (2002), Swarm (2000), and The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974-1994, which won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

About her work, James Longenbach wrote in the New York Times: “For 30 years Jorie Graham has engaged the whole human contraption — intellectual, global, domestic, apocalyptic — rather than the narrow emotional slice of it most often reserved for poems. She thinks of the poet not as a recorder but as a constructor of experience. Like Rilke or Yeats, she imagines the hermetic poet as a public figure, someone who addresses the most urgent philosophical and political issues of the time simply by writing poems.”

Graham has also edited two anthologies, Earth Took of Earth: 100 Great Poems of the English Language (1996) and The Best American Poetry 1990.

Graham is known for her deep interest in history, language, and perception; the critic Calvin Bedient has noted that she is, “never less than in dialogue with everything. She is the world champion at shot-putting the great questions. It hardly matters what the title is: the subject itself is always ‘the outermost question being asked me by the World today.’ What counts is the hope in the questioning itself, not the answers.” Graham has received numerous honors and awards for her work, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship and the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

She has taught at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University. She served as a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets from 1997 to 2003.

“There’s no way back believe me.
I’m writing you from there.”

— Jorie Graham, Overlord: Poems

It seems like a sign or an interesting coincidence that I should come across this quote from Graham so soon after finishing F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which was concerned very much about returning to the past. When I saw I thought immediately of a scene near the middle of the book, when the narrator, Nick, is talking to Gatsby about his longing to get back Daisy Buchanan, a girl he had to let go some years before, and who he hope to get back.

Gatsby has been throwing one of his famous parties and invited Daisy to attend. She didn’t have a good time nor did she seem to like the company Gatsby is keeping. He’s a bit disappointed at not being able to please her and make her understand what he is trying to do. Nick listens and advises him not to be too hard on Daisy, after all, “you can’t repeat the past.” Gatsby replies:

“Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can! I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before.”

Nick goes on to wonder about Gatsby:

“He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was…”

Of course, Gatsby’s longing to return to the past, to go after Daisy and try to recapture what they had will be his downfall, that is how these kinds of stories go. If he had only moved on, and let her move on to, he might have made a good life for himself. Or if he had discovered writing and found a way back to the past that offered closure and cleansing

The laws of this universe are such that time moves one way and one way only. The past can’t be returned to, but we can express our frustration at being forced to live with no instructions or guarantees and no ability to go back and fix what we got wrong. We can express our heartbreak and our loss and our suffering/. We can even express our wishes and our dreams of what might have been had we turned left instead of right at the fork five years ago. We can’t relive the past but we can sure as shit rewrite it.

It’s strange to think too that everything you read is from the past and everything you write is to the future. I mean, I know that but to consider the past, and the future too, as a physical place that writing is either going to or coming from feels weird.

By the time you are reading this, I will have left my place behind this screen and gone on to finish my day. You may even be reading it days, weeks, maybe a year or two from now. I wonder where I am? I wonder what twists and turns my life has taken in that time. I wonder what wisdom I could send out to myself, or to you from here?

As for the past, I may not be able to speak to my old self, but I can comfort the part of me that is still hurting. I can talk with an old self who feels joy and hope. I can sit with myself as a child and capture a bit of her innocence again, in a way.

This is the loophole, a poor one, but it’s all we have for now. We’ve been gifted with an ability to vividly imagine new worlds, and we have cultivated out knack for language and learned to share those worlds with each other. We found a way to beat time, to loop back, to jump forward, to redo this life or make a new one entirely. We can live on this planet or another, light years from here. We can live in another time. We can travel to heaven or hell. We can see our lost loved ones again and tell them what we never could in life. We can fall in love, give birth, beat our enemies, become the leader, the savior, the hero, the genius, the one that everyone wants to have or wants to be.

We can be Gods.

But only in our heads, and only on paper, and that just has to be enough. Trying to go back never works. It can’t be done. Writing can help though. It can get you through your feelings. You can get them out, you can find closure, you can have what you want, in a way. Writing can be your therapy and your friend. It can help you discover the thing, that part of yourself, that you missed and reclaim it. It can keep you from getting stuck.

We’ve never been able to revisit the past, but somehow we have never gotten over the desire. We’ve never been able to let go of regret, but we found another way with writing. Take advantage of it because there is no other way back.

Trust me, we are all either writing from there, or writing about then, and we should know.

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Biographical information via Joriegraham.com and The Poetry Foundation

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We Know Not What We Do, I Hope

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know, I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, every single week. Each Monday is our own personal reset button. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

“No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.”

— Mary Wollstonecraft

I’ve been having a really hard time coping with the state of the people and politics here in the United State since the election. There are many of you, and many people I know in real life, who would tell me it’s long past time to get over it, but every morning I watch the news, I scroll my feeds and timelines, and I get progressively more afraid, more cynical, and more depressed.

It feels like there are so many people who want to hurt the poor, the lost, and the vulnerable. They want to hurt our environment. They want to hurt people who look and live differently from they way they look and live. They want to line their pockets and laugh while the world burns. I am convinced, but what I can’t understand is why.

I hear two voices shouting out at me through opinion pieces and blogs. One says not to listen to them, not to give them one moment’s consideration. They are the enemy and they must be guarded against at all costs. The other says to understand them. See the world their way. They are afraid, they are ignorant, listen and reassure them. They only need time and love to come around.

My heart likes the sound of the latter, but my anger tells me I am stupid and pushes the former course.

I’m highly suspicious of any calls to understand, and appeal to, people who refuse to understand or appeal to the needs of those less fortunate than them.

What I mean is, if you are angry because full equality under the law and fair and respectful treatment for immigrants, Muslims, women, and the LGBTQ+ community has become an important issue in American politics, I think the last thing we should be doing is giving you more time to explain why people who have suffered and fought for so long should slow down, take a back seat, and give you the floor. Sorry, I’m not sorry.

I am weary of anyone who says you can’t eat, you can’t feel warm, secure, and safe because they need more. There are real consequences for people when you won’t let go of your ego or a small amount of your money. When people say they need something, they need it. End of story.

But as weary as I am, as much as I don’t want to spend my time understanding and coddling, there is part of me that longs to understand and the only thing that makes sense is that people just don’t know any better. They can’t help themselves. They really think they are doing what is right.

We have so much privilege we have become so blind to it. We spend more time protecting our luxuries than we do protecting human life and dignity. We are all guilty of it. Some more than others, but every day more and more sees the light. There is hope, I hope.

I recognize that may be a lie I am telling myself too. Maybe part of me just wants to, has to, believe that the world isn’t that cruel. People can’t be evil for evil sake. Even if the universe doesn’t care and there is no rhyme or reason to any of this, we have to have reasons right? We have to, deep down, want to do what’s best, for love, for our families, for our country and our sense of right and wrong. Right?

So, this week, I’m exploring what lies are worth telling myself. What leaps of faith are worth taking. What aspects of human nature are not worth looking too closely at.

My instincts tell me none. My instincts tell me wherever humans are involved things are always complicated, and there are never easy answers. There is always a spectrum and it is rare we fall to one side or the other fully. People aren’t all bad, but they aren’t all good either. People’s intentions must follow the same patterns I suppose.

So, this week I guess I am exploring what that means to me and in these times, where we are so divided, so angry, and so willing to turn a blind eye or let loose our rage, we should all explore what that means for us, about us. How do we find common ground? How do we listen and teach? How do we change hearts? How do we do it without losing our own sense of right and wrong?

This week, ask yourself what are the value the value of rose-colored glasses and leaps of faith in humanity? Contemplate the motivations behind why we treat each other the way they do. Look within yourself and question how it makes you feel when another person says they need things that you cannot understand. In what ways do people who live differently from you make you afraid?

I want to know what evil lives in me and why I think it will lead to happiness. I want to know that about all people. I want to know how to fix it.

“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

— Anne Frank

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You Don’t Have to Like It

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know, I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, every single week. Mondays are do-overs, each one is our own personal reset button. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

For me, this Monday is a bittersweet one. It is the last day of my holiday break which means this time tomorrow I will be back to work and counting down the days until spring break comes around. I am spending the day writing, doing my best not to get myself too distracted, and getting everything ready for the work week.

I feel both good and bad about returning to work. I’m glad I will have a schedule again, but I am sad it isn’t my ideal schedule. At least at work, I don’t have to try so hard to remember not to watch TV instead of writing when I can. My day job makes my hobby/passion easier to make time for, surprisingly.

“You don’t have to always be comfortable. You don’t have to like everything you do.”

— Carrie Fisher

Of all the bad things that 2016 brought us, one of the hardest for me to cope with was the Carrie Fisher’s death. I never knew how much I liked her, how much I thought of her until I heard she had a heart attack. I loved her for Princess Leia of course, I knew that much, but what surprised me was how at that moment, reading that headline, I knew this world would be a little worse off if she were to leave it.

She was so much more than a Star Wars princess, but I had allowed that image to dominate my picture of her instead of her advocacy, her authenticity, and her truth. So, one thing I hope to do this year is to read her books and to learn all that I can for the harsh and beautiful life she lived. I want to honor her memory.

I recently read her Rolling Stone interview, and one particular question/answer exchange caught my attention. She was asked: “What’s the best advice you ever got?” and she replied that it was something she heard in Alcoholics Anonymous, something about not having to like things she had to do.

She said they would tell her things like “You don’t have to like it. You just have to go.” She said she felt relieved knowing that she didn’t have to like something, even if she still had to do it.

It sounds simple but reading the relief Fisher felt when hearing it made me consider it on a deeper level.

There is so much we don’t do because we know we are going to be miserable the whole time we are doing it. We think maybe we should wait until we want to do it. We think maybe our resistance is a sign. We think we shouldn’t have to do things we don’t want to do merely because they are hard, uncomfortable, or they aren’t any fun. The truth is we place too much trust into those kinds of feelings. We let them keep us from doing what we need to do.

Have you every paid attention to the things you do when you are trying not to do something? I started to, and I realized the things I do to keep me from doing hard things are not even things I’d rather be doing! I scroll Facebook when I am supposed to be doing research. I wander around the office when I don’t want to do paperwork. I do the dishes when I am supposed to be writing. None of these things are more fun or fulfilling.

I just don’t want to do something, and I can’t move past it so I do anything else but that “anything else” never feels better than the thing I should be doing.

So, this week, I am accepting that I am just not going to like things but that I have to do them anyway. Through that acceptance, we can just move on and get done what needs to get done. I am giving myself permission to hate doing things. I am letting myself feel that resistance. I am acknowledging it and then I am moving forward.

We all hate getting up early. We hate going to work. We hate answering phones, small talk, meetings, and spreadsheets. We hate grocery shopping, and laundry, and cooking dinner. Sometimes we hate the things we love too. Sometimes I hate writing but it is something I have to do! And not only that, contrary to what my brain and my gut are telling me, I feel better when I do it.

I feel better when I accomplish things, especially when they are hard. I feel better when I get things done, and I can move on to new things. I feel better when I check things off my to-do list. I feel better when I take advantage of my time to be successful and productive.

Don’t pretend you hate these things and don’t let your hatred keep you from getting them done. Let your lazy, whiny side have their say. Let yourself moan, and groan, and complain all you want, but then you do what you need to, even if you hate it the whole time. I promise you will feel better in the end :)

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Be Kind Instead of Right

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting nothing more than to crawl back into bed and escaping the world.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a fresh start, every week. Mondays are our do-overs, our reset buttons, our first days. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

For me, this Monday is off to an about average start. I ran a bit late, I had a meeting, I have a lot on my mind, but I’m motivated. I feel good, but I could use a dose of caffeine to keep the momentum going through lunch. I just have to get through this week. After that, I’ll have nearly two weeks off of to do whatever I want. I can do this.

“I am practicing being kind instead of right.”

— Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook

One habit I have been working hard to break is my need to be right all the time. I used to argue a lot. I used to but in and correct people, give my two cents, and I kept talking until the other person yielded and admitted I was right. I worked hard to win. I dropped facts, science, statistics, and lead people along the lines of my own thoughts and feelings to convince them. No matter how angry the other person got, no matter what insults they threw or what they said I kept at it.

I thought I was helping. I thought I was teaching people. I thought people would appreciate what I was doing. I wasn’t helping, though, and I doubt anyone one looks back and thinks fondly on that time that short girl berating them about evolution, healthy diets, the meaning of obscure words, or their brand of politics.

Looking back I am sure I didn’t improve anyone’s life by acting the way I did. When has forcing knowledge or opinions on anyone ever made them feel better?

Even though steered clear of direct insults, I often took on a condescending tone. I talked down to people. I laughed at them. I talked to them like they were simple and stupid. I thought them all backward or falling behind. I didn’t know it then, but I thought I was better than them too. I thought my love of science and my curiosity meant I had a right to educate and dismiss people. I thought I had a right to force everything I’ve learned onto the people around me. I was not acting in kindness. I just wanted to be right, even when no one was arguing with me.

What made me unkind was that I never just listened. There was never a time that I wasn’t judging someone or trying to change them in some way. I didn’t make people feel smart or important. I was pretty awful sometimes.

For awhile now I have been trying to do things differently. I have been trying to listen. I have been trying to let other people teach me things. I have been trying to keep my mouth shut every once in a while.

I can tell you that not only am I sure that the people around me feel better, but that I feel better!

It’s a huge relief not to feel the need to force myself on people. It’s nice not to spend so much energy on trying to bend people in the direction I want them to go. It’s nice to wait until someone asks me what I think. It’s nice to just accept people and let them bend me a little from time to time.

This week, let people be wrong, let yourself be wrong. This week, just accept people. Listen a little more, keep your opinion to yourself, and stop trying to force people to think, believe, and know what you do.

Try not to think of people as stupid just because they see things differently. Try not to talk down to anyone or dismiss their perspective.

This week, try being kind instead of right.

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Ask For Help, and Keep on Asking Until You Get It

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting nothing more than to crawl back into bed and escaping the world.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s imagine that Mondays are the days when we get to start all over again. Let’s imagine all the bad things that happened last week don’t matter anymore and that we’ve been given a second chance to do it all again, and this time, we might even get it right.

From now on Monday’s are for making the changes we want to see in ourselves, and for thinking about the changes we want to see in the world. Monday’s are our new favorite days!

As for me, this Monday is a bit stressful, but I am proud of myself for keeping a cool head. My driver showed up half an hour late, which means not only were we late picking up our kids, and the parent was mad, but everything else I had to do today has been pushed back too. I am doing my best to catch up, but I fear it may be a lost cause. I’ll be late to everything until lunch.

“It’s never overreacting to ask for what you want and need.”

— Amy Poehler

My childhood wasn’t a particularly good one, and I have grown into an adult who struggles with depression and anxiety, and more specifically issues with boundaries, trust, and relationships of all kinds.

I do not like to be close to people, emotionally or physically. I fear there is always an ulterior motive, even with friends and family. I have a perpetually feeling of embarrassment and confusion around social norms and etiquette. I feel ashamed and afraid most of the time, and I am sad nearly all of the time. I suffer from panic attacks and bouts of depression, flashing rage, and uncontrollable crying. In my own mind, I am worthless, weak, ugly, dirty, and pathetic. I am a failure and a waste of space.

Some days I feel like I am swimming upstream and close to drowning. Some days just getting out of bed, and putting one foot in front of the other is the very best I can do.

There have been days where I wondered whether it might be better for everyone if I were to never wake up again.

I’ve had some therapy, but for most of my life I couldn’t afford it, so I’ve taken the unsure and unstable route of “self-help.” I have improved a lot through self-awareness, honesty, and forgiveness. I still think all the things I always have, but now I recognize them for what they are, symptoms of my past.

 

Getting there has been a lot of hard work, but it all started with one very small, but very big, step. Simply telling myself, and everyone around me, exactly what I needed.

I may need to be heard, be hugged, or be left alone. I may need to hear that I am understood, forgiven, and loved. Maybe need to be told what I am feeling is okay and I may need to be given the space to feel it. Maybe I need someone to hold my hand. I might need to gather my thoughts, to get away, to figure out how I feel. I might need to feel needed. I might just need food, medication, or water.

I might need help, and that is okay.

We live in a society that tells us to be strong we must hold our own. We are told that needed help is weakness and asking for help is something to feel shame for. It is so deeply a part of who we are now, especially as Americans, that I still have trouble asking for help and I still have thought that those who asked were weak. It’s a lesson I have to keep learning, and I wish more of us were learning it too.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength. You have found it in yourself to reach out toward another human being and trust them to hear you and help you. It’s scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Each of us would love to help a friend who needed us and each of us would love to be helped too. To feel needed, understood, and cared for are all feelings we are looking for, no matter what our mental health status. We crave that closeness, and long to be that vulnerable.

Being open about my needs, and asking for help, helped me build relationships and learn to trust. It helped me recognize the ways I was hurting myself by not getting what I needed and allowed others to feel close to me and show their love. It gave me a chance to feel in control of my mental state. It gave me the chance to learn to cope and to heal. Asking for help opened to door for me to be able to do everything else I needed to do to get to where I am: happier, healthier, and functioning. I could never have made it this far with the help of others. None of us can.

This week, tell yourself, and a few people you trust, what you need.

There is a lot more to healing and coping with mental illness, but it all starts with the act of openness and asking. Ask for help, ask for what you need, and keep on asking until you get it, and then ask again whenever the need arises. Offer help when you can and let everyone you know hear that it is okay to do the same.

The world needs so much more of that.

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Earn Your Friends

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting nothing more than to crawl back into bed and escaping the world.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s imagine that Mondays are the days when we get to start all over again. Let’s imagine all the bad things that happened last week don’t matter anymore and that we’ve been given a second chance to do it all again, and this time, we might even get it right.

From now on Monday’s are for making the changes we want to see in ourselves, and for thinking about the changes we want to see in the world. Monday’s are our new favorite days!

As for me, this Monday is an easy one. I am grateful for it too since I’m exhausted from all the birthday festivities this weekend. Luckily, my route isn’t running, and I have nothing to do. I plan to spend the day catching up on comments and emails I’ve had to ignore and all the writing I didn’t have time for over the last couple of days.

“I no doubt deserved my enemies, but I don’t believe I deserved my friends.”

— Walt Whitman

I don’t have many enemies, not many I know if any way, but the ones I have I am sure I’ve earned. I try every day to be the best person I can be, some days I can do it, other days I fail. On those days I’m bossy, negative, condescending, and indifferent. I don’t like that version of me very much, and I can’t blame anyone else for not liking her either. I apologize when I can and hope I hurt will give me a second chance, but they owe me nothing. I accept that.

What I want to focus on now is earning my friends. I haven’t been doing that lately. I tell myself I’ve been busy, and that maybe they’ve been busy too. I tell myself I’ll see them later and assure myself they will understand. I take them for granted and keep them perpetually at the bottom of my priority list.

I don’t do this on purpose. I don’t do this because I want to be cruel to my friends. I don’t do it because I don’t care about them. I do it because I am careless, which is, of course, no excuse.

My friends don’t seem mad about it, but they do accuse me of not caring enough. They assume I don’t need them at all. They think I am only friends with them because it is convenient and I am sometimes bored. They don’t know that I miss them when they aren’t around, or that I haven’t quite been myself since all of our schedules have changed. I feel cut off from the world, I feel lonely, and I worry that the thing they accused me of is how they feel about me.

I have gotten a taste of my own medicine and it definitely stings a little bit.

I want to earn my friends again. I want them to know that I do need them and that they do matter very much to me. I want them to know that when we don’t talk it affects me. I want them to know that I will try harder and I hope they want to try harder too.

When you find people who have gotten to know you and still choose to put up with your crap, you should hold on to them. I don’t think many of us do enough to show our friends how much they matter. They may feel like family, but they might not always be there for you the way your family might. You have to earn them day after day, even if you never truly can, you have to try.

This week, tell your friends what they mean to you. Sit down with them over coffee, find out how they are doing, or buy them something nice. Lead by example and maybe everyone will feel a little more connected and appreciated.

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Feed Your Hope

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting nothing more than to crawl back into bed and escaping the world.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s imagine that Mondays are the days when we get to start all over again. Let’s imagine all the bad things that happened last week don’t matter anymore and that we’ve been given a second chance to do it all again, and this time, we might even get it right.

From now on Monday’s are for making the changes we want to see in ourselves, and for thinking about the changes we want to see in the world. Monday’s are our new favorite days!

For me, this Monday is an easy one. I have the whole day off from work, tomorrow too! I’m up and working, though. I have a long writing to-do list and one by one I’m going to make it through a few posts, a few pages, and a few submission pieces. I’m going to do my best to avoid distraction, the couch, and junk food. Part of my thinks I won’t make it past lunch time before Netflix is up.

Wish me luck!

“But what we call our despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope”

— George Eliot, Middlemarch

Hope is a part of who we are. We are a species that looks toward the future and sees only optimistic results. We are a species of silver linings and hidden meanings. We are a species that knows in our hearts that everything will work out and always for the best. Hope sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, we think. We hope for success, for love, for peace. We hope for ourselves, our loved ones, and for the entire world and for all time.

Sometimes—more and more often it feels like—we lose hope. Over our lifetimes we get knocked down, we get disillusioned, we fail, and we are defeated, over and over again. We encounter grief, confusion, and frustration and find no answers or comfort. Things don’t work out in the end; there is no happily ever after, life is hard, and it hurts, and we lose hope. We give up, and when we look to the future we no longer see light and happiness, we see darkness and despair.

Worse, we think those trying to find a way out are foolish, and those who still have hope are blind. They will learn we say. Secretly we hope they learn; we hope they find grief, confusion, and frustration so that our feelings might be validated. We wish to spread despair.

There is a way out. There is hope. There is still hope for and in you too. Hope is a part of who we are, and we only need the slightest excuse to feel it. Hope serves a purpose, without it none of us, either on our own or as a species, could have done so much. Without it, we can’t enjoy this one—shockingly short—life we have.

But there is hope for the hopeless. If you have lost hope, there are a few things you can try to feed that tiny glimmer of hope left in you. There are things you can do to feed it and help it grow.

Think about the good things you’ve done. Your life hasn’t been all pain and defeat. Some of it has been, it has been for all of us to varying degrees, but you have survived it. You are strong. You have done more than that too. I bet if you thought about it, you could list a lot of things that you have done and can be proud of. Remember those things and remember that before you did them you didn’t know you could just like now you cannot know what you can do in the future.

Do something different. Sometimes we just get stuck doing the same things and seeing the same people and we forget there is a whole big world outside of what we do day in and day out. We lose hope because we feel trapped in a mental cage and the best way out of that cage is just to get out of it. You don’t have to do anything radical. Start by eating lunch somewhere new. Take a walk through a neighborhood you haven’t seen. Draw something you normally wouldn’t. Read a new book. Anything!

Talk to someone, lots of someones. Sometimes hopelessness is worsened by being around other hopeless people. Try talking to different people about what is going on with you and how you feel. Try to get a few perspectives that are different from your own. Also, try talking to someone you haven’t in a while. Someone you want to reconnect. They might be just what you need.

Do a small thing you can be proud of. Call your mom. Clean out the cluttered closet. Go for a jog. Write a few pages of that novel. Do something on your to-do list. Just one small thing. After you do that thing, take a moment to think about how awesome it feels to have done something you needed to do. Then, if you feel up to it, do another thing. Keep going even when you think you can’t. Each accomplishment, no matter how small, adds a little hope that you can do the next thing.

Do nothing. I know people who have lost hope because they feel they must always be accomplishing things. They have lost hope because they are in a trap of always going and doing. Responsibilities and expectations can turn into a cage for the mind too, and it’s important that we all have time that isn’t filled with to-do lists and tasks. Take a break and do nothing at all. It’ll help your mind and your blood pressure. It’ll remind you that there is more to you and the world than what you can give and do.

Cry. The world we live in can feel lonely, unfair, and frustrating. There are things we don’t like and don’t want to do, and changing your life isn’t always so easy. Sometimes we have to retreat, lick our wounds, and fight another day. Make sure you aren’t holding your feelings in. Make sure you are allowing yourself to acknowledge and release your despair. Crying is a refreshing activity. It can cleanse and rejuvenate you. Try it.

Hopelessness doesn’t have to be n inevitable part of our world. Hope isn’t just for the foolish; it can give light to all our lives. It keeps us moving forward and making the most of our lives. Don’t give up, don’t let yourself be trapped, don’t lose your hope.

You can do the things you want to, and you can be happy, you might just have to do it a little at a time.

And that’s okay.

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