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Underbelly: 10 Things - Rollercoaster

Wendy Kelly
Wendy Kelly
#124 in a series of wild and precious ways to experience the undulation of life.

This week I contemplated pain :) The marketing genius in me noticed that opening numbers go slightly down when I have a negative sounding title for the newsletter, so I considered for a bit what more broadly had been my contemplation.
It’s not the pain, actually, it’s that stark fact that absent of pain (or its lovely corollary, pleasure) we no longer live.
CS Lewis named this “The Law of Undulations”. Gertrude Stein wrote about how much we do not want to be managed, that we truly want to be free — this got me thinking about the maturity this requires. And, finally, she is the one who wrote the letter allowing Richard Wright to finally find freedom in Paris. His writing on how his mother’s suffering affected him reminded me that truly, we are bound to one another. If one of us suffers, we all suffer — and we can not only grow in suffering, we can grow through it.
“Humans are amphibians—half spirit and half animal. …As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation—the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks. If you had watched your [human] patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life—his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down. As long as he lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty. The dryness and dullness through which your patient is now going are not, as you fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merely a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make a good use of it.” — CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters 1942
“The one thing that everybody wants is to be free…not to be managed, threatened, directed, restrained, obliged, fearful, administered, they want none of these things they all want to feel free … The only thing that any one wants now is to be free, to be let alone, to live their life as they can, but not to be watched, controlled and scared, no no, not.” — Gertrude Stein, September, 1943
“My mother’s suffering grew into a symbol in my mind, gathering to itself all the poverty, the ignorance, the helplessness; the painful, baffling, hunger-ridden days and hours; the restless moving, the futile seeking, the uncertainty, the fear, the dread; the meaningless pain and the endless suffering. Her life set the emotional tone of my life, colored the men and women I was to meet in the future, conditioned my relation to events that had not yet happened, determined my attitude to situations and circumstances I had yet to face. A somberness of spirit that I was never to lose settled over me during the slow years of my mother’s unrelieved suffering, a somberness that was to make me stand apart and look upon excessive joy with suspicion, that was to make me keep forever on the move, as though to escape a nameless fate seeking to overtake me.
At the age of twelve, before I had one year of formal schooling, I had a conception of life that no experience would ever erase, a predilection for what was real that no argument could ever gainsay, a sense of the world that was mine and mine alone, a notion as to what life meant that no education could ever alter, a conviction that the meaning of living came only when one was struggling to wring a meaning out of meaningless suffering.
At the age of twelve I had an attitude toward life that was to endure, that was to make me seek those areas of living that would keep it alive, that was to make me skeptical of everything while seeking everything, tolerant of all and yet critical. The spirit I had caught gave me insight into the sufferings of others, made me gravitate toward those whose feelings were like my own, made me sit for hours while others told me of their lives, made me strangely tender and cruel, violent and peaceful.
It made me want to drive coldly to the heart of every question and it open to the core of suffering I knew I would find there. It made me love burrowing into psychology, into realistic and naturalistic fiction and art, into those whirlpools of politics that had the power to claim the whole of men’s souls. It directed my loyalties to the side of men in rebellion; it made me love talk that sought answers to questions that could help nobody, that could only keep alive in me that enthralling sense of wonder and awe in the face of the drama of human feeling which is hidden by the external drama of life.” — Richard Wright, Black Boy 1945
3. Prompt
CS Lewis also wrote that “God whispers to us in our pleasures,speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pain. Pain is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
He’s also — and to me this is so important — very clear about avoiding pain wherever possible.
It seems as though it’s that balance between accepting pain and moving through it without getting caught in it — it’s almost like, in the depths of pain, we oddly can quite easily be tricked into thinking that we belong in this pain forever, that it isn’t temporary, that it isn’t the low place on the rollercoaster.
I think the dual trickiness that either we ought to never feel pain or that we deserve to be in pain forever are really what keeps us from maturing into people who can be free.
4. Quest
Growing through pain into the next iteration of sheer pleasure and freedom requires immense discipline.
The end result can be a gift.
When I realized that the people inspiring me this week all wrote in the 1940s, in Europe, I paused. That kaleidoscope of people surprised me and taken together, reminded me clearly that we are better together, we are beings destined to create and inspire each other, and we can learn from each other.
What can you learn this week? Can you move through your week with appropriate filters on, yet open to learning?
5. Level up
One of my dear husband’s favorite quotes is this:
“As Bokonon says: ‘peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from god.”― Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle
If you listen closely this week, can you receive your own dancing lesson?
6. Video
Benedict Cumberbatch reads a letter from Kurt Vonnegut at Letters Live, Hay Festival
Benedict Cumberbatch reads a letter from Kurt Vonnegut at Letters Live, Hay Festival
7. Podcast
Père Lachaise Cemetery | The Atlas Obscura Podcast
8. Poem
Tender Buttons [Dirt and Not Copper] by Gertrude Stein - Poems |
9. Hero
Gertrude Stein - Wikipedia
10. Connect
Don’t miss out on the other issues by Wendy Kelly
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Wendy Kelly
Wendy Kelly @wendykkelly

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