Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On disappointment

Several days ago I told myself that if I'd heard nothing by lunchtime on Wednesday then I would give up, and then I would refocus and move on. And here we are.

Can't go into details, but details aren't important. This is more about a psychological trajectory.

I've been around long enough to rack up quite a few disappointments over the decades and develop various strategies to deal with them, some more self-deluding than others but all more or less effective. They range from 'You're not being napalmed' and 'Suck it up' through 'Oh well, I didn't really want it/him anyway' to 'Hey, it was a learning experience', or 'At least I won't have to [insert description of tiresome condition(s) attached to object of thwarted desire here], or 'Next!' which is pretty much the mood I'm in at the moment. Thank God I have a truly lovely major project to be getting on with. Can't really talk about that either, yet. Yes yes I know it's irritating, sorry.

Like the last biggish disappointment I experienced, this one is exacerbated by the knowledge that the process hasn't been entirely fair. Although I would say that, wouldn't I. And considering how often I admonish both of my sisters and some of my friends for talking and acting as though there were actually somebody in charge of the universe, bleating 'It's not fair' seems particularly pathetic and I'm trying to get on top of that one as we speak.

But the whole idea of 'getting past it' -- or, as footballers' managers say when their charges have been caught grabbing strangers' breasts in the street, king-hitting little drunks and/or doing lines of cocaine in the nightclub toilets, 'putting it behind you' ('Yes, he drugged and raped twelve virginal teenage fans, but he's going to put it behind him') -- has always seemed to me to be not just useless but positively harmful.

If you put bad stuff 'behind' you then you will simply do exactly the same thing next time. You can't learn, grow or thrive as a human being unless you actually take your failures, crimes and misdemeanours and their consequences in: assimilate and transcend, as I used to say many years ago to an earnest feminist friend who had no intention of giving up lipstick and perfume but used to agonise about it constantly. You have to let everything sink in and become part of you, or you'll just keep repeating yourself. Even disappointment and failure. Especially disappointment and failure.

One of the many consolations of ageing is that if you resist going into denial about the bad stuff, if you take it all in and process it, transform it into something useful, then the mind and the heart and oh all right the soul all go on growing even while the bod is in regrettable but unstoppable decline. It's the alternative to becoming a caricature of yourself as you age; you become instead a deeper, darker, richer and more complex brew. Certain good friends and certain favourite writers rise wraithlike before me as I write this and remind me of how true it is.

But one thing it did take me ages to work out is that this kind of internal process of assimilation and regrouping actually takes a huge amount of effort and energy. Like other kinds of psychological effort, it can make you really, really physically tired. So when I drag myself out of bed tomorrow morning feeling as though I have been hit by a train, I'll know why. I just wish it hadn't taken me half a century to work this one out.


Mindy said...

Sorry to hear about your disappointment. Of course it means that something better is just down the track.

emily said...

To me it is akin to many of the issues which arise during the bereavement process which have to be dealt with while still the emotions are swirling around chaotically. I wonder if it is the case that in some major losses or disappointments (and where it involves unfairness) some of the self gets shredded off in the process and it takes time to carefully gather back the fragmented pieces and integrate them once more. It's hard work.

Lord Sedgwick said...

Nil bastardo carborundum. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Illegitimis non carborundum. Illegitimus non carborundum est. Nil illegitimo in desperandum.

... or have I offered that gratuitous but entirely usefuel (sic) advice (in the form of a rhetorical questionubal) before?

"One of the many consolations of ageing is that if you resist going into denial about the bad stuff"

It is a wonderful consolation. I have recently taken to wearing reading glasses on a cord around my neck, and death to those who look askance. (They might have a more focused askance look but that won't stop me taking a flailing myopic swipe at anyhoo in range.)

Chin up.

(From my ageing experience, we have lots of 'em to uphoist. And why bloody not?! Badge d'honneur I say.)

Tatyana Larina said...

I hope the 'hit by a train' feeling doesn't eventuate.

I hate to put a link, but I sometimes find solo violin quite restorative ...

Ann ODyne said...

On ageing and profound realisations: commiseration herewith dear SLWCat, but really, on sucking it up and processing it into 'something deeper darker richer' ...ah! that would be fruitcake? I love cake and will not be in denial.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Yes, I think a big piece of fruitcake to the accompaniment of solo violin is definitely in order here.

That or Sara Lee Ultra Chocolate and Glenlivet (not together).

naomi said...

Why not together? sounds perfect to me.

Thank you Pav, wise words that are very helpful to this (slightly) disappointed mite.

Elisabeth said...

As I was saying to one of my daughters today, we have to learn to cope with our disappointments and to grow from them.

If the only thing we can tolerate is success, we will be in real trouble.

But it hurts, my god, it hurts while you wrestle with the internal voices that reprimand you and whoever it is that has let you down and it takes time, always at least a little time to get past it.

As you will.

For all its cryptic qualities - namely we do not know the nature of your disappointment and can only guess - this is a wonderful post. I shall learn from it.

Even the great KG of Pavlov's Cat suffers setbacks and writing about it helps.


Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Yes, I'm sorry to be cryptic. All fellow bloggers will recognise the necessity though, when one feels one really has to blog about something that can't be talked about publicly. I only ever do it when I think (as here) that the ideas are more interesting and important than the autobiographical details!

Deborah said...


I think the therapeutic benefit of a good sulk has long been misunderestimated. Or perhaps a muttering walk along the nearest beach, kicking sand and glaring at seagulls.

ThirdCat said...


And do you know another thing I've learnt? For all that we do find consolations and become richer people; and for all that 'it's not fair' can sound a bit bleating; and for all that one door opens...sometimes, for a little while, stuff just sucks. And I think it's okay to spend a day or two eating chocolate and drinking whisky and thinking 'what just happened sucks'. And than you have to pick yourself up and what doesn't kill us and so on and etcetera.

I hope a good thing happens soon.

Mindy said...

I think having pets helps too. It doesn't matter how much of a funk you get in, you still have to feed the cat (before they do the death twist around your ankles at the top of the stairs) and clean out the kitty litter. It's kind of grounding. Like glaring at seagulls who are only interested in you if you have chips.

Fine said...

Whatever it is, major commiserations PC. But, it's true as you age you do learn ways of coping and learning through disappointment. Or as a my very aged Mum has told me; "There's always a new mistake to make".

But there's nothing wrong with sulking, pouting and hurling things for a while. Just not the cats.

Anonymous said...

It is hard. Please do it. You will do it though, because anyone who cares as you do about characters in books, must care enough about your own unique self to gift yourself that costly energy to grow. And then there you''ll be at the end of it all- new in a way only you know. Good luck. Martha Maus.

Di said...

That is such a wise post PC.

I've had quite a few disappointments in recent years that have left me feeling undervalued and useless. These feelings have been creeping into me as if the business of life wants to push me aside, especially economically.Now that I'm over 60 I'm on the economic scrapheap with little chance of using my skills to earn a living. It seems very 'unfair' to be tossed aside by the economic system because I'm female and old. I keep trying to do things off my own bat but there is a limit to how well one can think up one's own creative projects and carry them out with little feedback or encouragement.

It's not that I feel I'm owed something, it's just I wish there were more opportunities for women still in the prime of life.

elsewhere said...

That's why I don't like this 'it's all about the journey'. I want to be able to wallow in pissed-off-ness.

lucy tartan said...

I had a slap in the face recently (not literally) and as elsewhere says, one distinct consolation available to those of us with a certain sort of temperament, is getting feel all righteously hard done by for a little while. I find it takes the edge off, initially.
Also what Mindy said about cats.
Can't wait to hear about this lovely major project.

Ozfemme said...

wonderful insights.

disappointments have always seemed to baffle and bewilder me in the past, no matter how much experience I have of them. "Confidence breeds success" was always my motto....
It's taken me almost half a century to accept that I can allow myself a bit of self-indulgent "kindness to self" whilst traversing the process of 'acceptance'.

Thanks for your words of wisdom.

Ozfemme said...

oh and the sara lee and glenlivet - why not together, specifically? (I love breaking the rules)

headbang8 said...

"But one thing it did take me ages to work out is that this kind of internal process of assimilation and regrouping actually takes a huge amount of effort and energy. Like other kinds of psychological effort, it can make you really, really physically tired."

The brain is an organ. It's physical. Working it, especially the lower regions of the lizard brain that usually just tick over without effort, exhausts you. That's where our emotions live; in the deep recesses of the dark animal brain." Yes, if you truly let an emotion into your head, it is physically demanding.

Living in Japan brought this home to me. Many business meetings were conducted with the use of simultaneous translators. They often came in pairs. ONe will translate for about twenty minutes, then hand over to the other. In this time, they'd take some food or a caffeinated drink, because they needed the physical energy to go on.

That's probablzy why people find things like crossword puzzles relaxing. It takes our focus into those dainty, lightweight frontal lobes. Get going on your sudoku. You'll feel better.

plumpes Denken said...

Reflective and insightful post. Thanks.

lisette said...

i had one of those this week too - i allow myself some pouting and sooking time to own the hurt, and then think oh well that means i don't have to do xxx or conversely it means i now have time to do yyy

hugs for the hurt bit

Armagny said...

You'll know of the recent tribulations I've had with my dad. I have effectively not sought to become estranged or otherwise punish him for it, am in fact I think treating him very well, and considered myself to have 'dealt' with it quite well as a result. I was pretty much over thinking or getting angry. Then someone, a bit of a 'life doesn't get me down I'm a happy hippy' type, gave me a lecture on how I HAD TO FORGIVE HIM or I would be miserable forever.

I got really angry then, not at him, at her. I will be avoiding her for a long time. It was meant with best of intentions but what I believe this sort of comment says, in effect, is that it is MY FAULT if I can't simply wave away something like that (having your dad declare that you're wired not to get along so he's not having much to do with you).

I can't see that it's healthy to ignore or mindlessly forgive or forget, and I think there's a lot of difference between noting, remembering, and acknowledging some anger, and going around unable to move on from something.

In my experience, and clearly I'll never make a good 'happy hippy', I move on better once I embrace a little anger and absorb lessons.

While I'm rambling on, moving to love and that stuff, I think the couple of heartbreakers and several psychos I dated in my 20s taught me invaluable lessons, so that my ability to back away from poorly formed or emotionally abusive relationships was honed, and kicked in earlier.

Whatever it is, you'll be fine. We're here after all!

Eric Sykes said...

Yes one goes round in circles, settling. I have had a few setbacks the last few years. And my anger about them was often described by some as "bitter and twisted". I would argue I was simply - angry. Now settled I have learnt that the anger was actually really useful, re-energising in fact. One feels guilty about anger - but then someone lent me the Joe Strummer bio/doco and I felt ok about it again. Remembering seeing the Clash live in 1977 kinda allowed the anger to have a wider meaning - the anger turned to wisdom ;-) Great post, thanks muchly.

William said...

By the time you get to certain age some disappointments can only be regarded as something to live with, learn from and try to do better, be better. And then there is a time for a big glass of Glenlivet, watching Dame Judi Dench perform 'Send in the Clowns' on YouTube - and keeping the tissues handy.

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

Disappointment drains and , even when you don't think you are , some part of you is still muttering "I deserved that , that's mine ".
I suppose age helps you to know that eventually it won't hurt so much , that this wasn't the last good thing ever .
But the immediate shock returns you to toddlerhood . Comfort food is called for .

Boracay hotel rooms said...

I'm so sorry to hear that. We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
Have a great day!

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Wow, that's the most creative spam I've ever seen.

Ann ODyne said...

... an informative too, as not only do I now know where it is, I know that May weather has bursts of rain, during one of which, presumably, the creative blog-reader found YOU and entered the WV.

My comment-spam always hits the same 2 old posts, and I cannot figure out why or how they do that.

plumeofwords said...

Thank you for this honest, moving post; hope you're feeling better by now. Your mapping of the process's vicissitudes is beautiful.

Miscellaneous-Mum said...

I'm sorry you've been going through this. You've put your finger on something that I've been trying to calibrate in my mind for a while now - that by just dismissing something, 'get over it' mightn't sometimes be fair to onesself, but necessary, to spare our minds screwing with us. It's better to face it. As a blogger, I've copped some flack (well, abuse, I'll call it what it was) in the past, so it's been a hard lesson.

And I like the violin idea - just not a solo done by me. I've just started learning and I'm not much beyond the 'vehement protesting of the strings' stage :)