dark words

June 12, 2008

Some of my interest in the language we use to talk about the darker parts of ourselves and the darker parts of our world stems from being raised by parents who had intimate relationships with darkness. My dad is a WW2 combat veteran, a Marine who fought in the South Pacific, and he suffers from post traumatic stress. My mom has her own dark story to tell; the details are not mine to reveal, but suffice it to say she saw some of the worst in someone she loved dearly. So as you can imagine, lots and lots went unsaid in my household, and to be fair I don’t know how either of my parents could have described the seminal events in their lives to me and my sister.

I’ve tried to imagine my dad killing people and tried to imagine what he did to survive people trying to kill him. And I’d guess that the darkness he experienced in himself and in other people was not something he wanted us to see in him or the in the world. But at the same time he felt the most alive there in the midst of all that. I know this because he told me as much. And it breaks my heart because that made him kinda fucked. It wasn’t like he could say “Hey kids, guess what? The world can be a terrible place and I have a terrible secret. I’m really fucking good at killing people and even better at not getting killed, and lemme tell you, that right there, that gave me a reason for living. I sure wish it was you kids and your mom, but what can I tell ya. Now pack up your shit cause Daddy’s taking you to the state fair.”


6 responses to “dark words”

  1. David says:

    Maybe it’s just coincidence, but it’s interesting that this has no comments. Ned (jackass) discounts my projection theory on ‘owning’ our shadows but how many of us feel this is too personal – our first reaction – that this starts to blur that line between wanting to label but being faced with it directly effecting a loved one… Easy to say ‘that’s horrible’ or ‘I’m so sorry’ but I don’t think that was Liz’s intent when she wrote it – I get from it she wants us to get a little dirty, to make it stop being external and dig a little what it is and how it effects our lives. There is no cause and effect just relationships between existence – you can’t sit back and logically dissect with being a part of it. We all have these holes in our relationships that we skirt around never seem to look to long into let alone share with our mutual diggers.

    I’ll start with this simplicity – I’m afraid that if people really know who I am they won’t like me – that simple – started when I was a kid and it’s not unshared I’m sure – I’m a fraud – I’m not nearly the person I want to be and what is there is this weird empty shell – I worked very hard for a very long time to be a facade of this person I thought everyone would like but was never really connected because of it, was never really happy because my relationships were built on what I perceived as a lie.

    The point of this is that no one talked to me about emptiness, sadness, and fear – in my house those things were seen as taboo that in the chaos you would somehow give them strength by acknowledging but we all know that’s not how it works that by ignoring them they becoming monsters, festering sores that take so long to heal – don’t get me wrong that focusing too much on them can create the same effect by becoming badges of martyrdom but you can own those feelings and share them in a healthy fashion.

    I guess if most of us aren’t really healthy yet, how can we be expected to perceive the world cleanly? That our filters are so dirty with this silt we’ve got left over from the years that we hope and try to learn our blind spots and try to slowly chip away at them but it is a process and sometimes slower and sometimes faster. It’s nice when you feel/think things deeply and just let that happen – your soul being a rope without knots (at least in sections)…

    That was a lot of rambling….

  2. liz says:

    that was some of the most awesome rambling. really. plus there was some nice writing in there david. really nice. and yes i want folks to get dirty and get down in the grit of the of it all. and no not stay there, but go there for sure.

  3. ned says:

    i started to type out some reason for not commenting on this yet (it’s been a little hectic at work lately), but it’s true, discussion gets tougher the more personal it gets. which is why David (donkey puncher) and I spend more time talking about kung-fu movies than about our deepest fears. and frankly, when it comes to the most personal stuff i’ve learned (or been trained or whatever) to tread lightly in such circumstances, because the potential for harm is much greater when important personal subjects are being discussed. (there’s also always the chance that your deepest fears and concerns are trivial, at least that’s one of my considerations, but that doesn’t really apply here)

    the example you give, Liz, illuminates what you were struggling to talk about quite well – how useful is the label “killer” when thinking about your dad? not “how useful is it to call someone a killer” in the abstract (though that’s interesting too), but did the label “killer” mess with your dad’s mind, did it provide any useful guidance for him when he needed it, did it facilitate better understanding on his part or on the part of anyone else?

    part of me wants to point out that words are labels, damnit, so why pick on the heavy ones and not talk about language and value judgments in general. And I’d feel more comfortable talking about this in person, but whether we call someone a killer, or use compassionate language to discuss their humanity comprehensively, the facts remain the same: some behavior is troubling. on some level isn’t it reassuring that your dad’s concept of humanity makes it difficult for him to reconcile the feelings he had in battle with his daily sense of right and wrong? wouldn’t it be more fucked up if he weren’t affected by those experiences? i could propose that working through the implications of the label is a healthy, productive, worthwhile and necessary activity – and i say that as someone who’s spent some time thinking about my own labels – but boy howdy, who am i to talk?

    my conception of appropriate living comes from my experiences with my parents, and i know it shapes my personal outlook and philosophy. i think some of the most powerful lessons in life aren’t taught intentionally, they’re passed along almost subconsciously (which is why being around kids still sometimes freaks me out). I don’t know your dad, Liz, but just look at all the things he’s set in motion with you. you say “to be fair I don’t know how either of my parents could have described the seminal events in their lives to me and my sister.” yep. and yet stuff gets passed along, even it it feels like maddeningly incomplete clues. and that’s about all i have on that subject right now.

  4. David says:

    We talk about kung fu movies because they rock! Kung fu panda wasn’t bad…

  5. proteanme says:

    lots of good stuff to digest ned. thanks for putting it all out there. i’m gonna think on it and likely include my reflections in my next post. i’m trying to figure out if i’m really wanting to dissect labels or trying to figure out what happens when we try to talk about the “unspeakable”. in typing that it strikes me those things aren’t mutually exclusive.

    i’m not sure i can answer how helpful it is to think of my dad as a killer, or i’m not sure i can answer it easily as i only got to know my dad when he could start talking about his war experience with me.

    i think the one of the unconscious messages i grew up with is life is complicated, which has suited me pretty well actually.

  6. proteanme.com » back to some darkness says:

    […] been thinking about a comment Ned left on my dark words post. The example you give, Liz, illuminates what you were struggling to talk about quite well – […]

leave a reply