The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

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Summary

This is a short novel or novella about an old man and his experience with an eighteen foot marlin. He has had 85 days without a catch–and now he feels his luck will turn. He finally catches the huge Marlin, so far out that all he can see is sea and sky. He heads back to land, but on his way sharks continually eat at the large fish. By the time he returns to land, he is deathly tired and the fish is nothing but a skeleton. The boy, who used to work on his boat takes care of the tired and injured man upon his return.

Question

What is left after the old man returns with his eighteen foot marlin that has been devoured by sharks? In more general terms, What is left once honor has disappeared?

The reason I ask this is because I am perplexed. The book ends tragically in one sense: after 85 days without catching a fish, Santiago finally catches one, but it gets eaten by sharks. However, as I finished the novel, I did not feel as if it ended tragically, it did not feel sad or hopeless. There was something left after honor was gone.

There is a boy who had fished with the old man previously, but his parents made him work for another fisherman because he was more successful at fishing recently. But once Santiago returns:

He was asleep when the boy looked in the door in the morning. It was blowing so hard that the drifting boats would not be going out and the boy had slept late and then come to the old man’s shack as he had come each morning. The boy saw that the old man was breathing and then he saw the old man’s hands and he started to cry. He went out very quietly to go to bring some coffee and all the way down the road he was crying. (p. 122)

I think in this scene, after glory has left, we get a comic style ending. Once glory cannot be reached, we do not get despair. Instead, we are left with love, something far greater than glory. The love between an old fisherman and a young boy, who needs a father figure, since his is overbearing.

Writing

I want to commend Hemingway’s writing. While I love the use of beautiful language (see someone like Thornton Wilder whose sentences just hit me with beauty), there is something refreshing about a writer who gives us the bare necessities with regards to language. Nothing extraneous. Everything is concise, without giving up precision.

‘From a Time of Ambiguity’: ‘On Brittain’ (Entry Three)

Blake and Julia Schwarz stand next to the brand new, white crib, staring at their beautiful baby boy, Brittain. They gaze into his blue eyes and run their fingers through his soft, blonde hair. They suffer through sleepless nights, waking up to a screaming child. They attend to the infant’s every need, feeding him, changing his diaper, rocking him to sleep. Despite sleep deprivation, the Schwarz family abounds in joy. However, five months after Brittain’s birth, they go for a check-up for the newborn. The couple, with child in hand, strolls through the almost-too-white hallways of the hospital. They hear a moaning old man suffering from Huntington’s disease; they see a woman who just recently collided her vehicle into another, blood oozing from gashes covering her body. They cannot help but feel disheartened, but they continue to their doctor’s office. They enter through the threshold, ready to make sure they are providing the baby the appropriate nutrients, hopefully feeding Brittain the best food for his health. Nutrients were the least of their worries. The doctor kindly and unsteadily reveals that Brittain has Spinal Muscular Atrophy.

Spinal Muscular Atrophy is a genetic defect that prevents the subject from developing muscles. The main muscles that are affected are located either at the joints connecting limbs to the body, or near the lungs. Blake and Julia find this out, and their souls sink. Their doctor tells them that their five-month-old baby only has about half a year left to live. This affliction indicated that Blake and Julia both possessed the recessive gene for this disease. This meant that there would always be a chance for their possible future children to possess this defect. The young couple went home and thought about options of what they could do in this situation. The research in curing this disease is extremely primitive and usually involves embryonic stem cells, which presented Blake and Julia with a moral dilemma: should they stop another [frozen embryonic] baby from living in order to obtain stem cells for the purpose of building muscle in their own child? They made the decision not to do so, but did as much as possible to help Brittain during his last months, hoping for a miracle, but living with the reality that their son would die. Over the next months, these two watched their son slowly but surely decay. His muscles were unable to develop with his growth. They pictured in their heads the image of their child loosing the ability to breath. It pains me to think about a baby struggling to inhale.

They take yet another trip to the doctor’s office, their noses filled with the piercing stench of isopropyl alcohol. They sit in the chairs of the doctor’s office, anxiously fidgeting with items on the desk. The doctor walks in, sits down and looks into the eyes of the couple. He tells them that Brittain has two more days to live.

Despite this horrible occurrence, the Schwarz’s dealt with their baby’s death in a manner that surprised almost everyone. They found peace in the event, spending their last twenty-four hours playing with their son. For he would only be with them for so much longer. They rejoiced in having the gift of having their son, even if it was only for eleven or twelve months. Of course, Blake and Julia mourned their son’s death, and still miss him now. However, they did not let this tragedy infringe on their lives and their ability to find love in the world, whether it be with each other, with friends and family, or with their healthy, young daughter, Margaret, born two years later.

<>

Blake was my theology professor in high school. Professor Schwarz, as I called him and still call him despite my high school graduation, has changed my life exponentially for the better. I attended a private, classical, Christian school called The Cambridge School of Dallas, where he taught. Renting out part of an old non-denominational church building, Cambridge housed ninety students from sixth to twelfth grade. I had a graduating class of fourteen. While this may sound torturous, and at times it was, I owe my life to this school and those in it, especially Professor Schwarz. At first, I despised my time at Cambridge, having considered departing from the place entirely on three separate occasions. I disliked the miniscule class size, only having one other male in the grade until my third year attending. I disliked the amount of homework and classwork assigned to us, restricting us from having anything remotely close to a social life. I disliked how much I knew each person, knowing more putrid qualities in each acquaintance than virtuous aspects of their character. I disliked how much the teachers expected of us, requiring us to do a total of three to five hours of homework each night by sophomore year. All of this seemed ridiculous to me, as well as my peers. As if this wasn’t enough to evoke anger inside me, anxiety constricted my mind and distorted my view on life my sophomore, junior, and senior years. My doctor diagnosed me with clinical anxiety by the summer separating my sophomore and junior years. During this time, I struggled with mental and emotional issues, not to mention dealing with medication, therapy, and, sometimes, ridicule. Overall, I couldn’t wait to escape this dismal abyss.

Starting my second semester of my final year at the school, with my psychiatrist encouraging me to start on medication yet again, my emotional well being started to turn around. Not only this, but my intellectual and spiritual well being improved dramatically. I started to invest myself in my studies, or at least some of them. I began to delve into the literature we read in English class. In reading Othello by William Shakespeare, I intently watched Othello, refuted the pungent Iago, and doted upon the beautiful Desdemona. I began to find joy, something I seemed unable to do in years past. In reading Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, I absorbed myself in the anxiety of Raskolnikov, the main character of the novel, indirectly and miraculously finding a cure for my own anxiety. This novel healed me because I got out of the way long enough to focus on the hurts, needs, and aspirations of someone from a different time and place, someone, it turns out, who made me realize that I am not alone in my struggle to be free of crippling anxiety. I was able to see with Raskolnikov’s eyes, to imagine with his imagination, and to feel with his heart. Just as Raskolnikov had the Godly love of the good-hearted prostitute, Sonya, I had the same type of love given to me by friends and mentors, including Blake Schwarz. If this man had failed to walk into my life, I doubt I would have much mental stability or emotional comfort at all.

Professor Schwarz would sit with me for hours talking with me, whether it be about my anxiety, the Christian life, or even his son Brittain. In spending several hours a week with this man, we grew close together, and I learned of his son’s ailment. I only physically “met” young Brittain once, maybe twice, but his death has had a deep impact on me. I, in becoming so close with Blake, felt the pain he felt in his son’s death, in portion at least.

<>


O! Crying infant from the womb

            You came, and five months passéd by

            ‘Till Death announ’d: Brittain would die.

The Shadow enters all too soon.

——–

Tear upon tear fall down the face

            Of Blake and Julia; they weep.

            A simple solution they seek.

Yet, time allows vision of grace.

 

Brittain, a gift of God bestow’d

            Upon man and wife, giving love.

            The day will come, when like a dove,

His soul ascend, body below.

 

Rejoice is found in time remain’d,

            A joy found in each smile and grin.

            Some might say Death obtains the win,

But Death, cloak’d in black, naught has gain’d.

——–

Appeared before them was a man

            Saying, ‘Why bring a child to Earth

            When Pain is all I’ve known since birth?

This child to die just like a lamb.’

 

Response is delivered to him,

            ‘Pain exists, but joy outweighs it.

            I see my son, inward joy sits.

You see him and look to be grim.’

 

One sees pain, the other sees all.

            I know more than pain, I confide.

            ‘Tis better to have lived and died

Than never to have lived at all.[1]

<>

Blake helped me see, through bringing me out of that dark void of anxiety, that there is joy in life. I had been so alone and mad at the world, and he helped show me the way to find light even in the darkest place I had ever been. I was never suicidal, but if you had asked me during that time of my life, whether it was worth it to live, I’m afraid my answer would not have been affirmative. On the other side of anxiety, I now see, despite massive amounts of pain, that living, existing, is in and of itself a good thing. It is, in fact better, to exist than not to exist.

<>

Blake and Julia cherished their son’s life, and wished nothing but health for him. They found a way to obtain comfort and joy, in spite of their boy’s death. Meanwhile, parents all over America, and even all over the world, are opting to terminate that which Blake and Julia treasured so. Abortions are all too common now. Woman after woman walk into abortion clinics to have the child removed from their wombs. Man after man demands that their lover “get rid of that mistake!”

Given that I am male, I don’t have personal experience in the matter of pregnancy or abortions, as far as being the patient. However, I do not see how one could choose against someone else’s existence. I understand that pregnancy is not extremely enjoyable; childbirth is even worse. I understand that some women are raped, and that sometimes even girls as young as fifteen find themselves carrying a child. I understand that some are not ready for parenthood. However, I don’t think any of these reasons give anyone the right to choose whether another ought to live or not, to exist or not. Does any human have the moral ability to decide whether another exists or not? I feel the greatest sympathy for those women who are raped, for those young teenagers who made one mistake, for those that are terrified of parenthood. Do they not know what they are doing? They are deciding someone else’s existence, or in their case, non-existence. Some claim that they do not want to bring their child into this horrible, pain-ridden world. Is there no joy? Suffering, evil, and pain all exist, but do they exist without any redemption? Bringing a child into this world does not condemn them to suffering. Bringing a child into this word, allows them to experience joy, to experience pain, and learn and grow from that suffering. I have experienced pain. I have marched through the swamp of suffering. I have fought with the wind of sorrow. Through this, I have found the importance and the joy in life. I understand that some might not consider a fetus to possess personhood, but who am I, or any other person to decide whether someone has the chance to experience devastation, as well joy, immense amounts of hurt, as well as love?

______________________________________________________________

[1] An original poem entitle ‘In Memoriam N. B. S.,’ modeled after Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam A. H. H.’ I use the same form as he does. He used four lines of iambic tetrameter for each stanza and the poem consists of 133 Cantos, or sections. I represented this by doing three sections of 1 stanza, 3 stanzas, and 3 stanzas. He mourns the death of his best friend, and I am mourning the death of my close mentor’s child.

‘From a Time of Ambiguity’ (Entry Two): ‘On Pleasure’

My young grandfather tiptoes through the kitchen and into the empty master bedroom. He carefully and intently anticipates each step, making sure that he does not set his foot on one of the creaky boards of the bedroom floor. He sees his dad’s sock drawer that opens up to his chin. He stares at it with wonder, continuing to creep onward. He reaches in to the far back of the painted oak drawer to the pair of old socks that his dad never wears. He feels the box that he intended on finding and pulls out a thin, white and orange cylinder, carefully inserting the box back into one of the two dirty socks from which he obtained it. He slips out of the room just as quietly and stealthily as he had entered, proceeding hastily behind the neighbor’s shed. He pulls out the matches that he had traded ten rare baseball cards for in order to ignite the cigarette he had stolen from his father. He smokes his first cigarette at the age of nine. He shines with happiness, despite the cough that associates his first deep inhale, the end of the cigarette glowing bright orange, air flowing quickly down his throat and rushing into his lungs. He could finally relax and not worry about arithmetic, feeding the dog, or hanging the clothes in the back yard with the clothespins that made his fingers sting with pain.

+++

            I walk across Lancelot Drive into the alley with two of my comrades, carrying a thirty rack of Natural Light. We walk down the dark alley, cautious of the dog in the backyard next to us, since we feared getting caught by anyone. We approach our disgusting destination. We habitually imbibed at the old abandoned house across the street from the pool where I worked as a lifeguard. We entered from the back, barely able to squeeze through the wooden gate, covered in wonderfully green ivy that seemed to constrict each panel of the gate with its strong, green arms. The gate connected to a deteriorating fence that seemed all too close to falling down into the alley. However, it still managed to keep us hidden when we wanted to go into that abandoned backyard and drink a few, or many more than a few, beers. This particular night, just three of us met at the abandoned house, but normally a whole crew of vagabonds congregated in that tiny backyard. We opened our first beers and began to talk. Continuing in our drinking, we began to feel empowered. Our parents, who implored us not to participate in activities like the ones we were currently partaking in, could not stop us. We were great friends sitting in a backyard enjoying a few drinks together, relishing in each other and in our youth.

+++

            My friend, Beau, tended to act quite awkward. He stands barely above average height, and remains a little bit overweight, but not “big” in any sense of the word. While interacting amicably with all whom he encounters, he inhabits a constant state of self-loathing and often jokes about his own pitfalls. However, my friend, Ian, and I still enjoy his company. One night, Ian and his girlfriend went out with Beau, setting him up with a girl, in hopes of easing some of his depressive thoughts. After they went to dinner at a somewhat upscale steak house, they came back to Ian’s house, where I met them. We hung out for about an hour, watching TV. Then, things escalated all too quickly and both couples began making out, sucking each other’s faces as a vacuum machine sucks dust particles and old Dorito crumbs off of the filthy floor. As the fifth wheel, a position I was not too unfamiliar with, I uneasily announced my much-expected departure and exited out the screen door. See, Beau, like me, had not lost his virginity, and was much too eager to get rid of the gargantuan ‘V’ on his forehead. That ‘V’ would disappear by sunrise.

+++

            I stand staring at a picture in an old, dusty frame. In it sits an old man with black hair. A transparent tube connects to his nose, leading to some machine not visible in the picture. He holds a baby, not more than a few months old, calmly lying in the arms of his grandfather. This picture sits on the mantel above the fireplace, gathering dust throughout the year. I find myself visiting the picture every now and then, seeing grandpa Ben holding me as an infant. I cherish this picture. I have never met my grandfather. Of course, he has held me, but he died of lung cancer before my first birthday. I know this picture, but not my grandfather. How can feeling giddy and shining with delight from a cigarette compare with having conversation with your own grandson? I am most certainly not angry at my grandfather, but it would have been nice to meet him and talk to him. There just seems to me severe pain that accompanies what some people consider “joy” in smoking cigarettes and things of that sort. This “joy” that my grandpa found prevented his relationship with his grandson from ever existing.

+++

            After having the golden liquid flow down our throats, each second becoming more dreamful than the one before, we left to rendezvous with a few other companions at the park in the neighborhood over. Given that we were only fifteen years old, we could not drive. As a result, we were forced to walk in the strikingly cold night on an adventure to Royal Park. We continued along the street, with beers piled in a backpack. We, a young group of hoodlums, found our three other friends and continued to drink more. I could feel the effects of the alcohol. I felt light, I felt immutable. After having finished my share of the thirty pack, only one friend, Cruz, and I remained at that eerie park. He still had three beers left, and after having about six, I decided to help him out with the last few. I was fifteen, no taller than 5’ 9’’ and weighed less than a buck twenty-five. These eight beers affected me more than I anticipated, causing me to begin blacking out, forgetting bits and pieces of what remained to occur that night. I don’t remember crossing the busy six-lane road in Dallas, and I barely remember having a man at another park shine a flashlight into my eyes. I remember extremely vaguely Cruz’s sister banishing me from their house due to my intolerable intoxication. I recall my hand on the doorknob attached to the deep, dark green door of my own home. I walk in nonchalant and soaring. But then, my mother calls me into her room, and I hesitantly enter. I open the door and proceed. She was wearing her pink nightgown that covered her body down to her shins. She looked at me; immediately suspicion rose inside her. There I stood, in front of the very woman who granted me life, intoxicated. Shame engulfed me. How could I disrespect my own mother by doing exactly what she told me not to do? How does a good buzz from brew compare to the loving and caring relationship between a mother and her son?

+++

            The next day, I walked to Ian’s house. We went to two different schools; I went to the small, private, Christian school and he went to the local public school. However, the summer allowed us to spend all the time we wanted to together. Finishing the small talk, he quickly acquired a face of sincere, frightful, and intrigue-filled fervor. He began to explain to me the happenings of the night before, after I had quickly and awkwardly left his house. He explained that Beau had taken the other girl back to his house, where Beau and his grandmother were the only inhabitants. They proceeded to continue their path of lustful excitement; Beau’s heart probably beating faster than ever before in his life. He reached into his pocket to pull out the condom Ian had advised he bring, but before he could even put his other hand on the wrapper to peel the case off, the girl pounced on him as a lion ambushes the vulnerable gazelle in the flat plains of Africa. Beau, a virgin, could not resist, and they proceeded to have sexual intercourse without protection. After the deed had been done, he began to fill up with anxiety, while she sat there indifferent, which all of us, after hearing the story, found extraordinarily odd. Beau went to Ian, who was decently more experienced in the matter. Ian gave Beau some Plan B that he kept in his drawer in case there was ever a pregnancy scare for him. Beau encouraged the girl to take it, and she complied. She had a day of sickness from the medication, as the box specifically indicates. He finally felt relieved. Why seek momentary, perhaps all too momentary, sexual pleasure if it costs such anxiety, such sickness and potentially exterminates a life?

+++

            People often fret over the lack of happiness in their lives. In effect, they chase money, sex, alcohol, drugs, work, and anything that they can find temporary pleasure in. They look for happiness in what St. Augustine calls “inferior objects,” things that can only give us fleeting pleasure, rather than lasting joy. Augustine claims that there are “higher and supreme goods,” saying, “these inferior goods have their delights, but not comparable to my God who has made them all. It is in him that the just person takes delight; he is the joy of those who are true of heart.”[1] Here, Augustine makes a clear distinction between pleasure and joy. Pleasure fades away, and suffering accompanies. Pleasure, at first, outweighs the pain. However, soon enough, anguish prevails. Joy, on the other hand, lasts, and can truly satisfy our desire for happiness, which pleasure can and will never do. Why do we continue to seek such disgusting and lowly gratifications?

+++

Oh what are my grief and my trouble, if I am able to be happy? You know, I don’t understand how it’s possible to pass by a tree and not be happy to see it. To talk with a man and not be happy that you love him!… there are so many things at every step that are so beautiful, that even the most confused person finds beautiful. Look at a child, look at God’s sunrise, look at the grass growing, look into the eyes that are looking at you and love you…[2]

What is a simple buzz from a cigarette when compared with looking into someone’s eyes and knowing they love you? What is finding brief happiness in the bottom of a bottle when compared with the glorious sunrise that occurs each and every day? What is finding sexual pleasure with a floosy girl compared with looking upon the face of a beautiful child? After having these experiences with pleasure, I simply don’t understand what people, including myself, think we will find in these simple and unsatisfying ends. All I do know is that Joy is not at the end of a cigarette, nor at the bottom of a Natural Light can, nor on the lips of a promiscuous woman.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

[1] St. Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 29-30.

[2] Dostoevsky, Fyodor, The Idiot, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (New York: Everyman’s Library, 2002), 553.

‘From a Time of Ambiguity’ (Entry One): ‘On Maturation’

I stand upstairs in the bathroom that us three brothers share. I proceed to brush my teeth, as my dad, who is a dentist at Preston Forest Tower in the city, taught me to. I feel the bristles go back and forth on the surface of my teeth, scratching away the stains and plaque that accumulated throughout the long day. I make sure to reach spots that might be difficult to maneuver, but that are “extremely important to brush,” as my dad used to say.

While I was in the restroom using the toothbrush to clean the enamel on my molars, I heard the most frightening noise that I could have possibly heard. Have you ever heard the sound someone makes when they get punched in the abdomen? Have you ever heard an overly dramatic sneezer, who makes the sneeze seem fatal by the decibels produced? Well, this sound that I heard while brushing my teeth, at least in my head, emulated a mix between these two sounds. My older brother, Brian, had vomited in the bathroom downstairs. I heard the stress on his stomach, pressing his diaphragm into his rib cage. I also heard the content hit the water in the toilet bowl, making the sound of bullets hitting the ocean from an aircraft during war. The combination of his cry of pain and the splashing made me cower in terror. I started to feel anxious, my heart rate increasing to the speed of a jackhammer taking out the cement at a construction sight. My body began to heat up so much that if you had placed a piece of foil on my arm and cracked open an egg, you would have breakfast in about five minutes. I could hardly even comprehend what had occurred. This all happened in a matter of seconds. I couldn’t handle it. I ran downstairs.

I have always disliked throwing up, even when I was too young to know what it was. However, about two weeks prior to this incident, I was sick after a few years of not experiencing the feeling of throwing up. This brought my dislike into an all-out crippling anxiety. After my sickness, both of my parents had caught what I had. My little brother was next, and with each person getting sick, my anxiety grew. The monster that was my anxiety was feeding off of the sickness of my family members. Lastly, my older brother got sick, pushing me to a point where reason did not exist.

I ran into my parent’s room, bursting open the door, possibly almost taking it off it’s hinges. I remember the intensely cold feeling of that cement floor. Why did we, and still do we, have cement floors in that room? I’m not completely certain. But, I remember feeling that icy ground chill my feet. I didn’t notice it then because I could not manage to focus on anything other than my brother’s sickness. I walk in and see my mother sitting in her bed, under her covers and in her nightgown. She could tell something was wrong, but before she could ask me what was wrong, I scream, “Brian threw up!”

My mother, one who had dealt with a lifetime of depression, had been in a mental place like this before to know how to deal with such an irrational child. Mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and more run in the “Lankford side of the family,” as I have been told a few too many times. Needless to say, my mom, for the most part, knew how to bring me out of this panic attack.

“Mom, did you not hear me? He threw up! It’s horrible, and I can’t deal with it, and he can’t do this to me! He needs to—,“ I said.

“—Joey, do think Brian has any control over this? He’s sick, and he got it from you. You’ve already had it. Don’t blame this on him! Just calm down!” My mom said this with the utmost care, but still managing to be clear and forceful with her words, hitting me like daggers piercing my heart.

“Mom, you don’t understand! It could be a different sickness! He could get me sick again! He can’t do this to me! How could he do this to me?”

Right then, Brian slowly walked into the room. I would have been more comfortable with a half-dead zombie, starving for brains, waking into the room. It, in fact, was not a half-dead zombie, but my brother who simply had a stomach bug, something that cut into my soul much more severely.

I yelled to my older brother, “Brian, no! You need to leave now! This can’t happen!”

“Joey, it’s not his fault and you’re not going to get sick, and even if you were, you can’t possibly control that! Please calm down honey!” My mom said this to me, turning to my brother making sure he was fine. My brother proceeded to tell his story of what happened, and I continued to uncontrollably think about the possible outcomes of the situation. My brother finally left the room, while I managed to continue in this frenzied state of mind, while my mom helped me through this “psychosis.”

This, along with me getting sick, sparked my clinical anxiety. That night when Brian got sick, my mom suggested I go see a therapist. I soon got put on insomnia meds, hoping it would help with my sleeping issues, and in effect maybe my anxiety. After finding that this helped my minor insomnia, but not my anxiety, my psychiatrist prescribed me an anti-anxiety medication. For the past two or three years, I have been on and off medication, and my anxiety has fluctuated. It started off serious, not being such a problem my junior year, but becoming an issue my senior year.

It was not that I was so cowardly and downtrodden, even quite the contrary; but for some time I had been in an irritable and tense state, resembling hypochondria. I was so immersed in myself and had isolated myself so much from everyone that I was afraid of not only meeting my sick brother across the hall, but of meeting anyone at all. I was crushed by anxiety. I had entirely given up attending to my schoolwork and did not desire to attend to anything of the sort. Each day became an obligation. It was always terribly hot out, being from Dallas, and moreover it was close, crowded; dust, wood, brick everywhere in the old school building that the miniscule Cambridge School of Dallas inhabited. And that high school stench consisting of body odor, teen angst, and highly contagious illness filled the air. All at once these things unpleasantly shook my already overwrought nerves. The intolerable stench from the crowded restaurants, and the drunken teenagers I somehow found myself surrounded by, influencing my own actions, completed the loathsome and melancholy coloring of the picture of my anxiety.[1]

Going into my senior year of high school, without the use of anti-anxiety medication, I managed to fall into the dark abyss once again. I found myself worrying about each and every soul that I encountered; not in the sense that I cared for them, but in the sense that I feared that they would infect me with some new contagion. I found myself extremely alone, despite having friends around me who cared for me, and family who knew the darkness of my mind. My mother recommended that I get back on medication and return to therapy. I did so, relatively reluctantly, but knowing that I inhabited an extremely dark and solitary place. I went back to medication, coupled with therapy, which seemed to help some.

My senior year in English class, rather than having tests, we practiced the method of seminar, discussion based examinations about questions that rise from the text at hand. At the beginning of the year, deep in anxiety, I didn’t care too much for this pedagogy. However, starting in the second semester, partially better off but still in an extremely depressed time in my life, I started to engage more in seminar. We started the second semester with Shakespeare’s Othello and I found myself incredibly intrigued by the characters of this play. I was disgusted with Iago, invested in the main character of Othello, and completely devoted to sweet Desdemona. This is where I began to invest myself for the first time my senior year. Then, a huge, five hundred and fifty page book was placed in front of me. The next book that we sought to investigate, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, would change my life.

Because our own life is not enough, “we want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own,” as C. S. Lewis wrote in Experiment in Criticism.[2] Literature uniquely enlarges our being. No literary work has transformed my life more dramatically than Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1866 novel, Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov, the main character of the novel, offers a portrait of anxiety. By absorbing myself in Raskolnikov’s anxiety, I indirectly and miraculously found a cure for my own anxiety. This novel healed me because I got out of the way long enough to focus on the hurts, needs, and aspirations of someone from a different time and place, someone, it turns out, who made me realize that I am not alone in my struggle to be free of crippling anxiety. I was able to see with Raskolnikov’s eyes, to imagine with his imagination, and to feel with his heart. If there is hope for Raskolnikov, who was in far worse shape than myself, then surely there is hope for me.

I finally found comfort. I did not find it in gaining control of my life. I found it in giving that desire for control away. As humans, no matter how hard we try, we do not have control over everything. Who can add one day to their lives through worry? We, as humans do not have this power. We may be able to decide what we eat for lunch, or which route we take to the grocery store, but ultimately, we must give up our craving for control over all aspects of our lives. This is what I was forced to do, and it is something I still wrestle with. I continue to work on giving up my want for absolute control everyday.

I recall this whole story with my older brother becoming sick, and I contemplate. How could I possibly yell at someone in such a vulnerable place? How could I stand to treat someone who loves me, and whom I love, so horribly? I think about my selfishness, as if my health was not only more important than my brothers’ health, but the most important thing period.

I recently had the flu; I had filled sinuses, a stuffed nose, a sore throat, as well as headaches and dizziness. My older brother, the same one as before, also attends this university. Rather than yelling at me, he proceeded to offer to get me Einstein bagels, pop-tarts and orange juice, and then actually doing so. Look at the contrast of how we treat each other in hard times. I cannot stand to think of how self-centered I was. I am currently trying to change this, and it is a process. I just know that I did not deserve the kindness my brother gave me when I was sick. Three years span between these two stories, but I still am in awe of the kindness that my brother extended to me.

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[1] Imitation from the first two pages Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, where Dostoevsky describes the main character, Rodion Raskolnikov, and his deep anxiety. (Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. Edited by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.)

[2] Lewis, C. S. An Experiment in Criticism. Cambridge: University Press, 1961.

Essay Series: ‘From a Time of Ambiguity’

I am currently enrolled in an Essay Writing class that deals with creative nonfiction. Given that I am currently waiting to hear back from schools that I desire to transfer to, I am in a state of ambiguity. I do not know what state in the United States I will be living in next semester. While these essays (four of them) do not deal with ambiguity, they are written in a time of ambiguity. The first two will be posted soon. The second two are in the process of being written.

An Example of Imitation

Recently I practiced, in a paper of mine, imitation of a passage from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Dostoevsky describes the main character, Raskolnikov, painting a picture of pure anxiety:

It was not that he was so cowardly an downtrodden, even quite the contrary; but for some time he had been in an irritable and tense state, resembling hypochondria. He was so immersed in himself and had isolated himself so much from everyone that he was afraid not only of meeting his landlady but of meeting anyone at all. He was crushed by poverty; but even his strained circumstances had lately ceased to burden him. He had entirely given up attending to his daily affairs and did not want to attend to them. . .

It was terribly hot out, and moreover it was close, crowded; lime, scaffolding, bricks, dust everywhere, and that special summer stench know so well to every Petersburger who cannot afford to rent a summer house– all at once these things unpleasantly shook the young man’s already overwrought nerves. The intolerable stench from the taverns, especially numerous in that part of the city, and the drunkards he kept running into even though it was a weekday, completed the melancholy coloring of the picture. A feeling of the deepest revulsion flashed for a moment in the young man’s fine features.

I imitated this passage, describing my own struggle with clinical anxiety:

It was not that I was so cowardly and downtrodden, even quite the contrary; but for some time I had been in an irritable and tense state, resembling hypochondria. I was so immersed in myself and had isolated myself so much from everyone that I was afraid of not only meeting my sick brother across the hall, but of meeting anyone at all. I was crushed by anxiety. I had entirely given up attending to my schoolwork and did not desire to attend to anything of the sort. Each day became an obligation. It was always terribly hot out, being from Dallas, and moreover it was close, crowded; dust, wood, brick everywhere in the old school building that the miniscule Cambridge School of Dallas inhabited. And that high school stench consisting of body odor, teen angst, and highly contagious illness filled the air. All at once these things unpleasantly shook my already overwrought nerves. The intolerable stench from the crowded restaurants, and the drunken teenagers I somehow found myself surrounded by, influencing my own actions, completed the loathsome and melancholy coloring of the picture of my anxiety.

Imitation: Developing as a Writer

I am currently writing a miniature memoir for a writing class I am enrolled in. The assignment is to write on a significant event in your life focusing on physical, mental, and spiritual detail, as a memoir would (but only in 4-7 pages). I am describing my struggle with anxiety.

We discussed and read about imitation: directly taking a passage from another author and replacing words and phrases to make the passage fit to your piece of writing. I had never done this until now. I found it to be extremely helpful. I’m a decent writer, but I am also only eighteen, and obviously I’m no Dickens or Emerson. I do love to write, nonetheless. So, I took two paragraphs from the first two pages of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, where he describes Raskolnikov’s state of irritability and anxiety do describe my clinical anxiety. It was extremely helpful. I tend to struggle with word choice, so this exercise let me use the diction of one of the greatest writers to ever live, while applying it to my own work.

I recommend using imitation (as long as you make sure you are not plagiarizing) to anyone who enjoys writing and wants to improve.