The Pagliacci Effect

Heard joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says, “But doctor… I am Pagliacci.

Alan Moore, Watchmen

Oftentimes there’s a big difference between what we’re able to decipher about a person, what we see at the surface, and what lies underneath it all. There’s a big difference between appearance and essence.

I’m going to do the obvious here and use myself as an example.

There was a time when I was depressed. I had no money, no job… I felt lonely most times, in that bizarre way when you’re waiting for someone to enter your life and cure you of your loneliness. In a way, I’d spend my nights either writing or missing someone I had never even met.

I wrote mostly because I had nothing better to do with my time. I wasn’t expecting to publish anything, I wasn’t expecting anything actually. I just did stuff… built this big, big wall around me, and I never let anyone in.

Of course, at the same time, I was kind of funny. And I loved making people laugh or, at least, smile. And I talked about my dream of becoming a writer as if… it was there, as if I could almost touch it. I spoke with such confidence… it’s really sad, actually… because I wasn’t confident. Not even one bit.

Then things changed, of course. I had had enough. I wrote more, I tried my best, and I found the self-esteem and confidence I had lacked for most of my life. Through writing. That’s the truth.

I guess that what I’m really trying to say is that we need to experience the exact opposite of a thing in order to fully appreciate it. You need to get your heart broken a few times before you truly appreciate someone who’s clearly given the best they have to you. That way you’ll take better care. Spend enough time being all sad and depressed, and you’ll want to make people laugh and smile, so they never experience sadness.

Ever felt like you’re no good; just stupid, ugly, uninteresting?

Well, you write a blog and try to inspire other artists. So they never lose hope entirely, the way you did. So they gain a bit of confidence, each time they read one of your blog posts. And this, strangely enough, gives you more confidence than any motivational video you’d ever watch.

I make someone smile, and I smile. I make someone laugh, and this makes me laugh too. I inspire someone, and their enthusiasm inspires me to write as well.

The truth is, you always get something back. Yes, you shouldn’t give because you want something back. You should give because it makes you happy.

I wrote about my dark period so many times… here or in my stories, that it no longer affects me. It actually made me stronger.

It made me who I am today.

The Paradox of Struggle

One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible,” come true. Life was something you dominated if you were any good. Life yielded easily to intelligence and effort, or to what proportion could be mustered of both….I must hold in balance the sense of futility of effort and the sense of the necessity to struggle; the conviction of the inevitability of failure and still the determination to “succeed” — and, more than these, the contradiction between the dead hand of the past and the high intentions of the future.” 

F. Scott Fitzgerald

We are often forced to pretend that life’s not a struggle. We are forced to hide our tears behind fake smiles.

But life is a struggle. Life is a journey towards a home we will never reach. I write because the words I write will never be able to express the multitude of emotions and experiences that define me. I write because I am trying to draw a map of my soul, a soul that I do not completely understand myself.

My journey through life is my life. My journey towards home is, in fact, my home. I become one with my struggle, and the more I internalize this, the more I am able to change the world around me.

We conquer the world by understanding that our struggle is part of our identity, not something to overcome, but something to become part of.

Struggle is not to be avoided at all costs, but to be embraced.

Without my struggle, I wouldn’t be who I am. Without my struggle, I’d be hiding in some corner of my room, covered by a blanket, demanding that everyone else keep me safe.

The struggle is all there is. The struggle alone pleases us, not the victory. The struggle reveals us to our selves.

How sad it is to never go through a storm confident that you will do your best to grow through it, not just go through it.

“I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent — no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.”

Seneca

We become hopeless the moment we become helpless, the moment we decide that we shouldn’t have to face adversity, that life’s supposed to be fair by providing us with what we want when we want it.

We become prisoners inside a cage of broken dreams the moment we blame other people for our lack of inner fortitude.

I know this because it’s who I used to be. The more I loathed my struggle, the more I struggled. The more I tried to run away from pain and suffering, the more painful was my suffering.

Strangely enough, I can now feel this sort of mindset as it creeps in from time to time. A day spent doing nothing, a day spent lazily sitting on the couch, a day with no clear path to take, no challenge to overcome, that’s a day that often turns into a headache.

At the end of such a day, I am often tired but unable to fall asleep.

The more I avoid life, with its struggles and endless worries, the more I feel like I have lost something that I am never going to recover.

Running away from our problems ensures that we never figure out who we are.


Life is pain. And if anyone ever tells you that it’s not, they are trying to sell you something.

Life is pain. And if you embrace that pain, you become one with it. And that’s how you will know who you are, what you’re capable of, and what are the impossible limits of pain and suffering that you can challenge.

14 Comments

  1. Cristian. This is such a great piece. My brain is firing on so many of your points as they resonate. I feel compelled to share that clown/doctor story you shared at the beginning. My brain goes in a slightly different direction than yours. You have however inspired me to look down that road of sorrow, pain, depression. Getting out of that quick sand of struggle is key. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cristian, Another excellent post. You are indeed correct when you say, ‘Struggle is not to be avoided at all costs, but to be embraced”. We never fully appreciate anything that is given to us on a platter, particularly when no personal effort has been expended. Something hard won is always worth more. The trouble is, Cristian, is that the people who would benefit most from reading and understanding what you have to say, probably will not read it. That is a shame, but that is the way of the world. Keep those gems coming, they make all our lives brighter.
    Regards, Phil

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Phil,

      Yes, I guess you are right. Those who’d most benefit from this article won’t invest the time and energy required to read it, or even worse, won’t take any steps towards changing their mindset.

      It’s one of the reasons why I never fully embraced calling myself a “personal development” or “self-help” writer. At best, I’m just preaching to the converted. But those who genuinely need the advice will never be part of the target audience.

      Like

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