Tag Archives: Donaleen Saul

Suicide – A Loss That Knows No Bounds

On January 24, 2010 at 6:00 PM, I’m going to be giving a talk at Valley View Funeral Home in Surrey, BC to a group of folks who have lost loved ones to suicide. It’s the first talk I’ve given since the launch of my book, Did You Know I Would Miss You? in November, 2008. Why has there been such a delay, given that I wrote it because people need it, and given that I’ve had a lot of great feedback on it from my readers? In fact, this is my first blog about loss by suicide. What’s that about? My hunch is that I haven’t wanted to acknowledge my loss. I was naive after producing my book, thinking that by telling the truth about my brother’s suicide and about my own grief, guilt, shame, and regret, and by charting the healing process for others, that I would somehow leave it all behind me and it would never be able to hurt me again. Talk about magical thinking. My hunch is that the sense of loss just goes underground, into the subconscious. Not necessarily a bad thing. Who wants to continually and consciously feel the pain of losing a loved one in such a sad and brutal way? We wouldn’t be able to function. But pain that is lodged in the subconscious can still affect us. It can prevent us from taking risks, from living fully, from feeling the full spectrum of our feelings, from being creative… In my case, it has prevented me from sharing my book, the single most important work of my life – at least so far.

So how do we deal with this loss that knows no bounds? From a loss that, according to the American Psychiatric Association, is comparable to surviving a concentration camp? Recognize that it’s bigger than our will or our egotistical insistence that we’re immune or have transcended it. Acknowledge it, breathe into it, and see it as a reminder of our humanity. Suffering is part of the human experience, at least for most of us. When we try to deny that, or gloss over it, we separate ourselves from our loved ones who are still living, and from other wounded humans. At the heart of our suffering is our love. Something we have never lost and never will. Let’s send love to that inconsolable part of us and to all others who have suffered loss by suicide or by some other means. Let’s send love to our brothers and sisters who couldn’t bare the pain and took their lives. Let’s share the love that also knows no bounds.

Keeping An Open ‘Art

My secret reason for writing a blog, and maybe even for getting up in the morning, is my longing for fulfillment as an artist.

It’s an odd thing to say given that I’ve recently produced a book, Did You Know I Would Miss You?, have written award-winning TV shows and, thanks to my work as a freelance writer and editor of dozens of publications, have managed to avoid having a real job for well over 30 years.

And yet my yearning for creative fulfillment howls in my bones like a starving wolf. Gathering up material to teach my creative writing course, Write a Wild Horse, a few years back, I was relieved to come upon the following quote by Steven Spielberg: “Have I really pushed the envelope as much as I want to? Not yet. Maybe that’s why I’m still hungry.”

Hey, if the Holy Grail of creative attainment still eludes one American cinema’s most commercially successful directors, then there’s hope for all of us.

And as with all things unfulfilled, I can find my biggest detractor by looking in the mirror, where I can spot stubborn traces of old assumptions about what an artist is. Growing up in the 1950s, if my parents or any of their friends referred to someone as “arty,” it was not a compliment. The term conjured up images of someone pretentious, odd, undesirable. A weird dresser. Worse than being a person who could not be relied upon to live a sensible life, never mind a moral one, an arty person didn’t belong.

Living in a family that moved every couple of years because my father was a Mounted Policeman, my sense of belonging already felt tenuous. Being unorthodox in any way was death – worse, humiliation. Unthinkable. And so I conducted myself in ways that would please those upon whom I depended for my sense of OK-ness. I kept up reasonable grades in an education system that rewarded obedience over originality; I stayed out of trouble; I stayed below the radar. I survived.

In the 1960s, even a small prairie university like the one I attended had its pockets of bohemian life. I was drawn to them like bedbugs to a basement suite. It didn’t matter to me if I had to sit in a smelly cellar, drink bad coffee and listen to music that sounded a lot like a traffic jam, or watch European films like Bergman’s Persona, or read books like Sartre’s Being and Nothingness.  Of course I didn’t get any of this stuff. Yes, I faked an artistic sophistication that I hadn’t earned. Just like I used to fake swimming as a little girl by flailing my arms and legs while my tummy was safely on the bottom of the ocean.  But I was reaching for something beyond what I’d been taught and what I’d believed to be true. I was responding to a call from my soul.

Decades later I still am. If that yearning hasn’t gone away by now, my hunch is it won’t. And the clash between the well-brought-up girl and the avant-garde arty one hasn’t gone away either. What a relief. Without this exquisite tension disturbing my days and haunting my nights, I would be sleepwalking toward a safe and easy death.

The starving artist is not a deranged person living in a flophouse, eating cat food, and compulsively writing novels that no one will ever read. The one our parents warned us against. The starving artist is that creative call within each of us that we can no longer afford to ignore.

How do we aid and abet it? Especially when our days are full of tasks and obligations. Here are just a few of the things I do – in no particular order.

• Read a poem out loud first thing in the morning and then free write for 10 minutes.
• Dialogue with The Muse in my journal
• Go on an artist’s date, as suggested by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. The only rule is it has to be fun, creative, inspiring – and solo.
• Grab an old journal, find the phrases and ideas that I find interesting (i.e., not whiny), and enter them in the appropriate file in my computer.
• Work on my book.
• Sing a song in French – at full volume.
• Dance to R&B in my living room.
• Go down to the ocean and watch the waves.

What do you do to feed your craving creative artist within? Email me at donaleen@donaleensaul.com and let me know.  And in the meantime, keep an open ‘art.

“To all those creative people who have been ridiculed, reprimanded, and rejected because of their slightly unorthodox right-brain way of doing things. It’s payback time.”
Lee Silber