COVID-19 and the Art of Suffering

John Singer Sargent – The Hermit

“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.” ― Carl Jung

Introvert, Empath, HSP, INFJ. Ten years ago I had no clear idea of what any of that was. I’d come to think of myself as a tormented artist, “complicated” or, for lack of anything specific, fucked up beyond redemption. Suffering became an art form, a spiritual practice, a Dark Ages approach people sometimes adopt to give meaning to their lives, if not redemption. After way too many years of this, I decided the suffering-is-holy thing is crap. Spin. Like believing that sinking (or floating) in water proves you’re a witch — until the erudite town elder tells you to stop being a moron.

There is nothing especially holy about suffering. There is no backup, no rescue. Suffering is life, consciousness, and as such meant to be fully experienced. We have to go through to come out; we have to release old things to give new things a place to grow. Nature understands this (I rarely do, until I’m buried in shit). Like a virus, chaos runs its course with or without us and when we emerge, we’ve changed. Or something like that.

Enter the 21st century. Energy sensitivity no longer falls into that nebulous gray area between psychology and airy fairy woo woo. Those aforementioned enigmatic terms are all over the place now. We have books, articles, studies, and Facebook pages full of platitudes and self-identification mantras. “I’m an empath. I see this and feel that. Be nice to me, I’m sensitive. Watch out, I’m reading your shallow ass.” The INFJ ones are even worse. My inner curmudgeon is easily irritated by and properly skeptical of that nonsense. In true INFJ fashion, I scowl thinking that splattering those claims out there insults and defies the very thing. Don’t mess with my shadows. Leave my scar collection alone. Get off my lawn.

Having said that, I also have an intimate, if not compassionate appreciation for that basic human need to be seen and understood. Well, sometimes. On my terms. Ok never mind, you get the idea.

What I do have reverence for — and to be fair, the memes have a place in this — is information and understanding. Science. Research. Clinical studies. Open-mindedness. Awareness. Everything is energy; everything is connected; we are all part of the whole. No matter where on the radio dial you are, we all know the natural terror of feeling we’re at the mercy of something we don’t understand, and I think the terror comes because everything is connected, and not the other way around. How would you know there is a bigger picture unless something seemingly “out there” came along and sucker punched you out of your comfort zone? Interconnection isn’t a theory anymore. Those 10,000 year old shamans had this figured out, and science is catching up.

Enter COVID-19. When this broke open and fear swept over the planet, I started having panic attacks. I was abysmally depressed, physically weakened, freaked out, spun up for no reason, bursting into tears, my whole body fighting a deluge. Then I realized that while getting information and trying to make sense out of things, I had opened all my circuits and got fried. Finally, I remembered what I had learned in my extensive travels through hell. High-pass filter: ON.

Like many of my kind, I no more worried about social distancing than a fish would worry about being banned to water. Just another day in my weird universe. But then this other thing happened. Scanning my social networking threads, I began to feel a deep connection to people. Normally, I swing like a pendulum between this brilliant sensation of oneness with humanity — and a full-on belief that people are shit and a Deathstar would the best fucking thing that ever happened to this forsaken planet.

Ahh, but this breakthrough put those extremes into balance, didn’t it? Suddenly, my ridiculous and often crippling sensitivity became a vehicle, a bridge joining humanity in all its glory: fear, malcontent, anger, insecurity, suffering, abandonment; but also love, empathy, compassion, cooperation, appreciation and humor.

Ergo, I feel less alone than I ever have.

Stay safe, and hang in there. We’ll get through this.

© F.T. McKinstry 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Introverts, Geeks and Podcasts

Lone Wolf, by F.T. McKinstry

When I was a kid, the term “introvert” had a negative stigma, like some kind of amorphous, withering social ineptitude or something. Having quite enough insecurities, I limped along thinking that what I now know are classic introvert tendencies as bad, broken, neurotic traits easily written off to being dramatically tormented.

Nowadays, light shines upon introversion as perfectly natural. People are coming forward from the shadows and owning up to it. Dedicated Facebook pages and shit. I like to think of introverts as people who process things differently. There. Vague and yet intriguing. Even so, I still avoided the title, until I mentioned this to my therapist who, bless her soul, leaned forward in her chair and laughed like a harpy. Point taken.

Harpies in the infernal wood, Gustave Doré


So after some research, the most clinically valid “Are you an introvert?” tests I could find, and some soul searching in the dusty crypts of my youth, I joined in the harpy laughter. I’m off the charts, and while I’m still not into wearing the introvert thing around, I have learned to be aware and not bite the hand that feeds me.

Enter my quest to become a 21st century author and bring myself and my work out into the light to be seen. Toward this end, I set out to do things like interviews, ask-the-author sessions, podcasts and the like. (Anyone who gets the introvert thing should be suitably chilled by this.) My first podcast was with Jamie Davis on Fantasy Focus. Jamie is a great guy, he put me at ease and assured me that editing cures all ills. So I jumped in, geek cape flying.

Until Jamie asked me an excellent question. “So tell me about the Otherworld,” he says, with a fascinated smile in his voice. I froze and spiraled to the ground like a hero with a tragic flaw.

The Fool, Rider-Waite Tarot

There is nothing as breathtaking and terrifying as the fall of innocence. This doesn’t just happen once, you know; we’re all innocent of something. In the Tarot, this pattern is depicted as “The Fool.” Here he is, setting off on a new dream, a fresh start, he’s baked by the excitement and hope of it all but oh dear! he’s headed for that cliff edge. And there’s his little dog, the voice of his better sense, nipping at his heels saying, “Hey. Um, for what it’s worth, I think this is a lousy idea…” but who listens to that noise?

The Otherworld. I’ve built fantasy empires around it. I’m half immersed in the real thing. For my own books, particularly The Fylking, I did what many high fantasy authors do and made it vast, complex and dear to my heart — but when Jamie asked me to elaborate, all I could manage was a desolate “Uhh…” It was like standing by a deep, raging river and trying to reach out to catch a cupful. Finally, Jamie rescued me and mentioned the Fae. Oh yes, I said — the river is roaring — but, I’m thinking, but this, and that, and then there’s this other thing — I dropped the cup and watched it vanish — oh gods there’s not enough editing in the world that can save this.

Of course afterward, I spent days spinning up the most spectacular dissertations of the Otherworld you can imagine. But it was too late. The Fool was still falling, deaf to his little dog far above, barking wildly. Or so I thought. It was just fine, of course. As promised.

Now wiser, I did another podcast with the folks at The High Fantasy Podcast. I fretted over things, of course, but none of it stuck. We had an epic geekfest that warmed my soul.

Finally, I was interviewed by the wonderful E.G. Stone, in which we talked about Outpost, Book One in The Fylking. It was great fun.

In closing, here’s my thumbnail definition of the Otherworld from Outpost: Terms and Places.

Otherworld: The vast realm of the unseen existing beyond time and space; the source and reflection of physical events. Inhabited by an infinite variety of beings referred to as Others, including nature spirits, elves, goblins, phooka, planetary entities and other natural forces. This includes the Fylking, who occupy the unseen dimensions and are often, though not always, respected as gods. The Otherworld can be perceived by mortals with second sight, though interaction can be dangerous and is ill advised without training and protection. See also Fylking. See posts The Phooka, Goblins and Creepy Horses.

Others

Blessed Samhain, by the way. Heed not the laughter of harpies.

© F.T. McKinstry 2019. All Rights Reserved.