This is our truth, tell us yours
Music posts are far more the territory of my fellow traveller here, but as I listened to the incomparable Janis Joplin, pain pouring from her with each sweet note, I could not help wondering if some people carry their destruction within them.
If you read her letters home a sweet, picket fenced, world is revealed, loving parents (as far as we know) who took her in when before she was famous she tried, for the first time to come off methadone. We like narratives which draw straight lines, which move from A to B without a need for any thought. Its part of the reason people who might otherwise seem rational fall for so many of the myths around sex work. Some of its whorephobia of course, but also the ease of the abused child leads to “bad” sexual choices as an explanation for those already disposed to think sex work is problematic.
Back to the beautiful Janis though, a woman who did not believe in her own beauty, who was voted ugliest man in her college. Perhaps part of her appeal to me lies in that inability to ever fit with the norms demanded, to see yourself as beautiful. Of course my personal narrative is one that on first glance is all straight lines, part of the point of writing has always been to show that straight lines ignore the nuance of a person’s life, the twists and turns which move us into being fully human.
Sometimes it seems we want to unpick someone’s life, to find that X as if we are Rebus and they an interesting case, a puzzle to solve. Human lives rarely have that aha moment of revelation however. It’s one of the stereotypes of therapy, you sit pondering for a million hours until the lightbulb moment when everything is explained. Therapy as archeology, with the therapist as a pipe smoking version of Indiana Jones.
I am as guilty as anyone when I look at Janis, I want to find the reason someone of such ability, such raw emotion, such musical genius could not fight off the demons, perhaps I want there to be one reason so it becomes understandable. People are not always understandable though, and that’s the hardest lesson of all. When we accept that within all of us there is a darkness, and sometimes that darkness overpowers the light, we accept that there are no straight lines. Life is messy, complex, a tangled web, and sometimes just too hard to navigate. When we stop looking for reasons, and just accept, perhaps we will be better able to offer love and support to those engulfed by the darkness.