Shame is the opposite of art

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:

A woman writes to an advice columnist. The woman says she has wasted her life. The response is very good:

Shame is the opposite of art. When you live inside of your shame, everything you see is inadequate and embarrassing. A lifetime of traveling and having adventures and not being tethered to long-term commitments looks empty and pathetic and foolish, through the lens of shame. You haven’t found a partner. Your face is aging. Your body will only grow weaker. Your mind is less elastic. Your time is running out. Shame turns every emotion into the manifestation of some personality flaw, every casual choice into a giant mistake, every small blunder into a moral failure. Shame means that you’re damned and you’ve accomplished nothing and it’s all downhill from here.

You need to discard some of this shame you’re carrying around all the time. But even if you can’t cast off your shame that quickly, through the lens of art, shame becomes valuable. When you’re curious about your shame instead of afraid of it, you can see the true texture of the day and the richness of the moment, with all of its flaws. You can run your hands along your own self-defeating edges until you get a splinter, and you can pull the splinter out and stare at it and consider it. When you face your shame with an open heart, you’re on a path to art, on a path to finding joy and misery and fear and hope in the folds of your day. Even as your job is slow and dull and pointless, even as your afternoons alone feel treacherous and daunting, you can train your eyes on the low-hanging clouds until a tiny bit of sunlight filters through. You are alive and you will probably be alive for many decades to come. The numbers on your credit-card statements can feel harrowing, but you can take that feeling and keep it company instead of letting it eat you alive. You can walk to the corner store to buy a newspaper and pull out the weekend calendar section and circle something, and make a commitment to do that one thing. You can build a new kind of existence, one that feels small and flawed and honest, but each day you accumulate a kind of treasure that doesn’t disappear. Because instead of running away from the truth, you welcome it in. You don’t treat what you have as pointless. You work with what you have.