Remembering the bad, forgetting the good

Recently, my daughters have been quoting Shakespeare:

Friends, Romans, Countrymen—lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones. –Mark Antony

Why is it so easy to focus on a person’s negative traits? For me, I often remember the evil that lives on after the loss of a person, whether that is their physical life or their life played out within my memory.

A long time ago, I ran into a former friend. I was typing away on my laptop when she walked by, and she asked how I was doing. (The answer: fine.) Then she looked at my laptop, at my fingers still poised over the keys, at the papers scattered over the table. “Oh, are you in school?”

My stomach rolled. For whatever reason, I had a sudden inclination to stay silent, keep my writing a secret from her though not from anyone else. What would have been the harm in saying that I was writing a blog post? Or that I was working on querying agents for my first novel? Nothing.

Except—I would be forced to say what the novel is about, forced to explain that it includes (possibly) offensive material, forced to hear her response. In my imagination, I hear her say, in a tone as syrupy as sweet tea, “Well, I just have a spiritual conviction that I shouldn’t read things with sex or bad language.”

I had heard her say things like this many, many times during our friendship, and while I respected her stance, I disliked how her tone implied that everyone ought to hold her personal conviction. There were many other things, too: hurt and betrayal and careless words that deeply wounded me during a particularly difficult time in my life. It’s not a relationship that I care to salvage; we’ve both long since moved on. Only the memories continue.   

I kept silent because of those memories. I kept silent because I remembered how oblivious she was to how her insensitive words cut me. I kept silent from my desire to protect myself.

I kept silent because, once more, all I remembered was the negative and nothing of the positive. The bad lived on in my mind, while the good was interred with the skeletal remains of our friendship.

Why remember the bad? Why not the good?

In our brief friendship, we played the same roles time and again. The lines were perfected and the storyline was firmly fixed in my head. My version of the story—I can’t know hers. It’s that story of hurt that rolls into my mind whenever I see her; even though I don’t hold bitterness against her, I still remember the hurt and still want to protect myself. I’m playing the role of former victim once more. 

If only I forgot the lines of my script, stumbled out of my traditional role in this relationship, I might be startled at what emerged.

The play wouldn’t go on as rehearsed; it would be improv at that point. But it’s in those unguarded, unplanned moments that the truth is blurted out: I might find that I’m hurt, that I’m all too willing to be a martyr and too unwilling to confront her, that I’m still tied up with fear of her opinion over whether or not someone can read novels that have sex or bad language in them.

I might find that she honestly never realized how her words affected me or had any idea that they might be hurtful. I might find that she simply can’t see things from my perspective.

Or perhaps nothing of significance would be spoken.

Maybe, though, the bad memories would be laid to rest and the few good memories would live on in their place.

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5 thoughts on “Remembering the bad, forgetting the good

  1. Hey Laura:

    I suspect that you avoided telling her your feelings because you are uncomfortable with conflict. As an alternative, might I suggest that you could have informed her that her tone was condasending and offensive to you. You could say it in an assertive manner without attacking her and explain that in the future you would appreciate it if she refrained from that tone because it was personally hurtful to you. At this point she could apologize and not do it again or go on the attack or the defensive explaining why she is justified in her opinion. At that point you could have short circuited the relationship and saved yourself a lot of grief and hurt feelings.

    There are poisonous people in the world and the best thing that you can do is to eliminate them from your life. Sadly, my parents were poisonous and I eliminated them from my life and it is happier as a result.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

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    1. The funny thing about this whole situation is this: it’s entirely theoretical. I didn’t tell her about my writing, so she didn’t ask what the book was about, so I didn’t have to tell her, so she didn’t even have the opportunity to say anything that I feared she would say! (Crazy.) But I think your advice is good and if I come upon situations like this in the future, I’ll try to remember it. Fortunately, in most cases like this for me, the people aren’t truly poisonous, just opinionated and not really considering how their opinion might come across to other people. Thanks again for reading!

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  2. I’m sorry this former friend hurt you deeply with her words years ago.
    You know, the funny thing I’ve noticed is a lot of people (not saying this girl is one) are afraid that their convictions about not reading or watching stuff with sex or bad language (or violence) is strongly judged by other people, the mainstream culture at large.
    Personally, in general, I take these things (sexuality, bad language, violence) as seeing art and life in its wholeness, recognizing what is good or bad by the context of the material. It appears to me that one can’t just say “I’m not thinking about that” and avoid life and truth as it is. There still are some things I avoid because it makes _me_ feel distressed or feel that _I_ am directing my attention to something wrong.
    I myself have struggled with how to do writing (and art) as a Christian, and this changed my perspective on what is good and acceptable in art. Coming from a strongly conservative Christian family, I found myself in conflict with my own views on art as I tried to navigate what is good for art and what is to be avoided. I understand that the author isn’t necessarily endorsing the bad and evil in portraying it in a work of art — something I wonder if my father ever understood or not. Sometimes an artistic rendering, say as a novel, the best way to show the consequences of sin. But also a good way to show the rewards of doing good and showing love, even when it seems like at the moment nothing is happening good from it.
    I hope maybe someday you can lay aside fears of this person’s judgments. Even if you can’t agree on art and writing, maybe there is other common ground to find. You need not become close friends with her. But maybe, if you find the courage to tell her what you really are feeling and really do believe, she and you will be able to be better friends than before. If not, well, then you have done a courageous thing and have tried to be friendly.
    But, I do understand the need to protect oneself from poisonous relationships and words. One doesn’t need to (and shouldn’t) continually expose oneself to such.
    Here’s to greater love and happiness in life!

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    1. I feel a bit of conflict myself over “objectionable” material in my own art. I try to handle the sexual content as responsibly as possible, meaning that I’m not trying to arouse anyone (like porn intends to do) or trying to shock-for-the-sake-of-shocking. Most of the content comes in the form of dealing with humanity’s brokenness in all areas of life, including our sexuality; it’s not pretty. Bad language isn’t pretty, either, but I only used four letter words when I felt the situation justified it. (I think a father finding out his 14-year-old daughter was a) hallucinating, b) stripping in the middle of Victoria’s Secret, and c) sexual promiscuous, might make any decent man curse, or want to at least.)

      For my own reading material, I can usually discern when I can safely keep reading a book and when I really need to close the cover and put it aside. (When I continue reading against my better judgment, I always regret it.) I’ve also struggled with this issue in the realm of the visual arts. I was an art history minor, and I became disgusted by some of the material shown during my contemporary art class. At one point, the professor must’ve realized that I was sickened by it, because he apologized to me for showing some of the most offensive work, and said he would give me a heads’ up whenever the next slide would be “rough.” Worked for me!

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

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