Mar 242011

I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.”

D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

With all my discussion of my lack of focus, lack of time, and lack of self-discipline, I thought I should pause for a moment to qualify that I’m not really complaining about my lot in life. I am well aware of how outrageously priviledged I am to live the life I do and have the advantages that I have. My growing self-awareness has highlighted just how much I could potentially achieve if I could find some drive and focus. Or just access some drive and focus, because I don’t think I don’t have those qualities, or that I’ve somehow lost them.

And this is what I’m complaining about: that I have neglected myself. I have had many opportunities and many advantages and time and again I’ve failed to grab them and use what I have. These meandering posts of self-examination are my way of trying to drum this into my head and gain some momentum and energy so that I can grab these advantages and use them.

In addition to the reading I’ve been doing over the past year, and some amazing forums and blogs that deal with priviledge, I’ve watched three reality TV shows over the past few months that have really helped me to gain some perspective on just how lucky and priviledged I am. The shows are Blood, Sweat, and Take-Aways (a group of young Britons live and work in Indonesia’s fast food production industry for a few weeks), Blood, Sweat, and T-Shirts (another group living and working in India’s sweatshops), and Britain’s Missing Top Model (a group of variously disabled women competing for a chance to become an elite model). Although there are many moments in these shows that are cringeworthily offensive in the sheer presumption and superiority of the first two and exploitation of the subjects of the third, it is really this embarrassment factor that pushes the perspective shift and the acknowledgement of priviledge.

Something else these shows deal with is self-pity. Usually it is the most priviledged person who displays the most self-pity in the face of hardship, until circumstances and awareness of the worse plight of another person brings perspective. I think this route to self-awareness is a very powerful one. We learn this lesson best when it is brought to us through a little bit of embarrassment and guilt and a desire to try and make things a little better somehow.

I quite like the D.H. Lawrence quote at the start of this post, and I’ve tried to make it a motto in the past without real success. I now know why it doesn’t quite sit right with me. It’s only half the story. It’s what makes animals so strong, but what sets humans apart from them. Here’s my response to Lawrence:

A little bit of self pity provides context for empathy and compassion for others.

A reminder that David Baboulene, author of The Story Book, will be joining me on Tuesday, 29 March on a stop of his blog book tour. Don’t miss it.


Elle Carter Neal

Elle Carter Neal is the author of the picture book I Own All the Blue and the teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, holding childhood slumber-party audiences entranced until the early hours of the morning. Elle decided to be an author the day she discovered that real people wrote books and that writing books was a real job. Join Elle on her new publishing adventure.

  2 Responses to “Colonel Riley in the Library with the Silver Spoon”

Comments (2)
  1. You are so right about the self-pity part. So many well-off people I know wallow in self-pity. It is so self-defeating. And dare I say it, quite an unattractive quality if it gets out of hand. A little bit goes a long way and your final quote really does sum the whole thing up very well. I have often believed that a little self pity allows us to develop levels of compassion and empathy for others that not only make us better people, but better writers.

    I also want to say that you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself about your writing. I think that a lot of the time life intervenes and makes it difficult for us to stay focussed. However, I also think that even if we’re not physically sitting down and writing we are exploring the idea of writing, we are researching and developing our skills. We are living. It’s all part of the process.

    You motivate me a lot. Thank you.

  2. Thanks Selma. And I’m really glad if I can help to motivate someone else; that’s another reason I decided to share this perspective shift.

    I don’t think I’m being hard on myself, so much as I’m expecting more from myself. If that makes sense…

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