Saturday, May 21, 2011

Thoughts on Letting Go

Recently I read an article by a Writers Digest editor on the topic, “Letting Go”. I was at once reminded of Philip Roth’s novel titled Letting Go, which I read eons ago and found to be a disturbing story with characters I could neither relate to nor begin to understand. A friend of mine, a college professor, had loaned me the book. When I finally worked my way through it, by then on the verge of a major depression, I asked my friend why the hell he recommended it. Or words to that effect. He replied that what he found so interesting was that here were these characters going through all these traumatic experiences and at the end of the book they hadn’t changed at all. In other words, what could have proven to be life-altering episodes made not a whit of difference in terms of the way they looked at or conducted their lives. Like I said—depressing!

At that time, the only other book by Philip Roth I’d read was Goodbye Columbus, which was made into a movie that got a lot of attention because of actor Ali McGraw’s scenes featuring full frontal nudity. Pretty shocking back in the sixties, for sure, but it is worth noting her co-star Richard Benjamin did no scenes in the same mode. Guess movie audiences weren’t ready for that, although I’m thinking it might have generated a lot more female viewers. The thing is, Philip Roth went on to write a lot of novels far more shocking and depressing than the two I read early on in his career. My college professor friend, who also loaned me Sometimes a Great Notion, another downer in my opinion, was no longer in my life and probably wouldn’t have recommended any more of Roth’s books anyhow. Fool me once, I guess. In one of Roth’s book the protagonist was so obsessed by women’s breasts that he finally turned into one. That alone made me glad I’d put him on my don’t-bother-to-read list when I did.

But I digress! Back to the WD editor’s article. He believes in the importance of letting go. His point is the importance of not holding on to stuff that holds us back from achieving great things. He listed tangible effects, such as junk, old food, clothes, books and toys.

He went on to include some intangibles, things you can’t throw in a box and haul to the dump—e-mails, expenses, and last but not least, grudges.

Regarding e-mails, the editor is right on target. We can delete e-mails with a click of a mouse, and he went on to say he regularly deletes e-mails from his deleted folder, because he believes in deleting things that have already been deleted. That makes sense, of course—clutter is clutter, and our cyberspace deserves cleaning out just as much as the space we occupy.

As for expenses, these days cutting them becomes easier and easier, most of all because the price of everything is soaring into the stratosphere. The reasons for this unchecked inflation that drives ordinary people into borderline poverty are too many to discuss here and besides they make me very-very angry. Suffice it to say, expenses can be cut, though some creative measures as to methodology are required. I’m finding this as depression-producing as a Philip Roth novel, but I must say the phrase Letting Go has often proved in my case to be life-altering indeed.

Now as to grudges, the WD editor states (and I hope I’m not guilty of plagiarizing here, but his words resonate with me), a lot of people have done a lot of horrible things to me over the years. But I know I'm not perfect—none of us is, come to think of it--and I’m sure I’ve stepped on toes and hurt more than a few feelings through the years. If you have trouble with letting go of things, I hope you can at least put some effort into this one. Forgive people who do you wrong. One of the saddest facts of our life on this earth is that all too soon the moment can come when mending fences, reconciling differences and taking actions that would mitigate grievances is no longer given to us. Death may be the great equalizer, but it also slams shut the door that might have been the way to knit together ties that have become unbound. Anger, resentment and regret are typical to us as human beings, and often justifiable in many ways. But grudges can be counterproductive and soul-sucking by their nature, and Letting Go is called for, if for nothing else our own good emotional health.

Again, I quote the WD editor, who ends his article with these words: Letting go of things can be scary and intimidating at first, but once you start releasing yourself from clutter, it can get addictive. It's totally liberating!

Words of wisdom that could prove indeed life-altering, Philip Roth notwithstanding!