Treasures of pain

I've been reading what I think is the seventh book of Glen Cook's Chronicles of the Black Company - a truly bizarre, sometimes unintelligibly complex fantasy series, because I've been weirdly captivated by the genre since devouring the Game of Thrones books ...

Anyway, that was a needlessly complex and irrelevant explanation of the fact that, while reading, I came across a sentence in which Cook described the price a group of soldiers would pay for some betrayal - saying it would cost them "treasures of pain".

I like that phrase. It reminded me of something the comedian Steve Martin once said in an interview - and I'm paraphrasing because I can't find the quote online - in which he described one of the benefits of being an actor and writer as that "we turn our pain into profit".

Having written two novels, The Lost Boys and Hello Darkness, about a superbly messed-up anti-hero named Ned Jelli, I can understand what Martin means.

My work, both in fiction and on this blog, has given me ample opportunity to tap into the sadness, confusion, loneliness, jealousy, anger and hurt that we all experience from time to time - and to make a living out of it.

I'm not kicking it in a $6.65 million mansion like Martin but I do pay the rent via the written word, largely on my own terms, which is more than most writers can boast (and for which I am humbly grateful).

My father was a writer and journalist too, mainly for newspapers, but he did pen a lot of great short fiction for various magazines and wrote an unpublished novel about apartheid entitled An Ancient Wrong, which I have sitting on my bookshelf.

My mum - who divorced my dad when I was aged two - once said of my father that he "only wrote well when he was unhappy" and that he seemed to give it up altogether when he married his third wife because he was "content".

Ain't that a depressing thought?


Personally, I do my best work when I'm happy. The bulk of both my novels were written while dreamily in love with two different women - but both are works about unhappy men. 

Anyway, I started thinking about how other people might spend their "treasures of pain" if they didn't happen to be a writer, actor, artist - and it struck me that there is always value in true suffering.

I think one of the mixed messages of culture is the constant assumption pain is a bad thing, that we should numb it either through medication, party drugs or distractions, rather than "walking through the fire".

I know plenty of people who'll do anything to avoid pain in their lives and, you know what? It messes them up.

The great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung once wrote that "neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering", a sentiment I'm sure Steve Martin would agree with.

In his movie Shopgirl, adapted from his novella of the same name, Martin puts it simply: "It's pain that changes our lives."

I reckon we all have treasures of pain; hopefully you'll spend yours wisely.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here. His email address is here.