Last night I broke down. By which I mean I cried. Because I was in pain.
This wasn’t a lot of pain, I know that. At the point when I broke I’d been suffering with an aching neck and a headache that was an iron band circling my forehead except instead of trying to compress my brain in, it was trying to drawn my brain out. Through my eye sockets.
I always feel guilty about these sorts of pains and sicknesses. The problem with flus or colds or headaches (or any strictly internal sickness or injury) is that no one else has discrete evidence that you’re sick. Well, yes, there’s your temperature, but that’s no always an indication of how miserable you actually feel. And with a headache… there’s a reason that headaches have been used as the cliché, movie-version excuse for women to get out of sex, mainly because there’s no way to prove or disprove a headache. (Frankly, though, if someone didn’t want to have sex with me, I wouldn’t be looking to disprove their reasoning.)
So, with a headache, there’s no proof, but a lot of pain. It’s pain that no one else can feel or see (except through your expressions, your body movements) and so a pain that has no reality in the world outside of your body. It’s a completely solipsistic pain.
Though, truthfully, all pain is solipsistic. And, similarly, though not quite the same, all pain is relative.
A child gets a cut on a finger and feels like it’s the end of the world. She feels that way because she hasn’t experienced any pain before.
Although that’s not the only reason: the mind shaves away the immediacy of pain. The cut on her finger next year may elicit the same reaction because so much time has passed, the memory has faded, and she may even think that this cut – though it be the same – hurts exponentially more than the last cut because this cut is now.
Where does this guilt come from, then? This shame?
Not being strong enough. Not being able to bear the pain.
As with the child’s hypothetical cut finger, pain is easier to bear in public if there’s a visible wound.
If I were to take this to writing, as I am apparently now doing, the visible wound is the action. It’s how you know the characters. They move in a world, and their movements change the world as well as determined by the world. Regardless of what you say about a character, it’s only what they do that matters, and the reader will judge your character by his actions.
A solipsistic character is a cipher. If we live inside his thoughts, his thoughts better damn well be interesting. If we see him on the sidelines, he’s as alive as a pillar or a sack, but without those things’ useful purposes.
To sum up, it’s time to choose: Are you a headache or a wound?