The Pain Box

I love the intensity of the color in these begonias, though it’s hard to capture. An ongoing effort to replicate what my eyes see.

In photography class, though, I learned that we can never make photographs that come close to what our eyes see, because our eyes are so much more sensitive and sophisticated. I suppose I knew that, but it’s important to keep in mind.

I was talking with a writer-friend yesterday about writers groups and people who’ve come and gone in our lives. She mentioned a gal who’d been in her group and had quit writing when she was “thisclose” to getting an agent.

I said I think that’s the most difficult time.

It reminds me of a scene in Dune, Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel. It’s been a while since I read it, so forgive me if I get the details wrong. As a test, the young hero has to place his hand inside of a box. He’s told he’ll experience excruciating pain in his hand, but if he can withstand the pain and keep his hand in the box, he’ll receive a reward he’s seeking (I forget what). If however, he tries to pull his hand out, a blade will slice his hand off at the wrist.

Most people can’t take the pain and give in to the desire to pull their hand out, losing it forever. Our hero, naturally, overcomes the fear that his hand is being destroyed as it feels, and emerges victorious.

It’s one of those scenes that makes the reader feel good about ourselves. We like to think we’d be like the hero. We would know that our hand is okay and why would you give in and yank it out, if the certainty is losing your hand? And yet, deep down, we all know how really hard it is to persevere when fear and pain become overwhelming.

This is why the “thisclose” is so difficult.

The proximity of great reward somehow makes the pain of rejections and setbacks just that much worse. It’s really difficult to stay there, with your hand in the box. At some point, losing the hand altogether, so you don’t have to wait and suffer a moment more starts to look really attractive.

That’s why people quit a lot of things. And yes, giving up on a dream is a lot like losing a hand. Oh, you’ll live, but you’ll be missing a vital piece of yourself. Something you could have used to do something special.

To all of us with our hands still in the box? Cheers and steady-on.

14 Replies to “The Pain Box”

  1. Thanks for this today, Jeffe. I got a rejection today from agent that said very kind things about my writing but it still hurts. But not as bad as losing the hand! I'm still in. Jillian

  2. The Gom Jabbar. The test to see whether your humanity has overcome your animal nature. Yeah. It's easy to see 'thisclose' looking back. Impossible to see looking forward. And that's the soul-crushing part of it, fearing that you're not good enough, that you'll never be good enough. And what people forget is that while they might not be good enough *right now*, if they can and will learn – good enough shows up.

  3. Steady on, Chudney!

    Marcella – I'm so impressed you remembered the name of the pain box. Good point about hindsight, too.

  4. Great analogy, Jeffe! You're absolutely right. It's the fear that gets us in the end, unless you're one of those stubborn people who won't quit no matter what. You know, those people who always cheer for the underdog when they're still on the ground unconscious? Or the one who won't fold when the cards are stacked against them because they want to see the next card? *waves her hand* That's me. I don't gamble because of that, but when it comes to my writing, I have to see what comes after the next rejection. I have to. It's almost like a disease.

  5. Ok so. I didn't realize I was going to actually have to face the Gom Jabbar. But after I typed my comment guess who damaged her laptop screen by dropping her laptop. ME. Still hand firmly in the box. Time to go find a new laptop.

  6. I works but it's like looking at a mirror with spider web cracks and missing pieces. Fortunately the missing pieces aren't in the way if you know what I mean. But now the hubby has the idea that if it'll work for the next couple of days maybe we can just replace the screen.(The agony)

  7. And sadly, once we keep our hand in the box and get the reward, we find we have to face another box. It seems every step of this journey veers us close to excruciating pain and overwhelming rewards.

  8. I had a friend who's Gram said it was just as easy to marry a rich man as it was to marry a poor one. I remember sharing this with my Gram and she told me yeah and if frogs only had wings. Huh? She then pointed out I wouldn't need to worry about the bank account of future said husband if I just apply myself and make my own success. At the end of the day the things worth having should be worth fighting for and not taking the easy way out and having someone else get them for us. I never forgot that.

    Writing is a daily struggle and a daily triumph and I think I would rather look back and know…just know that I did the absolute best that I could. Now if that means all I ever have published is my blog and the comments I leave on others, okay. But at least I know that I put my hand in the box and kept it there even when I really wanted to pull it out.

  9. Very true, Keena, unfortunately. At least we don't have to drink our own pee, eh?

    I think you've put your finger on the key element, Kelly. By demonstrating our triumph over fear, we are growing as human beings. Which is what it's really all about, after all.

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