Sharing the misery is good

Last night I went to a Miserable Poet’s cafe. In the past I’ve been to Death Cafes. Both serve similar functions in allowing people to talk about what is otherwise unspeakable. I’m in a social media group that allows the same process. In a space that is held for people to talk about what makes them miserable, there can be a surprising amount of laughter.

Mostly in our lives we’re encouraged to hide our hurts, fears, failings and setbacks. We are to look brave and successful. This can make tough times into lonely times as well, and it can isolate us. When you think everyone else is brilliant, and winning, when all you see is the online bragging, it can be easy to feel you’re the only person who isn’t having a fantastic time.

Miserable Poet’s Cafe is the brainchild of Bill Jones, a chap who has an uncanny knack for making people laugh by being relentlessly miserable. He’s run several now, and their popularity is increasing as ever more people want to come out, not just to share their woes, but to listen attentively to other people’s. Why? Why would a person choose a night of misery over something fun?

There is a common humanity exposed by sharing stories from our worst times. Last night we had teenage diaries. I didn’t contribute from mine, but hearing other people’s, I realised I was not the lone freak I’d previously assumed myself to be. I listened to tales of pain and breakup, bereavement, madness, sickness, abuse and loss. We share these things. Sooner or later, all of us are touched by one of the many things that can go wrong for a person. Seeing our suffering reflected in other people’s poems, we can each feel that bit less alone. We can recognise the commonality of experience, and that makes it easier to be gentle with ourselves, and see that behind other people’s cheerful exteriors, all manner of grief may be lurking.

A poem calls on the writer to put their pain into a coherent form that can be shared. That in itself is a process that can be cathartic, and bring fresh insight. The sharing can be an act of release, having it witnessed can help place it in the past and draw a line under it. Finding out that other people understand can lighten the load, make it easier to help each other, make it seem less shameful to admit failure and shortcomings. We can laugh in recognition, we can laugh in relief. We can hurt together, and at the same time be comforted by the sharing of hurt. We can applaud each other for finding powerful, well crafted ways of making hurt intelligible to others. After an evening of that, you don’t go away depressed, you go away lighter, and feeling less alone.

I’ve discovered, in the last few years, that I absolutely love making people laugh, and if I can do that on a stage and hear the laughter, that’s even better. Comedy can work very well in darkness, it can feed on disaster. I remember from college a quote that went “Comedy equals tragedy plus timing.” It may have been Woody Allen. Being able to frame tragedy so that it becomes funny, is an incredibly effective thing. It can give back a sense of power and control, it can restore a person, it reveals the vulnerabilities we all share, and provides a coping mechanism. If you expose your sorrow, you can share it in empathy, and sometimes in laughter, and both are really helpful.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “Sharing the misery is good

  • angharadlois

    It’s so true! One of my best friends came to visit recently and we ended up reading old emails we’d sent each other over a decade ago, when we were first heading out into the Big Wide World of jobs and studies and romantic liaisons. Everything seemed so… serious, so life-and-death. But on re-reading some of my melodramatic old emails, and laughing at them, I find I can feel kindly towards 18-yr-old me, confused and angry as she was. It’s the kind of alchemy that really requires the presence of good company as a catalyst.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    Sharing the pain is often the first step to healing from it. Finding that others have had similar experiences and that you are not alone makes you feel less weird. Not too mention that they understand why it hurts.

    I sometimes bring my health issue and disability and point out that with life being so limited that I decided I needed something to spark up my life. Then I go into a wild story of needing a seven million dollar sports convertible, a curvaceous artificially enhanced blond like you see around those cars at a car show, who needs to be a race care driver to drive the sports car that has a top speed of 280 MPH, as I go unconscious while driving. I point out that as the car has a race car motor, I need a mechanic and my expensive body curvaceous lady is going to need a boy friend for adventure, excitement and romance which I am a bit too old for, so I will hire her a boyfriend if he is also the top notch mechanic I need for y car. Of course both of them will want to live high on the hog as well, so I need y customers to be very big and generous customers.

    So what starts as an apparent tale of the woes of life turns into a completely outrageous and funny story that usually has people laughing. ot to mention that many of my older customers discover that they have less woe than me and yet see that I can still laugh. It also gives the a crazy story from their vacation. I ow they tell the story, because I sometimes meet new people that ask me if I got the car and the girl yet. My returning customers are sure to ask as well. Meanwhile the aches and pain of getting older is no longer taboo and they can mention some of theirs as well, knowing that I will understand and not shut them up.

    So even the experience of getting older has its value and uses. Even teenage boys find the story funny. Come on what boy, or man has not dreamed that a sports car, and a curvaceous blond might be the solution to life, even when it is not really.

  • Kathleen Harrington

    Hi, Nimue. I’ve shared this on the OBOD site as our featured blog-of-the-month post ( Thank you for such a wise and insightful piece of writing!

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