Keep going forward.
"Strap On Whenever It Seems Appropriate." He means that in spite of everything terrible that may befall you, the point of life is to be strong and keep going forward.
After the breathless panting of my previous panic attack had converted over time to lust, I found myself with my new love having sex in the shower. Bent over the rim of the claw-foot bathtub, I felt the past being replaced with the new joys of the present. And as a symbol of my state of my awareness, my left inner bicep came into focus, the tattoo of the acronym: SOWISA.
I have three tattoos, all of them literary. The first is a quill pen on my left hip. The second, a quote from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, is positioned on my right ribcage. The third, and most recent, is SOWISA.
The acronym is not of my own devising. I chanced upon it in Stephen King's Lisey’s Story, one of his lesser-known novels that nevertheless shoved its way into and through my experience of pain.
The titular character Lisey is a widow. Her husband, Scott Landon, was a prolific and renowned writer who died two years previous, leaving behind a study of notes and unpublished writing, beautiful and painful memories, and knowledge of another world that houses both salvation and destruction. The book ruminates on mourning, violence, and mental illness, but the core is the experience of feminine strength in the face of indescribable anguish.
And throughout, the phrase that lifts her to actionable courage is one phrase: SOWISA.
The first instance of the phrase comes from the mouth of Lisey's dead husband:
"The point is SOWISA, he had replied—that she remembered, although at first thought she'd either misheard or misunderstood.
Soweeza? What's soweeza?
He'd snuffed his cigarette and put the ashtray on the table next to the bed. He had taken her face in his hands, covering her ears and shutting out the whole world for a minute with the palms of his hands. He kissed her lips. Then he took his hands away so she could hear him. Scott Landon always wanted to be heard.
SOWISA, babyluv — Strap On Whenever It Seems Appropriate."
He means that in spite of everything terrible that may befall you, the point of life is to be strong and keep going forward. It becomes Lisey's mantra and inevitably, it has become mine.
When my anxiety was so bad that I vomited in my lap while driving to work one day, I didn't succumb to my wheezing breaths or the disgust of holding my half-digested breakfast in my hands. Instead, I wrapped my sickness in a slew of napkins, used more to wipe the remnants off my jacket and jeans and took the first turn-off into a Wal-Mart parking lot so I could replace what had been sullied.
When I came across the note that my soon-to-be ex-husband had included in a padded envelope of my writing supplies, I didn't use it as an excuse to sob or wallow in guilt. I read through it once, crumpled the Post-It upon which his italic scrawl lay and tossed it into the trash can beside my bed, unwilling to let past pain encroach on my evening.
And when my car was towed from a parking lot in Boston (where no warning signs were posted), I allowed my eyes to water for only a matter of moments before taking a deep breath, calling the local towing company, and walking thirty minutes to pay an evening's worth of tips in exchange for my aging Toyota Corolla, making jokes all the way.
This is the point of SOWISA. You may not have a deceased husband to grieve, supernatural forces to fight, or violent sexual predators to ward off, as the character Lisey does. And you may not have bipolar disorder, an impending divorce, or terrible luck with city parking, as I do. But everyone has their own troubles.
In the moments, where it feels like circumstances are closing in on you like the walls of a trash compactor, remember that there are choices. You can either allow yourself to be squeezed into jelly along with the refuse, or you can become steel yourself and allow your problems find their way out.
When I finished Lisey's Story, I burst into tears — I couldn't believe it was over.
There has never been a book that thoroughly propped me up and held me gently like this one has, nor do I think there will be another. We may happen upon great works and cherish them dearly, but sometimes there is a serendipitous clash that brings us a book when we need it most, when our lives demand the words on the page like a healing balm.
I will reread Lisey's Story many times throughout my life, but it will never have the same impact as the first time, when my grief, pain, and exploration of my own lonely darkness matched Lisey's as perfectly as it did this first time, when each page brought a new comfort, a new sense of affinity.
But the book itself isn't necessary anymore. The message is in me all the same. After all, I will always remember "This is the total deal, SOWISA, babyluv, and do you know what? It feels pretty good."