And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
You know, fiction writers live weird double lives. And truly, they’re not double – they’re whatever the equivalent of double would be with a million. I live my life every day, of course, but in a certain part of my brain and my consciousness, I’m also living the life of whatever character I’m writing about right now, and usually developing the life of whatever character I’m going to write about next. I don’t know how many of these hidden lives I’ve lived, or how many there will be, but they’re just a part of the way things work. It’s always annoyed me when people assume my fiction must be about me, because it really isn’t. It’s about these other people that show up in this special place in my head (I think it’s somewhere above my right ear) and start doing things and thinking things. Things I would never do or think myself, but they do, and so I write them down. I believe fiction writers have a special form of empathy – something that allows us to stay distant from what we’re imagining, but also allows us to get into the heads of others without losing our sense of self.
For non-writers, I know this sounds really weird, but I’ve yet to meet a fiction writer that this doesn’t happen to. And I’m so glad it does. It’s responsible for the creation of literature that goes back to the world’s beginnings. The word was created, and then the writers began to create worlds.
So I’ve been working on this new book which is basically centered around an affair, and how that affair affects way more than just the man and the woman and their immediate families. But the man in this case is decidedly the instigator, the mean one, the liar. His wife enters into it too, but she has her (maybe forgivable) reasons. As I’ve written the stories, which are chapters in this book, about the people who are affected, watching that ripple spread wider and wider, in circle after circle of deceit and manipulation and narcissism and misogyny, I’ve felt myself growing angrier and angrier. Not at the Other Women and other people involved. But at the man. And sometimes his wife, who is fully aware of what he’s doing.
Now add to this that I’m writing this book in the middle of a world that seems to have gone crazy. Every day, I’m lambasted, just like everyone else is, with stories of school shootings and mall shootings and store shootings and temple shootings and shootings and shootings and shootings. For everyone, whether you’re for gun control or not, whether you’ve shot a gun or not, it seems like the air is just full of whistling bullets and explosions. I’ve found myself worried at times, especially on busy mornings when I barely have time to read a headline, let alone react to it, that maybe I’m becoming hardened. Maybe I’m becoming jaded. Maybe the day-to-dayness of this is becoming so routine that I will start feeling removed, dispassionate, as if a shooting is as common and easily forgotten as a report on the latest style of jeans.
And maybe that worry has been in the room next door to the room in my brain where the characters hang out. This room next door is where I silently ruminate on things. Those silent ruminations sometimes come out as stories or poems. But mostly, they remain silent. But I think maybe there was a secret window between the two windows, and the current characters in my head opened it. Because it seems I had more to learn about myself in writing the latest chapter than about my characters. It seems I needed to provide myself reassurance.
I finished the first draft of this latest story/chapter this week. In it, the first woman that my mean man hurt shows up in a diner, lifts up a gun, and blows him away.
I have never ever ever written a violent gun scene before. Never.
And I will admit that when I wrote how she pulled the trigger and how he fell, for that brief moment as those words came out and I pounded my finger on the period to end that life and end the sentence, a thought whipped across my mind: Good. He deserved it. It’s about time.
And in the very next moment, my hands flew off the keyboard and smacked themselves across my mouth in that universal expression of sheer horror. Not horror at what I’d written – following this storyline for almost a year now, there’s no question in my mind that this is what would happen.
But horror at what I thought. Even for a moment.
And in that moment, with my own thoughts still ringing in my ears and with my eyes on my words on the page, I had my moment of reassurance and the wiping out of that ruminating thought. I am not becoming dispassionate. There is nothing day to day about an event that leaves innocent and sometimes not so innocent people dead. Despite the news around me (“This week’s moment of happiness DESPITE THE NEWS”), I am hanging on to my humanity with every bit of strength that I have. The needle on my moral compass hasn’t moved, despite what we’ve all been exposed to.
Whew. I’m still me in here, in my own skin, despite what’s happening in the news and despite what has happened in my own life and despite what I wrote this week and despite the things that happen in that special little room above my right ear. Most of what shows up in that room is for the reader – but every now and then, it’s for me.
Teacher, teach thyself. Writer, write it down.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.