Revealed Through Story)
I once told a friend about my outlet of writing stories. He smiled and knowingly said “the thing about writing is that you couldn’t hide yourself, the work reveals you.” I’ve found that there is a lot of truth to that statement. There are times when I have tried to write about things that didn’t matter to me, and it was torture. Every word had to be dragged out slowly, and it made for some of my worst work ever. Things can only ever flow when I find the themes that match with my heart.
In short, you either write about your authentic self, or you quickly burn out and do not write at all.
Every now and then I pause, look back at what I have recently written, nod my head, and say “yeah…that really is what I’ve been feeling for these past couple months, isn’t it?” Sometimes a theme only lasts for a single story or two, representing a very minor infatuation of my life. Other times the themes will permeate through entire months of work, signifying a much more significant obsession.
Recently I took a look back at the work of this current series, and the consistent thread through them all caught me off guard. Each is very tense, dark, and ominous. The Soldier’s Last Sleep is about a Private in the army trying to hold onto his life through one crushing wave of the enemy after another. The Cruelty of King Bal’Tath introduces a king trying to punish his subjects in a way that redefines the very meaning of cruelty. Washed Down the River follows two detectives solving the case of a man so miserable that he tries to fake his own suicide, but then inadvertently succeeds in it. Slow and Easy, Then Sudden features a protagonist who begins warm and kind, but by the end reveals himself to be a cold-blooded killer. And to top it all off, my latest story, Raise the Black Sun, has been about a doomed voyage that will ultimately culminate in the end of a world.
I honestly had no conscious intention of weaving such a somber tapestry when I set out on this series, it is just the way that my natural expressions pushed me. As I considered all of these facts I couldn’t help but nod my head in understanding, because frankly it reflects my mental state all too well. The fact is that I have been in a dark and depressed state lately, and I think it was inevitable that that this was going to bleed through into my writing.
A Written Dialogue)
Of course this depression is hardly too surprising. It is at least somewhat due to the sense of isolation brought on by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the self-isolation that we all have been working through. Obviously I am not the only one that has been feeling pretty down, in fact there are many who I am sure are feeling much lower than I.
I do wonder if any of my readers have found that this more heavy material has reflected their own feelings at all? Perhaps this way that I have been expressing myself can be a vehicle for a mutual commiserating of our shared situation.
Or…maybe it is irresponsibly fanning the flames and creating a deepened sense of despair in others?
At this point we’re not just observing story-telling as a mode of self-expression, but also as a mode of conversation. I am telling you about myself, and you are having a personal reaction to that. Is it a healthy reaction, or an unhealthy one?
Well that’s a tricky line to walk, even under more traditional forms of dialogue. There’s no doubt that a lot of good can come about by being able to share our feelings with like-minded others. Support groups are based around the idea that you finally have found a safe place to express the shame and darkness within you to others who really “get it.” Being able to talk through traumatic experiences together can help heal them together. Ever since we were small children, one of the best ways to get past a bad day is to tell someone how sincerely miserable you are feeling.
But there are other types of conversation, too. Where support groups provide an opportunity to share a burden and feel lifted, self-pity groups tend to only stack more weight on top of each other. They do not spread the original weight out for all to help bear, they clone the weight, and now everyone has to carry the whole of it in on their own.
I believe the difference between these two types of communication has to do with the intent of the speaker and the hearer. In a healthy dialogue the speaker states “I felt sad,” and the takeaway is an understanding of the person. In an unhealthy dialogue the speaker states “I felt sad,” and the takeaway is the emotion only.
It is less important that we understand what was felt, than that we understand the person who felt it.
And that has what has brought me to making this post today. My hope is that by calling out explicitly what is going on I will spark a certain level of self-awareness in us both. I do not wish that when you read my latest stories that you will take my sadness onto yourself. Rather I wish that if you have been feeling lonely you will read my stories and know that I felt lonely, too. I know how that is. I understand that part of you.
And I’m sorry.