Monday, July 25, 2011

Using Real Life to Create Art

My family is going through some tough stuff right now. No one's died, don't worry. I'm not going to go into details, because it's not my stuff to share, but I find it interesting how I view pain as a writer, now.

This pain affects me because I'm watching my family go through it, but other than that, I'm an outsider. Of course I feel bad, and sad, and slightly angry about it, but that outside perspective has turned what would otherwise be just a rumble of emotion into a clinical examination of how pain affects different people.

Simply put, some of us are stronger than others, at least on the outside.

What I find the most remarkable is the difference between how I handle pain and how some other family members do. I wear my every emotion on my face, in my voice, in the way I carry myself. I can't help it.

But my siblings-- they are more stoic. The world can be falling apart around them, and they are totally normal. At least, they seem that way. Their pain is still bubbling up to the surface every now and then, darting out in a tiny shoulder sag, or a sigh, or a lull in the conversation where they just stare at the floor. They are the sort to refuse help and support until or unless they can't take it anymore, and I am the type to oblige, because when I hurt, all I want to do is forget about it. The least I can do for them, even if I can't see that they're hurting, is to help them forget.

So I act normal, and say and do slightly stupider things than normal to try and get them to laugh, and spend more time with them than I typically do. All because even though they seem totally fine, I can only imagine how what they're going through must feel.

And I learn. I think one of the hardest things a writer has to learn is how to get inside their character's head. This is hard, because we all think differently. Can you every truly know how someone else's thoughts work? I don't know, but I do know we can come as close as possible by opening ourselves up to learning from other people. Learning that not everyone handles pain, or joy, or the everyday, like we do.

And so, even while I hurt for their hurt, I am learning from my family. Learning that there can be pain out there that surely cuts deep on the inside, but has no aura on the outside.

This is a risky post for me. I don't mean or want to seem like I don't care, that I'm just viewing my family's hurt as a learning experience. Quite the opposite, in fact. But I can't help but notice that this is how we learn to write-- by living. By experiencing, by observing. We can give our characters voices not our own by being here, being present.

And I think we owe that to future generations who might read our books someday. We need to show them that not everyone has to feel pain the same way, that there is no cookie-cutter/diagram/instruction manual on how to FEEL. There is only feeling.

How do you pull in real life experiences?

1 comment:

Keriann Greaney Martin said...

Awesome, awesome post. First of all, I'm so sorry your family is going through these tough times *hugs*.

Observing and trying to understand other people's emotions not only makes you a better writer, but a better listener. A better friend, sibling, daughter, etc. I think what you spelled out here is a great life lesson. :D