Sunday, July 11, 2010

Catharsis - right or wrong?

Sometimes writers write because they want to experience something they never could in real life.  Sometimes they have a moral they want to share with their audience.  A lot of the time I write to try to figure out what I'm thinking.

At the moment, as I alluded to in my earlier reference to Twitter, I'm writing a novel.  Surprise surprise, I'm sure.  This is somewhat of a different tack for me, as you will know from my previous posts, so suffice to say I'm trying to keep myself entertained in the middle.  I've done this by formulating character biographies, an overall story arc and even a chapter plan.  My organisational skills are finally coming in useful in my writing-related life.  For the first time, I feel like I can do this, I can make it to 80,000 words and have something worthwhile at the end of it.  What I hadn't counted on was my choice of subject matter.

My aunt died two years ago of cancer.  She was my only biological aunt, and one of those people who would light up the room when they entered.  From a biased, family perspective, I didn't know a single person who didn't adore her.  She was adept at taking care of us, all of us, her mother, my father, her children, me.  She would stay up until midnight to assemble a swingset in the back yard and sprinkle footsteps made of flour so her children would believe in the Easter Bunny.  She was a real source of magic in a world where, I was quickly learning, reality too often held sway.

Then she died.  It was a long time later, and her kids are toward the end of their teens, but the fact still hits me like a blow sometimes.  They lived interstate, so I saw them rarely, which makes missing her all too easy.  I always assume she's just around the next corner, at the next family gathering.  I watched them take her coffin away, and I still believe this.  No wonder it's so hard to write about.

I hadn't counted on it, really.  I knew it still upset me, still played an important role in my life, but I thought it was time to work it through, to let my writing take me where I couldn't make myself go - into a world without her.  It turns out that maybe I was wrong.

I wrote my chapter plan.  I wrote my character biographies.  I know what's going to happen, and yet so many unexpected things keep cropping up that I'm not sure what to make of myself.  There's a lot of anger here, a lot more than I'd anticipated, a lot more than I'd hoped.  I know it's natural to feel betrayed, to question, to bargain, to plead.  I know it's natural to feel like a part of your life has died.  I didn't know it would still feel this way, 2 years and 3 months later.  I couldn't have fathomed I'd be crying over my keyboard, typing a blog post about how angry I felt.

People say it's for the best, that you need to let your grief out, you need to let it go.  As a writer, that's how I relate to the world.  I write about it.  I write about the things that hurt me, so I can grow to understand them.  It turns out there are very few things that can truly hurt us.  The death of a loved one surely can.

But I think, having seen this anger, I'm also afraid.  I'm afraid that what I'll come out with won't be the catharsis I'm planning.  I want to look at loss from every angle, to find the perspectives of lover, mother, sister, brother, that are intertwined in my family.  But that means talking to my family, and maybe even showing them how angry I still feel.

I don't like to discuss my personal life, but when it comes to my writing, I'm stuck.  There is nothing so personal as a grain of truth.  There is nothing so moving as a tragedy you've experienced.  But how much of myself can I put into my work before it becomes something other than fiction?  Is it better to be true to what you feel when writing, and edit later, or censor your feelings, so they might appeal more and be less revealing?

I don't believe you can write without becoming vulnerable.  At the moment, I wish that weren't the case.  In some way, everything you write is part of you, in the same way that everyone you meet is part of your memory.  You can try to forget, but they'll still be there, at the back of your mind.  Some of all writing is autobiographical, and all of my generalisations are usually broad.  Perhaps, instead, the sum of all writing is autobiographical.  Analyse the author and you come to their core.  Their core is the legacy they leave behind in the words they sculpt on the page.  In that regard, at least, I know I'm certainly not alone in wondering :

What shall the world think of me when my work here is done?

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