Let’s do the niceties right now and say this post will speak of real things that happened to me. It may feel like a rant to a lot of people, and there is a high likelihood I’ll upset more than a few of those folk. But seeing as how it’s been close to a week since the last time that last happened, I may as well close out the week cranking up the irate a bit. With that in mind, here’s a kitten to put you into a great frame of mind:
With that out of the way, onward.
I spent a lot of time as a kid scared. Never mind all the crap going on in my head with gender identity issues and just generally being considered a strange kid because I did things in my shitty little town like read–I was scared. A lot. I had a very active imagination, and since I read a lot of different things like science fiction and comic books and the occasional horror story where people were being walled up alive or having bad things happen to them because they were screwing around with a monkey’s paw, I’d start imagining things–you know, stuff.
The sort of things that prevented me from being in a dark room with an even slightly cracked closet door because there might be something in there–something that was going to eat me. I couldn’t stand to look out a window in the dead of night for fear something was going to jump into my line of sight, something I didn’t want to see, something that was going to do me harm. And this last still happens to me; occasionally I’ll get the feeling that something is out on the balcony getting ready to jump me, and I don’t dare look ’cause I don’t want to see . . .
That stopped me from reading, right? No. I didn’t stop me from watching all those funky 1950’s science fiction and horror flicks on TV, either. If I knew it was going to cause problems, why did I continue to scare the shit out of myself? Because I had a jones that needed feeding, and learning and being entertains was worth the price of imagining something could jump out of my closet and get me.
I also ran into my share of personal tragedy. By the time I’d turn ten I’d watch an uncle lose a long battle with lung cancer, and since it seemed like everyone in our extended family either died of cancer or heart disease–and I heard this stuff being talked about all the time–it was a simple matter to know what was happening. Oh, and my mother was also a nurse, so there were plenty of books around the house with pictures–just in case I needed to know what a cancerous lung looked like.
I lost two close friends before I was out of high school: one drown and another was involved in a rather horrific auto accident. A girl I’d dated for a year at the end of high school died a year after we broke up when her sister’s car spun out and flipped over into a drainage ditch.
There was also the occasional suicide popping up from time to time. When I was about eight a second cousin of my mother’s decided she was going to take her two daughters for a ride, got them into the family sedan, and never left the garage. There was no way I didn’t know about this because it was all over the Chicago news, print and television, at the time, and my mother didn’t stop talking about it for days. As for the other suicides–well, they were attempts, and not successful ones at that, otherwise I wouldn’t be here typing this post. Though I’ve not tried anything like that since the 1990’s, I did voluntarily check myself into a mental heath facility in 2008 for a “Forty-eight Hour Observation Stay”, which is a polite way of saying, “We’ll make sure you’re not given a chance to permanently hurt yourself.” Actually, it was an interesting experience–I was roomed with a schizophrenic who kept telling the doctors he was okay because he’d found his cure in the Bible, and they could give him any test they wanted to try and prove him wrong, and I was hit on by a couple of women: one wanted my opinion on whether I thought she’d make a good lesbian and should she castrate her boyfriend before doing so, and another girl kept trying to convince me to have sex with her, telling me, “You’re not that crazy, so it’ll be good ’cause I can trust you.”
Fun times, let me tell ya.
These are all little bits of my life experiences. No mention of the time a “friend” beat me up because I wouldn’t dance with someone at a club–yeah, that sort of sucked. But all of this come to mind when I’m writing. All of this makes up little things that pull at my psyche when I’m dealing with characters. I don’t think I have an interesting life, but I certainly have one that’s seen it’s fair share of bullshit.
I’m not the only one who’s been there. A Clockwork Orange was written in three weeks by a highly intoxicated Anthony Burgess, who admitted that a lot of Alex’s story brought back memories of his wife’s rape, and drinking helped get the words out with a minimal amount of pain. Harlan Ellison wrote in the preface of All the Birds Come Home to Roost of the terror he felt having to write, at an editor’s request, a short scene where the main character describes what his first wife–who was going insane–did that nearly drove him insane, because brought back all the memories of the things his first wife did that nearly drove him insane before she was committed to a facility for a while. Stephen King mentioned that The Body may have resulted from from him witnessing a childhood friend being hit by a train, but damned if he can remember that happening even though other’s told him it did.
Writers put themselves into their stories, like it or not. When they write about something horrifying or miserable or just downright cruddy happening to one of their characters, they’re usually pulling upon some well of memories. They may remember these things clearly, or they may not. They may not be affected by the retelling of the memories, or they may find themselves overwhelmed as they transfer the story from their mind to the page. This last has happened to me: there have been more than a few passages written over the last couple of years where I’ve had to stop and collect myself because the place from where I was pulling my inspiration was far too personal.
At the same time a writer shouldn’t be afraid to put all that shit out there for people to see. A writer shouldn’t hold back; if you have something terrible to show, show it in all its gory glory. I went through this when I wrote Couples Dance because of one scene in particular, one that I’ve never actually described–until now. The scene involved three woman and a man in 1920’s Paris getting high on a combination of wine and drugs, and two of the women decided to pull the third woman into a ménage à trois. In the process of getting their crazy freak on, the two woman who instigated this party begin dismembering the third woman while continuing to sex her up. The person reading this account doesn’t know if it’s complete bullshit or not–the person who wrote the entry in his journal can be considered the most unreliable of narrators because he was higher than a kite at the time this all went down–but there’s also a nagging suspicion that it might just be the real deal.
I had trouble writing the scene at first because I thought it was a bit over the top. And it is–face it: it’s suppose to be. Later I had trouble because I understood this craziness was coming out of me, and who wants to admit they can pen this sort of insanity and then head down to Burger King to pick up a Whopper with Cheese and a large Sprite like nothing out of the ordinary just went down. After a few days I got good with the fact that there is a lot of craziness inside me, and in time it’s all gonna come out.
In the course of my life and work I know I’m going to offend people. I know I’m going to say things that will piss them off. But what I say or do won’t be racist–I lived through that shit with my family, and try as they might I abandoned their “If it ain’t White, it ain’t Right” ways. It won’t be misogynist, because I love women and the more I slide into womanhood the more I understand the privileges they don’t share with men. I’m damn sure not anti-LGBT–hey, some of my best characters are LGBT, and considering I was hangin’ with my trans support group last night, nah: no hate there, people.
No, if I piss someone off it’s because I don’t give warnings about what’s coming. I gave one today, and on other occasions I’ve given them as well, telling people if you have easily blown minds you might wanna step off the page and find something else to read. Most of the time I’ll call things out as I see them, and and if people lose their shit over it–as has happened when I expressed the opinion that if you’re truly convinced that your characters actually write your story, and that they get into arguments over what they want to do, you should acquaint yourself with some high powered meds–then so be it. I can’t protect every precious snowflake, and I don’t bother trying.
Writers shouldn’t be afraid to throw life out onto the page as raw as it comes. They shouldn’t hold back. They shouldn’t censor themselves. You have to be more real than real; you have to show the nasty without a pretty little gauze curtain between you and the reader. Be like Rick Grimes and rip out that bad guy’s throat with your teeth, because there are times when you just gotta lay it all out in black and white with red all over.
And should someone come back to you and say, “I’m offended by that! You didn’t give me a warning it was coming!” then you should introduce them to Mr. Stephen Fry:
“It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what?”
[I saw hate in a graveyard — Stephen Fry, The Guardian, 5 June 2005]” (Article found on link, which details things he discovered while tracing his Jewish ancestry.)
I should point out that maybe people are offended by his statement. Yeah, big surprise. Could be worse–
I could have found an inspirational quote from Tyler Durden.