Sunday, March 14, 2010
A New View of The Unfair & Cruel
My son Colton and I went on a run together today and somehow we began talking about the importance of having a philosophy for your life; of finding a moral compass; of having sound reasons for what you believe to be right and wrong. Colton has a great moral compass, and every time I see him put it to good use I'm filled with a wonderful sense of pride. And relief. I know it will serve him well throughout his life, and that although it may lead him through some rugged terrain, he'll be glad he followed it. He's also reading The Running Dream manuscript, and there's a segment in it where one of Coach Kyro's "philosophies" comes out: "Life isn't about what happens to you, it's about what you do about what happens to you." And really, that's the key to life. Bad things happen to good people--they just do. But it's how you deal with those bad things that will either scar you and scare you, or make you stronger and more determined. And being stronger and more determined will eventually take you where you dream of going. It's funny how that works. Of course I didn't have that little gem of knowledge in my back pocket when I was in middle school being bullied by girls whose parents seemed to buy them whatever they wanted. Or in high school when my dad made me drop the transmission of my clunker car and change the throw-out bearing of my clutch...by myself. Or in college when someone torched our family's business. During those times I just thought the world was unfair and cruel. Which it can be. But if you can make it through those unfair, cruel episodes, life can also be joyous. And that's what you've got to keep in your back pocket. The belief that things will get better. Meanwhile, let me present a new perspective on the unfair and cruel. They are what make for good writing. No one needs to tell you to remember the traumatic times. You'd love to forget them, but can't. So instead work with them. Scratch that. Make them work for you. It's experiences in life that give us something to write about, and since good fiction is applied tension, you'll have an arsenal of good material if life hasn't been peachy (and not a whole lot if it has). Does the girl who jabbed me in the derriere with a sewing pin in seventh grade have a multi-book contract with Random House? No, but I turned her into Heather Acosta, so she's in a bunch of books! Would the kids whose parents give them brand new cars when they turn 16 know how to write effectively about the grimy underbelly of a car, or what transmission fluid feels and smells like? No, but I do, and it sure came in handy when writing Sammy Keyes and the Curse of Moustache Mary. And the people who torched the family business--where are they? Not in jail where they belong, but they're living with themselves and I don't imagine that to be a very good existence. Not exactly justice, and yet...from their actions came such angst in me that I started writing. This doesn't undo what they did, but if I didn't agree with Coach Kyro it would have been easy to become bitter and jaded and resentful because of it. Instead, I became a writer.