If we write what we know, then why do I keep penning tales about absent fathers who try to buy their daughters’ affections with gifts? How come I write poems about lost love that still twists the knife in deep every single day even though it’s been ages since that love was manifested? Why is it that I am most at home when I write about pain, and blood, and backstabbing characters with horrible backstories?
I don’t know. Or maybe I do know. It’s easy to write about dysfunction, about families that have no central roots, who behave in nefarious ways because of some sort of disappointment from one to another. It’s second nature to pen characters who wouldn’t know love if it was outlined in neon outside their open window. And that’s not because my life was a neverending wilderness of pain and disappointment. It’s because I convinced myself it was.
That’s one problem with having a wealth of imagination and creativity, the ability to craft characters and situations that aren’t anything that has ever happened to me. I immerse myself in them, in their environments, inside of their very skin, and I look through their eyes to see myself staring back. It’s difficult not to draw that connection, not to feel a kinship with them that goes beyond creator and creation.
I write about dysfunction precisely because it’s not what I know, because it’s probably as far from my insular world as I can get. I wrap it around me like a coat, like a second skin, and I breathe it in, letting it infuse me with its warmth, completing me. It’s the other side of me, the one that I never let out to play for fear that others will judge me, except that through words I can still make it real. It’s not that I want to live through it, but that I want to understand it without living through it.
So I send my characters into the trenches, to fight the battles I know I will never have, to rage against the status quo in a way I will never rage against it, to defeat the ideologies that abound and rescue themselves from what eats them up inside. I take them out of the comfortable confines of my mind and place them at angles to themselves, to fight it out and see who winds up still standing. And I smile over it all like a God who hands out favors to those who don’t deserve it and places wagers on the rest.