Write...or Die Trying

I used to work in a factory. Now I work in an office. Either way, my writing was dying. So now I must: Write...or Die Trying.

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Duality: Light and Dark

Since I'm working on my BA in Creative Writing, I'm exposed to the "traditional" style of creative writing, which lifts up darkness, suffering, pain, and hurt over light, joy, happiness, and peace. When anyone in my class tries to write a "happy" story, they are criticized for being too "Hallmark" or too "easy." I always defend them and have been gaining a reputation for always approaching my critiques of a story from an optimistic, rather than a pessimistic attitude. I am often laughed at because of that and I get the feeling that I am somewhat disregarded, however unintentionally, because of my optimism.

Intelligencia tells us that the intense feelings of pain, hurt, and suffering are the only way to impart emotional impact in a story. It is much more difficult to really communicate love, joy, and peace in literature than it is hurt and pain. The latter are easily communicated and understood by the reader, which helps to form that necessary emotional bond between audience and author.

I don't think I could adequately communicate my deep, theological thoughts on this issue, because I'm not sure I understand them myself, but I'm going to give it a shot anyway.

I'm remembering a conversation that my Dad and I had last night about the "natural" state of human existence (my father and I have deep, theological discussions frequently) which is death, darkness, and 0 degrees Kelvin (don't ask how the 0 degree Kelvin thing came into the discussion; I don't remember. :-) I think artistic expression, being an element of creation and a shadow of one aspect of God, has a similar "lowest common denominator" or absolute zero starting point just like the physical world. The natural state of Man's being is darkness, pain, and suffering. The reason? No light. Darkness is actually non-existent. There is no such thing as darkness because it's only an absence of light. When there is no light, we call that dark, but true darkness (i.e. not what astrophysicists call "dark matter") is not a particle or piece of matter or energy that causes something to be dark. It's simply a term we use to distinguish something that has no energy or life in it because it has no light in it.

As a Christian who writes, I'm mindful of the struggle between the natural state of my being (the unlighted, hurting, painful side) and the lighted side which Christ brought into my life. The latter is infinitely more difficult to communicate to another person through any artistic medium, but particularly through the written word. I often wonder if God created artistic expression to give us an alternative method of communication when our normal methods of relating spiritual matters fail. But it's hard. Really hard. I never thought it would be so hard.

I guess what I'm trying to say in a long, disjointed, and rambling way is that darkness is our natural state of being. If we are going to be relevant to someone in Man's natural state of being, then we should be mindful that sometimes things will appear to be blindingly lit with Christ's light. If we want our fiction to be effective, I think we need to keep this in mind. It's like turning on the bedroom light in the middle of the night, when you're eyes are adjusted to the dark. We have a lot of people reading our work (Christians are no exception here, unfortunately) who are basically shriveled up and dormant. I think our work, as Christians, should be properly prepared soil, well-lit to be sure, but that only comes after the plant has sprouted and pushed up into the light.

Don't misunderstand what I'm saying. I'm NOT saying we should gloss over, cover up, or otherwise obscure Christianity to make it "palatable" to non-Christians. I'm actually proposing the opposite: that we should not just be mindful of the effect of Christ's light on someone in darkness, but to dig deep, cut to the jugular, and shine His light on things, be it in measured increments. If you do turn the bedroom light on in the middle of the night, how will people react? "Oh thank you, I'm so glad you turned on the light!" No? That's not how I would react. I would grab the heaviest book I could lay my hands on and chuck it at them.

All this is to say that I don't think we should write off the joyful, peaceful, and (dare I say it) happy nature of things in favor of that which can be communicated quickly and efficiently (and with far less talent) than the former. But I also don't think we can accurately capture true joy or true peace without understanding what those things are, or without using Man's natural state as a foil to compare and contrast. I suspect that a lack of understanding of what Joy and Peace are is the big stumbling block, though. If we don't understand them, then we try to communicate them in inferior ways, which leads to the complaint of work that is campy or "Hallmarky" with sentimentality. But I also don't think we should drive around with our bright lights on all the time and get mad at people when they react to that. Again, I'm not saying that we should water ourselves down. I'm saying we should distill ourselves into a more pure and potent form. We should become MORE interested in spiritual matters, not less. We should be talking MORE about God, not less. But in doing that, we ought to keep in mind that Paul himself said he had become "all things to all men so that I might win some."

We can't win someone to Christ through a book. Only a personal relationship with a real human can lead a person through the confusing slurry of emotions to faith in Christ. I think we should therefore de-emphasize campy tent-revival proselytization in favor of Flannery O'Connor-style hard-hitting spiritual questions. I think there is an audience (hopefully large enough to support several authors, since I don't intend on making a career out of writing for nothing :-) that is longing, aching, and dying of thirst for work that is lit up with life and doesn't shy away from the tough and painful consequences of living in a fallen universe that is slowly dying from the cancerous tumor that is Sin. I pray that I can use the talents God has currently entrusted in me and multiply them many times over so that when I am asked to return them, I can give Him back more than I was given.

I probably should do some work today.

1 Comments:

At 8/21/2005 11:12:00 AM, Anonymous Tom Buford said...

"I think we should therefore de-emphasize campy tent-revival proselytization in favor of Flannery O'Connor-style hard-hitting spiritual questions. I think there is an audience (hopefully large enough to support several authors, since I don't intend on making a career out of writing for nothing :-) that is longing, aching, and dying of thirst for work that is lit up with life and doesn't shy away from the tough and painful consequences of living in a fallen universe that is slowly dying from the cancerous tumor that is Sin. I pray that I can use the talents God has currently entrusted in me and multiply them many times over so that when I am asked to return them, I can give Him back more than I was given."

I could not have said it better myself.

 

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