I remember discovering, maybe when I was 12 or so, that it was a lot easier to write sad stories that have a strong impact on the reader than happy stories that elicit a similarly strong reaction. Now perhaps this was because testosterone was cracking my voice, reshaping my body into something I didn’t recognize, destroying my ability to relate to the opposite sex, and dragging my emotions through the melancholy muck of puberty. Certainly an angsty adolescence has brought many such not-so-profound revelations to the suddenly sage minds of newly minted teenagers.
But really, what could be easier than introducing a likable character and presenting an endearing detail, a tender moment, making your reader vulnerable just long enough to mercilessly slam your character into the pavement and grind his face on it? Who can resist the death of a child? The ultimate rejection of a character we identified with? The grand tragedy of human suffering, leading to meaningless death?
I’ve written my share of sadness in this world, and will probably pen a good deal more before I run out of stories and record keeping. Eventually, though, even the most obstinate of us have to graduate out of teenager-hood into the great world of responsibility, and then we have to ask “Why?”. No, not why the sadness in the world, though I’ll get to that in a moment. I mean, why am I writing at all?*
Sure it’s fun to toy with people’s emotions and bend their understanding of reality to my own version of history and events. But it really doesn’t take a mid-life crisis to get us thinking about purpose and intent.
Frankly, I want to have an impact on other people. Life seems rather pointless if you don’t make any difference doesn’t it? And if you’re making a difference, it seems that making a positive difference would be the way to go, right?
So, somehow, I’ve found that I’m not happy with my writing anymore unless I can forge good from my endless drivel. Suddenly there is the real danger of ascending from the contented darkness of happily achieved sadness to the despairing heights of unfound joy and ineffectual motivation.
Until you realize that my teenage revelation is a lie. Everywhere you see sadness, there you will find joy behind it. We knock down our characters so that we can cheer when they get back up. The fragility of life reminds of its inexpressible value, the incredible gift that none of us have done anything to deserve, but get to enjoy anyway, briefly or at great length.
Rejection brings meaning to acceptance; the chance of failure is the only thing that can possibly bring meaning to success. Suffering is required in equal amounts to our joy. Ultimately there is renewal, and life goes on, in all of its awesome grandeur.
So I take up my challenge to write the next chapter. The happiness that can grow out of sadness and hardship. The triumph that follows defeat. The renewal which inexorably follows collapse.
Even that hopeless teenager I mentioned before managed to find some wonderful friends, marry the woman of his dreams, and raise four beautiful children. Sure, he’s still funny looking and his voice leaves something to be desired. With miracles and joy, I can truly say that he is happy.
If I can do it, anyone can. And they do, every day, in their own spectacular, quiet ways. That’s who I want to write about.
* Okay, I have to admit that I know why I’m writing. I write because I can’t stop the words from flowing out onto the page, the computer, the napkin I meant to use for lunch. I can no more refuse to write than I can take a vow of silence and never speak again. Some people can’t seem to speak without moving their hands about. Mine, like many others’, just seem to prefer a pencil or keyboard.