Inescapable in many ways, the most fortunate of us have a healthy mix of both good and bad events from our past that rear their heads to savage or sweeten our days. The happier ones – I like to invoke them when I’m feeling low, either in confidence or emotion. Well, basically, I’m an optimistic person for the most part, though I like to think that I’m not Panglossian to the point of being delusional. However, one common denominator even us optimists share, and definitely afflicting world-weary cynics are unhappy events from the past that creep into our conscious or subconscious, the latter via nightmares. And deal with these we must. Being a writer, I deal with it, in part, through my writing.
How, you may ask?
It’s quite simple really. I reconstruct events from the past, where I might’ve committed an error or one committed on me, changing the circumstances to alter the outcome. Okay. It’s not that simple either. I am no Briony Tallis (from the film Atonement for those of you who may not immediately grasp the reference), nor, happily enough, do I have such cataclysmic events from the past plaguing my present. However, there are adequate occurrences of embarrassing faux pas (mine) and inexplicable animosity flung at me (by others) that require resolution, if only in written fictional word.
"Fear, folks, comes in many guises, not all of them rational"
Such an explanation might be feeble without an example.
Much younger, I used to be, and still am to a certain degree, a bit of a hell-raiser. Not in a criminal way, of course, nor self-destructive. My hellraising took the form of razor-sharp wit, a nasty way of conveying my affection. I teased those I loved the most, sometimes with biting sarcasm but always funny, judging the peals of laughter that inevitably followed said witticism. I never did give it much thought, mostly assuming that the targets of my torment knew me well enough not to be offended. That assumption was not correct as I discovered as the years rolled by. It wasn’t introspection that warned me – it was in reality an idle observation from my father that drew my attention to the possibility that not all might’ve found my humour that funny, laughing outwardly but cringing on the inside. It’s not that I could ever go back and change the way I said something. Nor can I say that I can change the way I speak, except to be more sensitive to the feelings of others. However, I could, in the present, make up for my sins by reminding everyone that I only teased the ones for whom I cared the most and using every other positive gesture possible to reinforce that sentiment. In one of my books, not yet published, I fashioned one of the two protagonists after me and the other as one of the victims – purely fictional of course. And the resolution came from their HEA ending, where the victim realises that the teasing could mean only one thing that the protagonist loved the significant other.
It was cathartic, liberating. Ever since I wrote that book, I never think of my past in the same light. I feel that much better about it. As to my hapless victims, I have only the following to add. There’s this saying that I came across in one of the social media virtual chat rooms - The affection that we get from others is a gift of our own character. True perhaps, but I was tempted to respond that I am not sure that it is always the case and that in my experience, I received affection, not because of my character, but in spite of it. That being said, my writing, I feel is richer for my past experiences, and a great way to exorcise ghosts from the past.
The other example that springs to mind, is inspired by a few reviewers who bemoan poor communication between protagonists and the reason for angst and heartbreak. Unfortunately, folks, my past is rife with examples of poor communication causing distrust and misunderstanding. It’s only natural. We all have our reasons for not baring our souls, fear of rejection being the biggest motivator. Those dishing out relationship advice may advocate honesty, but a – that is easier said than done and b – revealing feelings too early in a relationship can rebound with disastrous results. To that extent, I like to inject as much realism into my works of fantasy, where our main characters hide the truth from one another, motivated by a variety of fears, both rational and irrational. Fear, folks, comes in many guises, not all of them rational. When a reader tears his or her hair out because Katherine James does not reveal her mayorship out of fear of Tate taking advantage of her political vulnerability, both Kate’s action and the readers frustration are only natural.
Hence the angst works. And I use every incident from my past, especially those more traumatic to draw inspiration. As a bonus, it helps relieve stressful emotions from the past. Hey. Why not?
I hope you’ve enjoyed my musings. Even writing this piece has made me feel better. Hope it does it for you too.