Thursday, March 11, 2010

Joseph Campbell Meditation #2

"Perfection is inhuman.  Human beings are not perfect.  What evokes our love--and I mean love, not lust--is the imperfection of the human being.  So, when the imperfection of the real person peeks through, say, 'This is a challenge to my compassion.'  Then make a try, and something might begin to get going."  from Pathways to Bliss

I have to begin by saying this:  writing about this quote makes me feel like a hypocrite.  It's so utterly true that what I value in others (their humanness) I try to deny in myself.  So it stands to reason that one of the hardest things for me to do always has been to write truthfully.  To write truthfully means I will have to reveal some unsavory aspect of my psyche or my experience.  I don't mean factual truth, but the truths about my shame and my fears.  

The characters in stories I love best are flawed ones, and when I read a story I try to think of the characters not in terms of judgment but in terms of compassion.  This truly has become one of the most pleasurable aspects of reading for me.  In Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine, there's a character named King who lies, drinks, neglects his child, and beats his wife.  And yet it is clear from the narrative that Erdrich, the writer, doesn't judge King.  By extension, she challenges the reader not to judge him, but to love him. 

One of my favorite authors, Andre Dubus (who wrote the great story from which the film In the Bedroom was made), said that his characters are neither good nor bad:  they are human.  When I read--or write--a story, I try to empty myself of biases or preconceptions, and I try to deeply penetrate the characters' minds.  If the story is well-written, you'll be able to do that.

I try to come to each writing project--story or poem- with a fresh and open mind.  My process is organic.  I create and then wait.  Create and wait.  I don't stop until a work "feels right."  Or until it's plain to me that the story is never going to work.  Sometimes it never feels right.  I used to think I was failure when this happened; now I shrug and move on.  It wasn't meant to be; there was a fatal mistake in it somewhere.  Perhaps the idea will morph into something that will work later on.

My writing feels right when every sentence seems true.  Each new day I'm a different person, minute to minute, second to second, I am evolving, understanding more, or sometimes I'm backsliding and trying to get back to where I was.  Writing is a record of the evolution of your consciousness.  

I used to try to make my writing perfect; I don't anymore.  I want it to be human, to say something clearly and truthfully.  It's easy to master techniques; it's hard to say something that's true.  Every molecule of our being resists it because our authority figures have punished us for the kinds of failures we most need to explore in our writings.   

It's all about love, man, it's all about love.

I'm not saying that there isn't a place for a character of pure evil in a story.  There are people who cannot be redeemed, who have no conscious, who are ciphers, blanks.  Literature is full of villains, and sometimes a story needs one for balance.


Cynthia said...

I was listening to the commentary on Serious Moonlight, and the producer, who was the screenwright's widower, said that his wife always tried to show something in her bad guys that was human and likable. I find the opposite is also true. I think you're right on target when you say that it's all about love -- the kind of love that knows someone for who they really are and loves them anyway.

Erin said...

I hear you loud and clear. I struggle with showing the humanness in my characters, with giving them flaws, with getting them into less-than-ideal situations because of these flaws and making them work themselves out. I have so many boring drafts where my characters do everything they ought to do.



About Me

My photo
Northwest Ohio, United States
"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken


Search This Blog

Epistle, by Archibald MacLeish

What I'm Listening To

My Music

Great Artists
This is a Flickr badge showing public photos from theresarrt7. Make your own badge here.

Fave Painting: Eden

Fave Painting:  Eden

Fave Painting: The Three Ages of Man and Death

Fave Painting:  The Three Ages of Man and Death
by Albrecht Dürer

From the First Chapter

The Secret of Hurricanes : That article in the Waterville Scout said it was Shake- spearean, all that fatalism that guides the Kennedys' lives. The likelihood of untimely death. Recently, another one died in his prime, John-John in an airplane. Not long before that, Bobby's boy. While playing football at high speeds on snow skis. Those Kennedys take some crazy chances. I prefer my own easy ways. Which isn't to say my life hasn't been Shake-spearean. By the time I was sixteen, my life was like the darkened stage at the end of Hamlet or Macbeth. All littered with corpses and treachery.

My Original Artwork: Triptych

My Original Artwork:  Triptych



Little Deer

Little Deer



Looking Forward, Looking Back

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Blog Archive