Wednesday, June 8, 2011

#trust30 - Day 9

Afraid to Do by Mary Jaksch

The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson says: “Always do what you are afraid to do.” What is ‘too scary’ to write about? Try doing it now.

(Author: Mary Jaksch)

Too scary to write about? This one's a little tricky. I've never liked watching scary movies or reading scary books, because most of them aren't and the ones that are--well, whatever other people enjoy in them, I don't see it. Maybe I'm just a big, nerdy wimp (do people still use that word?).

I have a few subjects I usually choose not to write about. Violence against children is one, although my work-in-progress at the moment is about a drummer boy in the Civil War. I don't like to write about violence against women, especially the sexual kind. But I have a woman posing as a man so she can be a soldier in the same book, and the heroine in my 6th-Century Britain story has a husband who mistreats her, for part of the story at least.

I have a rule of thumb not to write anything I wouldn't let my kids read. But one of the characters who occasionally taps on the inside of my head is a dead soldier who's been recruited into the war between heaven and hell. So far, no problem--except he talks like most of the soldiers I've known, which is to say he uses a lot of foul language. And he talks about women in ways I wouldn't want my kids to hear. I'll probably have to write his story one day; they don't usually go away after they've introduced themselves. But I'm not sure what I'm going to do with him yet.

But thinking about it, it's really predatory violence, not just any violence, I have a hard time with. There's a certain honesty to violence in the context of war: yes, it's terrible and brutal and ugly, but those who perpetrate it come away with as many scars as those who suffer from it. Bullets don't care who they kill, and women and children often fall victim to them--but killing an unarmed child (or even an armed one) is almost as much a tragedy to the soldier who pulls the trigger as it is to the child's comrades. It's no stretch to imagine a soldier, flush with victory, come across the body of a woman or a child and break down crying, even if he pulled the trigger, even if he did it to save a friend.

It's different when the violence is predatory. It is evil to select someone for death and enjoy the killing, to kill for no other reason than that it gives you pleasure. Especially when the victim is much, much weaker, when he or she realistically has no chance against you. There's only one point of view from which to write a scene like that, because the victim doesn't live through it. And the killer either doesn't realize his actions are wrong or doesn't care. To write that, to do it convincingly, one has to place oneself inside a mind where evil doesn't exist or doesn't matter. It must be terrifying to be inside such a mind, even for a little while.

I have no desire to get inside the mind of evil. I'm much more content in the gray areas, where people can do evil things and suffer from them, where real people live every day and question whether their actions were right or necessary.

I guess that's really what I'm afaid to write. I'm afraid to explore the mind of evil. How can one do that--really do it--and then find his way back to the real world? I'm pretty confident that's what killed Heath Ledger. I have little confidence I would fare any better against the Joker than he did.

Maybe one day I'll be willing to give it a shot. But I won't be writing what I fear tonight. Writing about it is hard enough.


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