Thursday, January 17, 2013

Three Maxims of Writing and of Life - Disserambling

Warning: As a thinking process, this is a longer than average post. Feel free to read it in pieces (I am writing it in pieces.)

Preliminary Note: I was surfing Amazon the other day and I was prompted to start a Listmania List. I didn't know what that was but I thought it would be like the list of my favorite books. I clicked on "Start one." Among the three fields I had to fill, one made me laugh -and desist from doing a List. It was "Your Qualifications" field. What do you know about the subject your list is about? Are you an Instructor, Teacher, Doctor? I was tempted to type "Ignorant" as my line of expertise.

From this dragon's point of view, an ignorant can tell you what books, tricks, methods, experiences, etc, are helping him to become less ignorant about a certain matter. Well, my qualifications to write this still stand.

This dissertation/rambling ("disserambling" for short) addresses three directives in writing, (Definitions are according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology):

“Write what you know.”
- physical truth
This is what you know from physical experience—how a place looks, smells, what scratchy wool or zero degrees feels like on your skin.
- emotional truth
This is the central truth for a writer, the emotional reality of the “now” moment which the reader MUST accept.  If the reader does not believe that moment of revelation/change, then the reader will not accept any part of the story.

"Writers lie to tell the truth."  
- emotional truth lies in the cloak of fiction.
Fiction, that is, the act of embedding emotional truth in situations that never happened, is the way we find the courage to reveal that truth.

"Writing is an act of courage."
-It takes courage to express emotional truth.  
It means that you have to know yourself and be willing to put the depths of emotional reality out there where anyone can read it.  Fiction is what keeps us safe, what lets us express and the audience experience that truth.

Psychologists say that people have experienced the full range of emotion by the age of six. 
You must trust your own emotional experience and believe that you have adequate understanding and memory in order to have something to say.  

You need the courage first to be honest about your own emotional reality/experience, and then to express it.  Honesty is hard because every character we write comes from us, the villains as well as the heroes.  And we owe the villains as much as we owe the heroes, we must respect and understand their humanity, their motivations, and their desires.  Which means that we have to be honest about our own less-than-admirable desires, actions, etc.

 My disserambling also involves two thesis:

1. Artists are depressive people -including but not limited to writers.
2. Happy thoughts are dragonshit.

And last but not least, this 3.15 mins video:

"I wish you would have never been born an artist. If there is one thing I would ask God to take out of you, it would be that."

I have heard this -or variations of it- from Mother Dragon almost as often as she has praised my work. To her, the word artist makes her think on Michael Angelo, Van Gogh, Dali, Salgari, Balzac, and any other artist or thinker who had a tough life full of pain, loneliness, poverty and yes, also a great deal of madness.

I am both young and ancient. My sense of humor is young, my soul is ancient. I have lived through the Dark Ages. My flights reached Warp Speed once, when I was a young dragon. Experience is large at this point.

I do see reason in Mother Dragon's wish. An artist feels everything more than everyone else. An artist has an oversensitive heart and even the smallest things -for others- might take mythical proportions for us. Our pain may escalate to soul wrecking torment, our joy to ecstatic Nirvana, and our love... Well, artist's love is the epitome of a Greek tragedy.

Usually an artist feels like an alien in this planet. We came with a small group to Earth but when the Mother Ship left, we were strayed all over the world. In order to survive and mingle with the locals, we had to adopt different disguises. Despite of this, we can't hide our essence. "Normal people" still see us as aliens. We are poorly understood. We rejoice when we find others like us; those who can speak "our language."

During the Dark Ages I faced death many times. A fire dragon is not easily welcomed. Misunderstandings, confrontations and fierce wars were inevitable both with people and within my dragon clan. I couldn't control the fire that came out each time I opened my mouth. Counter attacks would turn me more aggressive and secluded. My only relief, escape and joy was in art; writing, painting, dancing, acting and sculpting. I wanted to learn piano and guitar but couldn't afford a teacher.

Dark Ages lasted to the day I flew myself into a mountain at Warp Speed. Darkest Ages had arrived. Years of travelling the most painful, obscure, and lonely of paths, playing Hide and Seek with Lady Death. I sought, she hid. At those times, whoever would come to me talking about "positive thought" dragonshit was a perfect candidate to be scorched and devoured. Nothing could set my fires into raging mode faster than that MOST insensitive thing, regardless the good intentions.

Referring to the video above, I am sure if someone would have arrived at that moment and tell the man, "hey, don't think you just lost four years of your life on straining training and effort and time, and lost your chance to Olympic Gold, all because of a cramp! Think positive, man! The sun will come out tomorrow!" that someone would have been beaten to a pulp by both the racer and his father.

You are in agony, you are hurting and your insides are wrecking. Just by closing your eyes to it and say in your mind "I'm ok, I don't care, I'm happy and life is beautiful, shalalala shalalala..." won't make the pain go. Your brain just laughs at this futile attempt to deny that something is eating you alive. It may work for a fleeting moment but the relapse is inevitable.

I think in writing, it would be similar to what is known as "talking heads" with an unbelievable dialogue. It is empty, it lacks quality, it's not compelling, it's trash talk and in short, it's dragonshit. A book I recently bought about the brain confirms "positive thought" does not have permanent results. We have to go beyond the "talking heads," beyond denial, far beyond the shortest path.

Where does the other path start? Starting involves understanding we are not as simple as "positive thoughts" suggest we are, and writing is not as simple as grabbing a pen -or a computer- and pour words out of us. However, the START line is only one thing: Decision.

I choose to write, regardless the difficulties. I choose to go on, regardless the pain and disappointment. I choose to finish the race, regardless this damned cramp and the fact I already lost my sought prize, for which I suffered tremendously to get.

Notice here I am not denying the obstacles. I am choosing to go on in spite of them, and eventually conquer them, not by denial but by consciously working them out.

I have worked my dragon ass off for years (still doing it) in order to conquer the obstacles set before me. And I wrote what I knew. I knew of torment, of soul tearing pain, of longing, and of conflict, so I wrote an epic story.

It is precisely in this extreme sensibility artists have that we find our best tool to create something that reaches people's hearts and push their buttons. Our emotions find echo inside an audience which does not understand us but through our creations.

And it IS an act of courage altogether. A writer HAS to live that emotion again if it is to be believable. As we write for our villains, we have to wear their shoes, we have to pull out that hate, that bitterness, that thirst for revenge. We have to kill and we have to die with them in our hearts and minds. Only then they become real and fleshed out. It's the only way to make the audience *feel*, to make them laugh, care, cry, hate and love with a story.

This is what the artist do. We leave a piece of us in each thing we create in order to give our creation life of their own. That's why we are the incredibly complex beings we are.

But we can't spend our life tearing ourselves apart in order to keep this ability. Overly dramatic characters and their stories do not tend to become a hit, just as unrestrained "heightened sensibility" doesn't lead to a happy healthy creative life.

Let's return to the Start line. I choose to go on in spite of everything else. I keep walking, limping, crawling -whatever I can do-. I don't quit but I still feel like shit. What can help me cope with it -besides professional help, if I need it-?

That's what I'll discuss in my next disserambling post, if you care to accompany this qualified ignorant dragon in his thinking process. By the way, are you one of those who came in the artist Mother Ship?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. I totally agree with you in the part that art is also born from joy, love and celebration. I'm addressing the dark side because it is always more difficult to handle than the bright side. I don't mean suffering is necessary in the act of creation but...Hmmm...I would need more thought about this one. My thesis "artists are depressive people" is more like a proposition. I might conclude the proposition is false. I do believe we do have a heightened sensibility and perceive the world different that the rest. However, I don't believe absolutely all artists are permanently tormented by our inner demons. Likewise, not everyone permanently tormented by inner demons is an artist.

      Hahaha, I just sounded like Socrates. I love thinking too. THanks for reading! :)

  2. Sigh-- try this again...

    Writing guru,Jeff Goins recently wrote a post on the angst of art ( Essentially, he would agree with your first dissarambling (great word) thought, "artists are depressive people". His post title was The Essential Sadness of Art. I find this theory, in its absolute, to be full of horse hockies and perpetuates the tortured artist myth. While certainly writers tap into a dark side to bring depth to their writing, when called for, this is not the whole story. Much art is also born from joy, praise and celebration. That being said, you might find his article interesting.

    I found your statement "writers lie to tell the truth" intriguing as well. I think we are probably better able to confront emotional truth within the context of fiction. It's what has given books such great power throughout history. (This might also be one reason I prefer non-fiction over fiction.;))

    Great article Al. I love when an article like this prompts me to do a little contemplatin'.

    1. Hahaha. Ok, my answer above still applies. :)

  3. It's an act of courage all right. Keep pursing it though, Dragon.
    I am an artistic type in that I'm a musician, writer, designer, sometimes artist... And yet I've never been a tortured soul. I've never gone through tragedy or dropped to the very depths. I wonder what that means...?

    1. I think it means that the thesis/proposition is false. Not all artists are depressive. Most of those of the past were, thereof the myth, as Julie rightfully called it. This brings up new propositions. Good brain workout. Thanks Alex.

  4. From the mud, springs the lotus. From dragon shit springs a damned good lettuce crop. This, btw, is based on empirical data. Now if is could just find the mire that calls forth great prose, I'd be in good shape.

    Here's to art and the artist who brings it into the world for sharing.

    1. Cheers, milady! I am all set for the quest to great pose. :)

    2. Go for it, I say! Your 7 line post showed some super dialog.

  5. Interesting post. I've had moments of depression, but I'm mainly a positive person. I do feel alone in my thoughts most of the time, though. I wouldn't have it any other way, because I love writing.

    1. I am not sure if it is the artist or the thinker in me that compels me keep going but your statement had made me think. If given the choice (as in getting the "artist" exorcised out of me) would I really have it other way? I think not.