First, I have to admit that the title of this post is “click bait.” I am not going to write about my perverse fantasies in this post (of which I have, maybe, two). Instead, I thought I would write about what my ultimate goal is in writing stories.
If I am being completely honest, right away, I have to admit that I hope a reader is entertained. I hope that someone picks up one of my books, spends a few hours with it, enjoys it, and feels like they were able to forget about any troubles and escape into my characters’ world. I know it is not a popular opinion to prefer to be an “entertainer” instead of an “artist” when it comes to us creatives, but it would be disingenuous for me to say otherwise. I like to entertain people with my stories.
So, first and foremost, entertaining the reader is at the forefront of my mind when I write. I am constantly thinking: does this passage make the story less engaging? Does this or that make the story less enjoyable? So on and so forth. A lot of my stories end up much shorter than the initial drafts because I “kill my darlings.”
Are we all tired of that phrase yet?
Regardless, in conjunction with entertaining, I want to write characters that the readers will have very strong feelings about. Then…just because I am sadistic–like all writers–I try to make the readers see that character in a different way. “Flip the script” and make the reader say “whaaaaaaat?” A prime example of this is the bully “Carson” from A Surplus of Light. Bullies are bad people, right? Well…sometimes.
Often, especially in today’s social media and cancel culture, I find that we are all too quick to judge people for their behaviors. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not want to make excuses for people who behave badly or say terrible things. When people do bad things, they should be called out, educated, enlightened, and they should make steps to improve themselves. Unless they do not want to, then everything I have just said is moot.
However, some people who cause pain do so because they are also hurt in some way. There are things going on in their lives to which we are not privy. What makes a bully a bully? What makes an internet troll an internet troll? What makes a bigot a bigot? Are the things they say just hurtful…or are they building up to actions that can never be taken back? How does this affect the person they focus their hatred and anger on and how does this affect the redeemability (is that a word?) of the person who does these things?
How understanding and empathetic can we all be?
I am not interested in entertaining cancel culture and mob mentality. I am not interested in excusing or pardoning bad behaviors just for the sake of being understanding to a naive degree. However, I am interested in trying to understand what makes people do the things they do–good or bad–and seeing if we can all be more empathetic and create respectful dialogue with each other, and then all of us may learn to be more thoughtful, mindful, caring, kind people.
Consider Will from A Tremendous Amount of Normal. A reviewer once said that the whole book was a “deeply problematic view of Asperger Syndrome.” I can understand that opinion. One can rarely write about a neurotypical person’s view and internal thoughts of their brother’s AS without it being problematic. In fact, it may be impossible–because a person’s inner thoughts are often problematic if they do not deal with the condition another person has. Because they will never understand it on the same level that the person with the condition will. The reviewer said that Will seemed to want Noah to not have AS and the book was about “curing autism.” This, I do not agree with. The book was a rumination on how a character with severe AS suffered from anxiety and depression and made them function at a lower level than a person with AS is capable of functioning at. Noah could not live his best life as a young man with AS because he had not been treated well by his parents and medical providers and did not get all of the early medical intervention that he desperately needed. He needed advocacy–and that’s what Will was desperately trying to provide, while creating a “new kind of normal” for his little family. Will wanted his brother with AS to be able to go out in the world and live as fully as possible while having Asperger Syndrome. He wanted his brother to be able to experience love, friendship, swimming pools, movie theaters–he wanted his brother to be able to do whatever he wanted while learning to adapt to overwhelming situations as a person with AS.
But…I also wanted the reader to realize that this was not just a story of a person with AS who suffered from anxiety and depression. I wanted the reader to realize that the caregivers and advocates have their own struggles. People cannot just stop feelings and thoughts because taking care of someone is more important. While it is wonderful when people want to advocate for and care for a person with a disorder or disease (those people are doing God’s work), it is important to be concerned with who is caring for the caregivers. Who is advocating for them? Who is making sure they get fed, they sleep enough, they take care of their needs? Who is giving them the love they desperately need? The caregivers and advocates of this world are angels–we cannot forget them in the scope of a story of one’s life. Nor should we forget the challenges posed to people who are “other” or strive to find ways to help make the world a “softer” place for them.
I guess that’s what A Tremendous Amount of Normal was about–disease and disorder do not have to mean that life stops or that we have to all selflessly forget our own needs and desires. We just have to create a new normal. Learn to adapt. Learn to listen. Learn to be patient. Learn to be understanding. We have to decide to make love and kindness our new normal. Then keep practicing that, and eventually, we’ll find ourselves with a tremendous amount of normal.
What is your name? Well, in case no one has told you today: “You are the best <your name> there ever was.” Be kind to each other. Create a new normal.
Tremendous Love & Thanks,