I’m on a list serv, and one of the things we’ve been talking about recently is why we write what we write. To be precise, why is it that some of the very nice ladies on the list (and we are very nice ladies) wind up writing about some very dark things. It’s a question somewhat similar to the one that Dame Agatha Christie has nice lady extraordinaire Miss Jane Marple address at one point–Miss Marple comments that her nephew says she “has a mind like a sink.”
The comment has stuck with me, largely because I think it says something important about us nice ladies. Being nice does not mean being naive. Like Jane Marple, we have “minds like sinks”–we might be nice, but we understand that much of the world is not. Moreover, being nice ladies does not always mean we have led nice lives. Many of us have the battle scars to prove it.
What does this mean for us as writers? I can’t speak for everyone, but here’s what it means for me. First, it means that my writers’ palette holds some very dark colors as well as some very bright ones, and that on some days I just plain feel like writing in dark hues. Second, it means that to some degree I have lost my writer’s “virginity,” if you will–I no longer blush and stammer at mentioning bodily functions. I understand that these happen to all of us, and are nothing about which to be embarrassed. Some consider this coarsening, just as some consider women who understand and accept the needs of the body less refined than women who like to pretend they neither shit nor fart. Did you wince a bit?
That brings up my third point–having gone to the dark places in life means that I am a bold, fearless writer in many regards. I say things on paper that some find offensive. I understand that. But I write as I am, and I understand that there are those who prefer to maintain their illusions.
The last thing I want to say is that women with minds like sinks sometimes have had rotten stuff shoved down their throats to the point where they must simply spew. In my case, this writing doesn’t go beyond my journals. But such writing is absolutely necessary sometimes if one is to “clear the drains,” so to speak, and allow other writing to happen. Those of us who write the dark understand that there is sometimes a vast chasm between writing a scene and approving a character’s action. It is not the writer’s job to approve or disapprove of a character. It is the author’s job to create the character so convincingly that every reader can draw his or her own conclusions. The writer says, “Once upon a time this happened. What do you think about that?”
We nice ladies with minds like sinks sometimes write the dark not because we are secretly warped, evil caricatures, but because, for various reasons, we understand that the world holds dark as well as light, and we have chosen to write truly, and in doing so to shine some of the light into places too long kept in shadow.
About the art: The paintings in this post come from one of the darkest things I’ve done–a series of paintings documenting my personal journey through a very private hell. I started them as a therapeutic exercise, and then put them aside because it simply hurt too much to work on them. Years later I happened upon my sketches and discovered that while they still spoke to me, their message was quite different. I started the paintings as a way of lancing an emotional boil. I finished them because I had come to understand that even pain can be used to create something beautiful. The paintings have been published as Secret History: A Painted Journal, and the book is available on Amazon, and the art is available as posters at CafePress.