A Message in Need of Translation

Not infrequently, I read books or watch films in which main characters reveal, through their words or actions, self-loathing and deep, unrelenting pain based on who they believe they are. Every time, I wonder whether the writers responsible for those characters are writing what they know. I realize these authors may simply be phenomenal writers, observers of the human condition who possess extraordinary insights into the minds of other people and who do not experience the pain they portray in their characters. But I suspect they write from personal experience and intimate exposure to the emotions about which they write. As talented and as gifted as I think they are, I can’t help but think the pain, the ugliness, the fear, and the angst that comes across in the book or film arrives to the consumer’s eyes and mind courtesy of memory, whether personal or as witness to someone else’s pain. The experiences I read about or watch may not be precisely the ones in the experience of the writers, but they are etched in the mind of the person responsible for giving them life. That’s what I think. Of course, I may simply not be as creative as successful novelists and screenwriters and playwrights, etc. If not, then my argument falls apart due to my lack of creativity.

Personally, though, I know that much of what I write rests on my interpretations of experience. The bad guys are, in general, people much like me. Not that I have done all the wrongs committed by them, by any stretch, but I am afraid I share much of their DNA. I try to redeem them by painting them as good people who do bad things. Ultimately, though, we have to accept who we are. If we do bad things, we must own them and their progeny.

That the preceding paragraphs might be considered incoherent drivel does not escape me. But hear me out. Until about three years ago, I did not consider myself a writer. I considered myself someone who liked to write. There is a difference. The former is one who speaks truth, even painful truth, by painting and describing the real world and bringing it alive through words. The latter is a hobbyist who scurries away when the pain of writing reality becomes too much. I have spent much of my writing years in the latter category. And I do not apologize for that. Climbing through a passageway consumed with flames is not something one does unless there’s a decent chance for survival on the other side. But these past few years I’ve been writing with the intent of chipping away at the stone that encases truth, even unrelenting, painful truth that burns like a branding iron.

How I write those considerations, how I make them play out, is what’s more important than who I was. Because writing about who I am and who I was will contribute to the person I will be. The future, always, trumps the past.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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