Today’s writing post is another oldie–from April 27, 2007. For various reasons, once I reread it this morning I started crying. I still believe, very strongly, that art saves lives. I have made it through two marriages now, and the Infamous Vampire Novel I refer to below has been sorta-published. But I still hold to everything I say here.
At my blog today I wrote about how deciding not to engage can save one’s life. Here, because I am feeling both introspective and ambitious, I want to talk about writing saving one’s life. Really, any art can save you, but writing’s what I know. So here goes.
I got my first intimation of the power of art while I was a teenager. I was dating a man seven years my senior, who had a taste for very young girls and using his fists on the same. Yes, I was stupid–but what fourteen-year-old isn’t? I had no means of measuring the threat this predator represented, and I had no other benchmark for affection other than abuse. As a matter of fact, the kid my own age I dated before that was so nice I got nervous and broke it off with him, because he didn’t hit me. It just didn’t feel right if someone wasn’t whaling on me.
So there I was, getting it from both ends, and I discovered alcohol. I’m sure I was drunk through most of my junior-high and high-school. I still pulled a respectable GPA–academics were, at that point, still a fun game for me and I have never lost my taste for learning. But I was desperate. There was literally nowhere I could turn. I had grown used to keeping secrets by then, and staying on top of this pile of things I couldn’t talk about was wearying, to say the least.
This was also the time I was reading (please don’t laugh) Uncanny X-Men. A LOT. Especially when Claremont was writing and Lee was drawing. The idea of being a mutant, with these fantastical powers and loneliness, was very appealing.
So I did what any redblooded junior writer would.
I started writing fanfic in spiral notebooks. Obsessively. I even cut back on the drinking so I had more time to write. It started out so innocently, a story about Wolverine and a mysterious assassin who seemed to heal just as fast as he did. Then there was the Colossus-Storm mix, because I thought Forge was a wimp and Ororo deserved someone nice. Then I started interjecting my own characters–Mary Sues and Gary Stus, to be sure, but they felt good at the time.
Things crept into my writing. Descriptions of punches I’d recorded in my diary, things I noticed about the world, snippets of conversation I’d heard. I cut back on the drinking even more to have more time to write. I wrote in the bathroom in the middle of the night, my heart in my mouth, sneaking out of my boyfriend’s parties to write on the porch, hiding my notebooks in my locker because my mother went through my diaries at home once or twice and administered a whuppin’ because of what she found.
The writing was always there. I could take almost anything because I was thinking, when I get by myself I’ll write about this. Fixing my attention on that was a disassociative trick to be sure, but it worked. It gave me a future to look forward to.
Eventually, the fanfic stories grew thin. I wanted other characters, I wanted other settings. I had this idea for a book…a fantasy book. And with my heart in my mouth, I tried writing it. Took me years. And I started not writing the X-Men stuff so much, and started writing other little slushy snippets of things. Here and there. Bit by bit.
I moved away from home and in with another boyfriend. That didn’t work out so well. I bounced around different homes, different relationships, writing all the while. An old friend died and I cried with my notebook in my lap, struggling to put the hurt into words so I could get some sort of handle on it–any handle would do, I just needed one.
I found it in the first few paragraphs of another novel–the infamous vampire novel, of course. Which, like the First Fantasy, will never see publication because it’s so sloppy and uneven. But my God, it felt good to write, and it felt good to bleed off some of the pressure of guilt and grief into the structure of a story.
I’ve gone through a marriage and a half since then, and the birth of two children. And several other life events. Writing has been there all the time–the friend that gives me strength to go on when I don’t think I can. The way of transforming the world to make it reasonable, or at least a little less scary.
A few Decembers ago I was in a bad car accident. (Twisty road, nighttime, a deer on its way home and me trying not to kill Bambi.) Hanging upside-down in the truck’s cab, one part of me was screaming in hysterical fear. The largest, Mommy-based part of me was calmly saying, first let’s get this seatbelt off and kick out a window.
Another part of me, the writer, was considering all of this and taking notes. So that’s what this feels like. Damn, it’s good material.
I was fairly calm, all things considered.
It all started with me and a notebook, the pen in my hand and my heart in my mouth, daring to do that most subversive of acts–tell my own story. To honestly and simply tell any story is an act of magic, an act of liberation. It is a lifering when you’re drowning, a way to scramble for higher ground when the water rises. It is sorcery, a way of remaking the world. I felt like a mutant when I was scribbling in those spiral-bound notebooks. Dangerous, lonely, and socially sneered-at–but with a secret power, a talent I could use for good or for evil, something I could do.
And each one of those words saved my life, over and over again. Each was a step up out of the abyss of believing myself worthless, a waste of skin and breath. Even today, each word, over and over, saves my life. It is a net when I’m falling, a rope when I’m drowning, a reminder to be calm when I’m in the middle of smashed metal and glass, smelling gasoline and so scared I can barely breathe.
I once received a fan letter from a woman who rescues elderly cocker spaniels. She said that some of my books had given her hope, that sometimes when she was feeling down about the plight of these poor dogs abandoned by their owners she could read them and forget, or read them and get a little bit of hope. Just a tiny sprinkle.
Because if writing can save my own life, and if it can give someone else a little bit of hope, then I consider it one of the greatest acts of magic I’m capable of. Getting paid for it is nice, sure–I have kids to feed, after all. But if something that saved my life can also give someone else a little bit of hope…that’s damn precious. If even one person feels the world is a better place because of this story I’ve told as well as I’m able, I consider my time on earth well-spent.
And that’s really all this writer asks for.
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