Monday, 16 June 2014

Some words on violence and art.


Attention: this blog is not a real blog! It’s one part explanation of why there’s been nothing for such a long time, one part description of what is to come, and one part rumination on things that have been happening lately.

For those of you who don’t know, I also write fiction sometimes, but not very much because it’s difficult and I’m lazy about it. About once or twice a year I have an idea that I think is worthy of working out on paper, and a few weeks ago I got one of them in the night, just as I was falling asleep. The feeling of having a really exciting story occur to me out of nowhere is one of the purest joys I’ve experienced. This one came to me with lots of that excitement (which pretty much all my ideas have, at least at the beginning) but also with a complete plot and ending (which almost none of them do). It’s loosely based on a character arch from one of the many partly written novels I started and eventually gave up on in high school. I figured out all at once that it could work as a short story, with details that I’m better equipped to create now that I’m an adult with some life experience behind me. So I’ve been working on that, and since I’ve been writing it fairly quickly, I kept thinking it was almost done when it really wasn’t. In fact, now that I’ve just got the final, most important scenes left to write, I’ve realized that it’s actually a lot more complicated and tricky to pull than I thought at the beginning, and it might take some time/not work out at all.
            The story deals with street harassment, trauma, and the ways people think and talk about beauty. Shortly after I started writing it, a young man in California killed his three roommates and three women to fulfill his insane vendetta against every woman who never had sex with him (i.e. all women). It hit me very hard that he actually got what he wanted, albeit on a smaller scale, and that everyone was going to remember his name and forget anything meaningful about the people he killed. A few days after that, a woman from my work was murdered on her way home at night. And this felt even worse, in a way, because it just made no sense: the man who killed her didn’t know her, it didn’t appear to be premeditated, he just saw her at her bus stop and took her and now she’s gone from the world.
            It’s the kind of killing that you think doesn’t happen so close to you, but of course it does, and when it does you remember that even though you live in a first world country, in a nice area, even if it’s not that late at night and your bus stop is only 500 meters from your house, you could one day just be murdered.
            So I’ve been thinking about all of that while writing, and about all the obscenities that have ever been called out at me while I was alone and vulnerable, and the times it just irritated me and the times I was really afraid. I think that the story might be important because it has some things to say about that.

            However, it also deals with specific kinds of trauma that I thankfully haven’t experienced, and that makes me nervous. It makes me worried that I’m not going to do justice to the real, lived experiences of real people who might read it, and that I might hurt them all over again. I worry that I might be doing it wrong or for the wrong reasons. I think I have to write the rest of the story and figure out whether it’s good and risky, or just okay and risky, or actually not that good at all. So no promises just yet.
I think traumatic experiences tend to be easier to write about because it’s easier to get a draw a kind of beauty out of misery than out of happiness. It’s hard to write happy stories that aren’t just cheesy or bland. But after a few years of writing some fairly dark stories, I’ve decided that it isn’t enough for something to just be dark – it has to be dark with a purpose, and ideally with some hope in there as well. And it should be artfully done, because there is no point in putting negative things into the world if it isn’t art.
And besides all of that, when you’re writing about things that you haven’t specifically experienced, it comes with a set of responsibilities to the people who have. It’s about finding the line between exploring and exploiting trauma. I want to make sure I’m on the right side of it.

On that topic, my good friend Tom Augustine is fundraising this week for a short film he’ll be shooting in July. It’s called Long Time Coming, and it deals with misogyny and violence. I’ve read the script and I think it’s going to be a very important contribution to the discussion New Zealand’s been having on-and-off since the Roast Busters scandal came out last year. Tom’s been working very hard to stay on the right side of the exploration/exploitation scale, and I encourage all of you to have a look at his PledgeMe here and consider contributing if you can.

Anyway, alongside the story, this week I’m going to be working on an illustrated piece about something quite different. So all going well, you can expect a blog of substance within a week. Best wishes everyone. xx

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