Friday, January 9, 2015

Awful Things

by Kelly
I read two quotes this week that set my little mind scurrying.
The first is by Kurt Vonnegut, author and satirist:
Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
The second is from Aeschylus’ Agamemnon:
πάθει μάθος  
(for those who don’t read Greek like me,  it’s usually translated “we gain wisdom or learn through suffering”).
When I first stumbled across these two gems, I smiled and nodded. All the most interesting characters in literature are the ones who suffer and then respond to their challenges in atypical ways. I love stories of perseverance, indomitable spirit and triumph. I’m moved or shaken by ones that show degradation or despair as a result of hardship.
Then I had an uncomfortable thought. Many of the best writers are ones who have suffered themselves and used their experiences to inform their writing. Rarely have I read about or met a successful author who grew up without a care in the world, was voted homecoming queen and upon graduation immediately created a Fortune 500 company.
No. Many authors’ life stories are full of hardship, trauma or abuse.
At first this struck me as foreboding, but then I realized what it really shows is triumph. These authors are the ones who overcome their darkness and shine a light for others, who expose suffering, apathy, hypocrisy or corruption through a memorable character and an irresistible story.
Some of them shine this light for a few, but other get to illuminate a truth for generation after generation.
All of us have experienced some form of suffering or heartache (even the prom queens). Maybe writing is the ultimate paradox, where a writer faces the demons, exposes them and then uses the experience to offer wisdom and hope.


Dean K Miller said...

One man's suffering is another man's pleasure. Some might desire to experience what another calls suffering. The choices and motivations are individualized and necessary so that we may write, paint, sculpt, speak, help, volunteer, etc. I could tell you about my sufferings, or I could simply show you where my life has taken me and what it has taught me.

Kelly Baugh said...

Very true, Dean. And beautiful too.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Kelly, this post made me stop and think. I've had a lot of challenges and trauma in my life but don't feel I've suffered any more than most of the folks I know. It's part of the human condition. Those who create the words and music that comfort us are the ones who understand that no one escapes, and everyone needs help.

Sarah Sullivan said...

I have to say, I think this is true in literature. Even in cozy mysteries there are many flawed unhappy characters. I could never finish a book that had nothing but sunny, happy, lucky characters. I don't think it matters if the author has suffered, although, as you say, wisdom often stems from pain. I just think you don't want all your characters to lead charmed lives.

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