Motivation for Muck

I’ve been thinking lately about something that Karen enjoys pointing out to me about writing. She’s very passionate about quoting (loosely) Jeffery Overstreet in saying that there are two reasons to jump into the muck in the story that you’re writing. One is to roll around in it and get dirty. The other is to clean it up. You have to decide which is your reason as you’re writing your story.

I was forced to re-visit this idea in a discussion after I wasted two hours of my life suffering through the cinematic chaos-fighting-chaos tragedy that was this year’s movie, The Green Hornet, in which a classic radio superhero is reduced to stereotypical American idiocy who gets his kicks from driving around and blowing everything up for narcissistic purposes (even in the end, whatever good he does is to better himself). While I could talk about the obvious snapshot of our culture that can be seen in this conglomeration of images that someone mistakenly called a film, I won’t give it the time it doesn’t deserve, because the commentary is unintentional.

In short, there was nothing redemptive about the movie. The entire two hours was one long jump into the muck in which everyone rolled around and got dirty. Destruction for destruction’s sake, disregard for good or evil in search of only the self, ┬áindiscriminate violence, 3rd grade humor. The darkness is glorified in this film, not portrayed for a reason.

I mention this movie not to review it, but to point out the opposite of what I hope to accomplish when I write…to sort of define by counter-example. Karen frequently points out that my writing is dark, and that she has a difficult time reading my fiction for partly that reason. She has difficulty finding a redemptive element, which is bothersome to me because that’s exactly what I want to make central in the writing. The darkness is there to show how amazing the light is when it takes over. We jump into the muck in order to show how much better it is to be clean than dirty, so to speak. That’s my goal in my fiction.

I also firmly believe Madeleine L’Engle when she said that the characters will tell the writer where they need to go, and that the writer’s job is to record the adventure. The protagonist in my current work-in-progress (the one for which I’m pushing so hard to make a self-imposed deadline of finishing Part I by mid-week) has experienced horrific trauma in her childhood. When I began imagining the story, and when this character appeared in my mind’s eye, it wasn’t like I had much choice to exercise in the matter. She is who she is at the time the novel takes place because of what happened to her in the past. Assuming that I can accurately record her journey, then there will be redemption of her situation as she explores relationships with others and her own sense of identity. Sometimes, though, its so difficult to write her flashbacks…because of the nature of the trauma…that I’m left struggling with exactly the problem I talked about above: I have to be so careful to not just get dirty when I jump into the muck, and so intentional to clean it out.

Because simply adding to the chaos, contributing to the noise, does no one any good, not even if all you’re aiming for is entertainment. As is so often the case, this choice is reflected in “real” life, as well. I’m in a professional situation currently that is really frustrating. In my mind, its too messy. My instinct is to withdraw from it, to pass it off as someone else’s problem, to compartmentalize my brain around it. I think, though, that if I were to choose to do that, that I would be rolling in the muck and just getting dirty. I’m not redeeming anything if that’s the choice I make. I’m not making anything better.

And, with a daughter preparing to join us any day now, I don’t want to leave any more of the world mired in muck than I absolutely have to. The more I try to take a hand in redeeming, the better a world she will inherit.

Photo Attribution: Sean MacEntee

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