Can you be happy and be a good writer?
Writing is tricky. Choosing those three words took me twenty minutes. I started by wanting to write about how hard it is to write... but it turns out writing about yourself is way harder. I’m very new to writing a blog, and I rarely talk about my emotions. At all. To anyone. So this is going to be weird.
I like to read stories about humans. Beautiful, messy, tricky, lovable, asshole humans.
How they exist in whatever scenarios we put them in. I like to think about the people who wrote those humans. Are they writing about everything they want to be or everything they hope that they’re not? I think it’s impossible to write and not be shattering and sharing every aspect of your soul in the process. Even writing this is killing my instinct to not be a self-obsessed, pretentious artist. But I can’t help it.
Everything that I have written in the past, came from needing to scream. I wanted to write words that just said everything at once. I wanted to be able to put into words exactly what Emma Thompson manages to do when she’s listening to Joni Mitchell in her bedroom before the night of the Christmas Concert. (I was told that I should make this reference accessible to those who don’t know what Love Actually is, but surely those people don’t exist right?) It would appear that listening to Joni Mitchell does actually help. Even if you’re the happiest person in the world there has to be something that makes you feel exactly what she’s feeling. I would write pages and pages of poems and dialogue that just highlighted every tiny flaw that I absolutely despise about myself.
Recently though, I haven’t been able to come up with anything new. I’m not saying that I no longer notice every tiny flaw that I despise about myself, but it just seems pointless to talk about. Like there are bigger, bolder things I could be talking about. I can’t continue writing my old characters because I don’t have the desire to splurge onto the page my pent up feelings of unrequited love, or dissatisfaction or anger; and the potential explanation for all this is actually rather unsettling. Am I happy? Am I now so happy that I am unable to go and moan about all the ways in which I believe I am wronged?
Most of my characters were sad because they were not loved. My characters felt lost and lacking in identity because no one loved them for who they were. Now I hear you all yelling: THEY SHOULD HAVE LEARNED TO LOVE THEMSELVES FIRST. Yes. You’re right. It seems ridiculous to me now that my characters were always yearning for gratification or admiration or validation from someone else; whether that be another human being or society. However, a little love from someone else to give you a little shove towards realising your beauty never hurts. *For all those who hate emotions, please jump a paragraph or get a bucket* I am in a relationship now, with someone who sparkles more magic in my life than can be found in all the Disney movies put together. We’re a team. Facing shit together. (I digress) My point is that when I was a “tortured soul” I could write, now I have nothing emotional/interesting/life changing/remarkable happening to me, I can’t. I’m not interesting enough, am I?
Are you more interested in a memoir than a fictional retelling?
Obviously there are so many ways in which I am not happy. On the surface, Emma Thompson should have been happy, yet something was clearly off. Not happy with the world, extreme dissatisfaction, anger and sadness about the way in which other people are treated or about the simple unfairness of life. These should be the problems that I am expressing in art. Does it matter that I am not personally experiencing these things? I can write to show unison with, or to stand alongside or show plight to any human or situation. Representation matters, but does it still matter when it’s done by a white, straight, relatively average woman who has yet to experience any great hardships. Even your own perspective or re-imaging of a situation is worth writing about because it is reflecting yet another aspect of society. You are adding another story to the plethora of outlooks in life. How a situation has indirectly affected you, does not make it any less valid than those who write about experiencing it first hand. I sound like I’m trying to convince myself, and I think I am because I’m in danger of forever feeling like a creative impostor. I can write about things I am passionate about, but do they lack validity?
I recently ordered two new books. The first is a memoir telling the stories of destruction, death and politics of the families of the IRA and the second is a collection of articles and essays written by undercover female journalists in Syria. Wow, right. Imagine having stories like that to write! Disclaimer: I never in a million years would wish myself or anyone else to go throw what these people are writing about, but you get my drift, right?
The other day I was listening to Ricky Gervais speaking on Fearne Cotton’s ‘Happy Place’ podcast. (I highly recommend this podcast btw, if you want to listen to adults being honest and this episode in particular was extra good) He was talking about how you can write about stuff just by understanding that you are creating art imitating life and in no way proclaiming that this art is what life is universally like.
You don’t have to be that philosophical about it, just ponder it, and when you ponder it you can understand it and make it a reality. As humans, we’re empathetic enough and imaginative enough to build a situation out of your own perspective and relate to it in some way. He also spoke about reaching a certain stage in your life when every major event that happens to you will involve great sadness. That really struck me. We’re going to reach a point when everything just hurts (metaphorically and physically).
Is it wrong to have a glimmer of “Yes I am finally going to have something to write about!”?
Maybe I can use my “happiness” to write about tough stuff. I can write about the fear of losing someone, or the turbulent trials of growing up a woman navigating the 21st century.
I’ll give you an example to explain my ramblings. In Mismatch’s current production, BLOOMERS, I play Gemma. Gemma has not yet decided if she is okay with being a lesbian. I cannot ever claim to understand what it might be like to be gay and facing people who still reject your very existence. But I can understand her confusion, isolation, turmoil and mid 20s identity crisis. In that way I am able to replicate and create a story which is a story different to my own. A human story, big or small, is what drives other humans. It’s why we watch them endlessly on TV, read stories about the most unspectacular folk and sit in dingy coffee shops and silently watch people walk by.
I am not sure if I have convinced myself in my own debate. I think my point is that I have moments of complete happiness. I have amazing friends, I get amazing opportunities and I am trying to make a living doing the things I want to do. (see jolly, rainy photo) But from that happiness can come a creative stagnation. Perhaps I can find a way in by imagining what would happen if I lost all the things that made me so happy. So maybe that’s the key, imagination and empathy are tools that allow you to write about anything, if you do your homework on an issue and spend time putting yourself in the shoes of the characters you are able to blend the experiences of others with your own humanity and produce a new perspective, a worthwhile perspective.