Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Art of Pain

Fiction, Suffering, and Cowardice

Pain makes people do strange things.

For me, that strange thing is writing.

Some of you may recall my bitter letter to Franz Kafka a few weeks back, in which I lamented about settling for fiction in order to avoid the merciless nature of nonfiction. From this, I imagine it would be easy to conclude that I am a disgruntled fiction writer who is dissatisfied with the genre I have chosen. But in spite of my natural, frustrated love for nonfiction, I must admit to you that I don't entirely hate fiction. I find it to have value on many levels. Sometimes, I believe, fiction can make us see reality more than reality itself can. Of course, here the literary criticism nerd in me immediately wants to delve into Viktor Shklovsky's concept of defamiliarization and the Aristotelian doctrines of art's moralizing potential, but I will spare you that unnecessary torment. For now, I will leave it at this: sometimes, we need fiction to make us look deeper at reality, and to wake us up to life's possibilities and purpose.

But for me, fiction has always been a shield. It's been my way of dealing with pain, even small pain. I take struggles that I've encountered, or seen those close to me encounter, and give it to someone else -- a fictional character. Only, I exaggerate it. Distort it. In my sadistic little way, I make the protagonist suffer more than me. It's strangely, wonderfully satisfying.

But beyond this sadism, there is also a kind of masochism -- albeit, a cowardly kind. When I encounter hardship, some stupid, creative voice inside of me says, "Oh my gosh, this will make an amazing story." I can't help but to see the charm in suffering. I find myself inexplicably drawn to it, desiring to shape it into something breathtaking. But understand, please understand: this isn't courageously facing my pain. It's distancing myself from it. Because, once it's on paper, dressed up in lovely little words, it's not mine anymore.

I guess I consider myself luckier than most, because I've found something to do with my tragedies: I turn them into a story. I crumple and twist them and knot them into a bow, until I've created something awkwardly pretty. I'm lucky to have found writing, because I don't know if I could deal with tragedy any other way. I envy the bravery of those who don't have writing and have to deal with the reality of their hardships--

--I'm so cowardly, I have to fictionalize mine.

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