This weekend, I was honored to be included in the witnessing of a boy become a man in the eyes of his culture.
The ceremony was warm with nowness– the intimacy of a family of many generations all standing proudly in the present, and rich with a culture as ancient and deep and withstanding as the sands and the seas.
During this time, I was also brought to remember lessons of humility and grace when dealing with the ambivalence of others–specifically, those whose viewpoints do not align with your own–those who would consider you an outsider to their world, despite how very within it you are, even if in a small auxiliary way, like a blade of grass underfoot on your lawn.
The two events I speak of do not coincide in the way that you might think–in fact, they had little to do with each other–but they did in fact happen close together. Such is the way of things.
I cannot say I dealt with the altercation ideally, at first. But the way that I ultimately chose to handle the ambivalence was the same as if the events had been connected–with grace, and humility, and with the understanding that I do not know all things, and no one else does either, and this is fine. This is working as intended. We’re all working with what we’ve got going on here, you know.
Of course, this made me look inside myself a little–a good thing to be done from time to time–and it made me think about writing eventually.
When we write, we want to be credible. Even in life, we want to be believed. Heard. But especially when we write, when we are creating worlds very different from our own, we are making a bundle of unspoken promises to our readers.
Firstly, that the world, even within the boundless stretches of our imagination, is real.
Secondly, that the people who live within the world are real.
Thirdly, that the world, and the people, are both real and coincide really with each other.
After all, no one in the story was beamed down before the first page was opened, rummaged quickly through a thick pad of scripting, practiced a few lines, and then jumped in not understanding the world they have been assigned to. They existed before the page, or so it should be heavily implied, right? It is a story about them, and their world, which is of course real and spinning somewhere, maybe. Hopefully. Or so it should appear.
That’s just a few promises a storyteller makes. There are undoubtedly others. These promises all assure the reader that what they are about to read has sprung fully formed, and correct, and is totally true.
So what do writers do when they want to be correct? We research and try to make everything connect. We argue with the words and with ourselves and with our characters, bargaining and rationalizing and compromising until it is correct. We know from being readers ourselves that if we can see the strings, then the magic is concluded. If we stumble on something that doesn’t make sense after following the promises that everything is functioning properly, we go spinning out of the story. We become outsiders again.
This is actually the biggest hangup in getting my writing done a lot of the time, because like any prudent action it can be overdone, and boy, do I overdo it. I spend so much time trying to be right in my writing that I often end up with a mess of words I believe even less than the original words where there were holes and gaps. I needlessly overcomplicate things.
We are all imperfect creatures. Even the people who might call themselves the best of us lie, and double back on our words, and say hurtful things–sometimes even on purpose. Sometimes we make it only too easy to see our strings when we are pointing out the shoddy infrastructure of others, and the moldy-lined duct-tape holding the frayed or splintered or broken pieces of ourselves together that we have not gotten around to actually fixing, either because we are lazy or busy or afraid to do so. Sometimes we tell people they are outsiders to our worlds when they are very much within it. Often do we forget about the other points of view that are not our own.
It happens. And then it happened. And then it is now. And soon is yet to be decided.
But this imperfection is functioning correctly, and as a writer, I believe one should learn to own this in their writing. Do not struggle indefinitely for that last right word. Don’t struggle so fiercely to have it perfect to the point where it does not happen at all. No one, not even people of fiction, can function within the idea of perfection. Perfection is, well, perfect, and has no room for improvement, does not need to move and breathe and live. Not like people and worlds and writing do.
Instead, strive to have it be your best in this moment. as the person you are right now, as both the things that you know and that you do not know. Try to be graceful and humble in your writing, just as much as, and no more or less than you are proud and bold. You don’t know everything, and neither does anyone else, and this is fine.
This is working as intended. 🙂