By Brianne McDonald
I think we all find our own ways to cope with trauma. Mine has always been, for better or for worse, reading and writing. As a kid it was my way of escaping a difficult reality that, at ten and eleven years old, I didn’t really understand or know how to deal with.
The first book I really remember reading was A Wrinkle in Time. I will never forget how deeply and honestly I connected with the main character, Meg Murray. Awkward, misunderstood, ‘ugly’ and struggling through the difficult and complex situation of her mysteriously absent father. Reading about her thoughts, her feelings, her exploits, I felt less alone and strangely hopeful. Suddenly the world held magic for down and out kids like me. Suddenly the world held the promise of something better, something more. All the heroes in my books came from humble, difficult beginnings (just like me!), and from them I learned what strength and courage was. I guess that might sound silly, but for a sad, lonely little girl, it was everything. Books taught me how to carry on; they taught me how to deal with a world that suddenly seemed too vast and cold to manage.
It wasn’t long before a passion for reading developed into a burning, visceral desire to write. Man, was I a dedicated writer at twelve and thirteen. I wrote pages and pages every day, filling notebook upon notebook with my imaginings and thoughts. I think my stories gave me a sense of control in a world where I had very little. In books and in writing, suddenly the world made sense; everything had a purpose, a meaning. There was a beginning, a middle and an end. Life, of course, is rarely, if ever, like that. In storytelling, all loose ends are expected to be neatly tied. There are cohesive and obvious endings. Whatever questions the story was initially asking should be comfortably answered so that the reader comes away with a sense of completion, with a sense of understanding. I often found the circumstances of my childhood so confusing that I clung to the hope that as the hero of my story, someday everything would make perfect sense.
Now, teetering on the edge of my third decade in life, I often think the only thing that I really know is… that I don’t actually know a damn thing. People and situations are never so easily defined and understood as they are in the stories. A writer is supposed to know their characters, their thoughts, their feelings, and their reasoning behind every action. I think a hard truth to accept is that none of us ever really know anyone, least of all ourselves. In fact, I think it’s our perceptions of others which, filtered through our own expectations and experiences, most often get in our way. When we decide who and what someone is, we are limiting who and what they can be. Which, in a sense, is what we do in writing –we limit, we condense, we over explain until the world feels like an ordered and collected place full of people that behave in certain ways.
My adolescence and early adulthood taught me that writing requires more than desire and passion. Ideas are cheap, and talent without wisdom only slightly less so; you have to know how to write something that sells. They say that nothing ruins a writer’s creativity more than paying them, and I think it’s pretty easy to understand why. When I was small, and terribly naïve, what I wanted more than anything in the world, was to write the kind of story that could touch and move people as much as my favorite stories had. This is hardly a new or special concept; I imagine most writers feel something very similar. But, without understanding it at the time, what I really wanted to do was… lie. I wanted to perpetuate the ideals of happy endings, of love that could conquer all odds, and of courage that could overcome anything. Honestly, sometimes I think we need the lies to pull and push us through the truth. More often than not, it’s the little lies we tell ourselves that get us through every battle we fight, when maybe the truth is just too much to handle. It’s probably for the same reason that some people need religion; the promise of better, the promise of more. Books, stories, words – they are my religion. Like a person bowed in prayer, I read my books and write my words because I need to feel as though this life has a meaning, that it has a purpose beyond what little I can comprehend.
I’ve read some fantastic, dark, crude books that speak to the anti-hero in me; that jaded, bitter voice in my head that reminds me that I’ve seen some of the darker faces this world has to offer. In these books I often find a sense of truth –a sad, broken sort of truth. I think that I write what I write to fight that dismal almost-truth. It’s my shout into the void, my battle against that darkness we each hold inside. Even as a child I understood that light often casts long, deep shadows. That there is sadness and loss in this world that we can’t prevent, that we can’t do a damn thing to fix. But I think we are offered a simple choice in this life, one that is entirely personal; do we perpetuate the bad, ugly, and hurtful – even if it’s the truth — or do we promote the good, the kind, the compassionate, and the strong? Maybe we have to sometimes tell a lie in order for it to become the truth. Those lies gave a little girl, and lost adolescent, the hope and resilience to meet each new day. There is a power in the words we choose to ingest. A power that shouldn’t be taken for granted, and one that we certainly shouldn’t underestimate