Saturday, March 12, 2011

Theme, Variations, Healing

Okay, anyone who reads a Carole McDonnell novel will find the same themes:
Abuse,
A married family within an extended family or clan
Physical, sexual, and emotional violation
Belongingness/inclusion

There are more...but that's just to give you some examples.

Now, Paul and St John both complained in their letters about people who had harmed them.
Demetrius the coppersmith did Paul much evil and Diotrephes liked "having the preeminence" and didn't allow John -- Jesus' best friend!-- to visit.

But those are letters, not really works of art.

In the same way, we have King David with his deathbed vengeance list and his grief at his own treachery toward his friend whom he had betrayed.

David manages to talk about his pain and the cruelty of his friends in the psalms. He uses his art to raise his pain to a high level.. Psalm 39, Psalm 37, Psalm 73, for instance, are not mere regurgitation of his pain. They are well-crafted.

Some of my issues have reached a place of art where I can talk about them without being aware that I'm talking about them. I don't really think about the person who harmed me. The rape stuff for instance. I was beaten terribly by a white guy who wanted to sleep with me in college but I didn't want to sleep with him. (Good little Christian that I was.) He was quite handsome and a good friend so his appearing in my room one night and trying to rape me and beating me up was something of a surprise. Weirdly, he pops up a lot in many of my stories -- he's Noam in Wind Follower-- and I have no hatred for him although I think he definitely affected my attitude toward men and sex.

I suspect without quite realizing it I've forgiven him. So although the effect of the beating is still with me it just becomes a part of the terrain I travel in my writing. My characters have sexual issues and are not healed. Like me, they are too sickly or too sexually wounded to enjoy any kind of sex. Yet that brings a uniqueness and a gem of healing to my stories. I used to sit there freaking out that I couldn't write good sex scenes, then I realized that there is no way my characters could enjoy sex...so the crap in romance novels where folks have explosive passionate sex just wan't gonna happen in any of my books. There is too much woundedness in sex for me. Because of this guy in college beating me up, because of my preacher grandfather, because my mother didn't want any of her daughters coming home "with the belly like all these poor American Blacks."

My treatment of the Wheel Clan in Constant Tower shows some healing as well. Really, there's this stockholm syndrome thing with my writings. I mean, on the one hand it's good for me that my writing is so... soo.. ambassadorial. As a black writer, I write in such a way that I deal with black issues in a way that whites can understand. I also tend to have a black character alone among whites and yet the story doesn't feel as if the black character belongs to her own tribe but to the white tribe. Ah, little oreo that I am!  But Constant Tower is so much about being wounded in the house of one's friends: whatever that house is -- race, religion, family, church, gender. I am very aware of the evil groups I belong to have done to me...and that awareness permeates my stories...yet.... I feel no need in Constant Tower to describe any particular instance.

But there are other instances --as in My Life as an Onion-- where I go into post traumatic mode and want to put the entire event into the story.  It's obvious I haven't forgiven because when these themes pop up in my stories and my characters actually start telling the exact story of what happened to me the plot gets bogged down. I've ruined many stories by trying to write about a certain incident. It's as if I feel I've not had my say on that issue yet, or that the person(s) who wounded me still don't "get" it.

So there is anger there. Or maybe not anger, but the need to explain...to have my say.  Which is human. But as a Christian, should I be human? And as a writer, can I afford the luxury of writing about certain things that affect my stories for the worst?

God whines a lot about Israel and Judah. In Ezekiel, he even calls them sister/whores who were jonesing for the hottie Assyrian/Egyptian/Ethiopian armies. I think God understands our need -- my need-- to tell my heart.

I think I'm creative enough to write about the variations of these same themes without boring folks to tears. I hope so anyway. Although there are moments where I say to myself: "Uhm, what would I be writing about if my in-laws hadn't rejected me? What would I be writing about if I had gotten along super-well with blacks? What would I be writing about if I had been a cookie-cutter Christian? Would I even be writing? Am I healed because I can write and walk the borderlands? After all, for all my annoyance with holier-than-thou smug Christians and judgmental smug atheists, racist whites and snobby blacks, I tend to be pretty even handed when I write about them. Stockholm Syndrome again? So maybe in some ways I am healed.

And I also think God gave me art to heal me. Not everyone who is wounded becomes dedicated to writing.  Will I write in heaven? We need drama on earth to work through pain. Journaling is okay, mind you...but something about fiction forces the wounded to look into the heart of the abuser. Anyways...singing I can see in heaven. Painting, as well. But will Constant Tower last in the heavenly library? Will it even be applicable? Who knows? But it's applicable now, I guess. It's healing me.


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