The Grass Is Always Greener
A title for the post seems appropriate. I never write anything rooted in where I am. Never.
I have written about: 16th century immigrants who become almost immortal; people trapped in an elevator after an earthquake; a woman who lives in a far future indian state who discovers an ancient AI; an aggressively predatory energy based life-form that requires a physical host; a bird person that falls in love with an android; a 19th century anthropologist who discovers that ex-slaves are actually crows who knew Prometheus; an assassin who has the steampunk version of a nuclear bomb built into his mechanical legs; &etc.
No middle-aged Scottish men with a family full of health issues, and a nasty case of self-doubt and barely caged itinerancy. Why?
γνῶθι σεαυτόν was inscribed into Apollo’s temple in Delphi. I had a friend who spent some time in an institution. We discussed this very thought. To help him he was being advised that there were things he didn’t need to know about himself. There are things that it is okay to bury deep within our psyche and ignore- or at least avoid. It’s a view I ascribe too. Freud would have us believe that we are all driven by the monsters lurking within our id, that whatever rational course we take can be tracked back to being an irrational response to some formulative experience (generally sex related, hmmm). It’s not so.
For many writers their hinterland is the seam they mine, the vein they open and pour forth unto the page. Dare I suggest that people who are not white, male, able-bodied and straight are more likely to utilise these experiences? Especially where they aren’t middle-class/income in background. Not all, of course, but what struggle do those who are not in that group (that great swathe of published writers) really have to draw on? What systemic, systematic degradations and abuse are they going to insert into their writing? It has given us some of the most evocative writing ever produced, and such is the state of the world it will continue to do so for as long as producing stories remains a way to communicate.
The other form of writing is a direct refutation of the author’s own experience. They seek to reach out, beyond, the life they have experienced and know. It gives us our best escapism. Stories, worlds, into which we can sink and not worry about where reality impinges. We can especially delight when the author is delicate enough to not smash our faces with an orthodoxy we either already see, or that they wish to see.
But is the best writing a mix of the two? I am increasingly of the opinion that in the vast majority of things there is a wide range that straddles the middle in which the best is found. We need outliers. We need the freaks and the straight-laced to show us where the edges lie, to allow the braver ones amongst us to edge outside the narrow boundaries we have been told are the limits. But mainly, we need writers to write about things they know, and don’t know. To give us insights into what makes us comfortable and what challenges us.
For me, I am challenged by what I don’t know, what I haven’t experienced, what I’ll never experience – but on some level desire to. For me, the grass is always greener on the other side. Maybe, I have to open a vein or two to let that grass flourish.