I admit it—my writing usually hovers on the Dark Side. I’ve written about a lonely old man caught in an earthquake, realizing he’s prepared to die, about a destitute single mother whose vision is so clouded by guilt she imagines her daughter’s unhappiness instead of seeing the child’s joy, about a young girl mired in depression to the point she uses dreams to escape.
Geez, Elizabeth, why so serious?
In my defense, most of these stories end well. What makes a piece of writing a story—and not a vignette—is that change takes place. (It took me a long time to figure that out, so there you go. You’re welcome.) For most of my characters the change is a positive one.
I tend to favor serious subjects in my nonfiction, too. But last month I wrote something purely for fun, had a blast doing it, and the response was amazing. It’s kind of nice resisting the Dark Side—embracing a simple, light-hearted essay, making people laugh, and basking in the “likes” and “shares” and smiley faces. I want to be a happy writer!
Yet here I am, wrestling with a boy who’s on the razor’s edge of becoming dangerous, and he knows it. I feel for him, because he’s scared; he doesn’t yet know what he’s capable of. In the beginning of the story he’s discovered something pure and he’s trying to cling to it, although it doesn’t belong to him. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I want to find out. It’s hard. I’ve been working on this story for months.
And there’s this bright corner of my mind beckoning me with the memory of my daughter’s first volleyball game; it would make a great essay—uplifting, sweet . . . but no. The Dark Side prevails.
I guess I could blame my brother. I liked cheery pop music until Michael converted me to heavy metal at the tender age of eleven. As a preteen, thanks to Metallica saturation, I was concerned with issues of drug abuse (“Master of Puppets”), capital punishment (“Ride the Lightning”), and insanity (“Welcome Home [Sanitarium]”).
Then there were video stores, where Michael and I scoured the horror section looking for the most gruesome, sickening, and unholy movies available (The Gates of Hell, anyone?). I wonder what I’d be writing if I’d had an older sister instead. I probably wouldn’t even be a writer; I’d be normal.
I’ll have to remember to thank my brother.
Note: The above was written on Tuesday. On Wednesday I learned of a double tragedy at my job that became more devastating as the week went on. My brother, in an attempt to cheer me up, emailed a YouTube link, which I followed expecting something funny. He said it would be funny. It was a gory brain-eating scene from The Return of the Living Dead, which had me laughing through my tears, mostly due to the corny music and bad hair.
Thank you, Michael.