It occurred to me this morning that I write fiction because I’m a chicken when it comes to expressing my emotions. I just don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, including my own. I have always suspected my non-fiction writing to be a tad pedestrian. It’s not confrontational, doesn’t delve into deep emotions. I don’t assert wild boastful claims and god forbid I should use strong language. Read any writing tips article on Medium and elsewhere and you know I’m doing it all wrong. It’s got to stop! A good essay, article, or opinion piece needs to get down to the nitty gritty and be bold and truthful (but not ‘authentic’ since that is now an overused marketing trope lacking any authenticity). You want truth from me, right? I need to rip the fucking band-aid off my politeness — oh, how daring, I swore!
But can I? It’s not just my friends and loved ones I shield, and not only the reader’s feelings I consider, but apparently my own. I’ve happily used that tired old joke “I’m the Queen of the Nile” for years about myself. I wear it as a badge of pride. That’s me. Happily skipping about my small part of the planet, whistling a merry tune (or it would be if I could whistle), and doing my own thing without the burden of excess emotion, reflection, or even memory. I like to be a big, deep, happy lake where the wind wouldn’t dare to ruffle my surface. There is plenty of stuff there down in the depths, never fear, including some scary fish with big teeth. But all nicely sequestered in their ecosystem eating smaller fish, not bothering me on the surface. Sure, once in a while there is a little squall, or maybe someone casts a line deep enough to land one of those big pike, but in general I’m Lake Geneva. And god forbid I upset anyone I care about. My small writing audience consists of people I personally know. If I tell an anecdote that involves them, might I offend? If I reveal an emotion that makes them uncomfortable will someone drown?
In fiction, however, I don’t even bother with a life raft. I strap on the oxygen tanks and go deep diving. One of my favorite genres is horror. Even though I hardly ever read or watch horror I revel in writing it. God, I love to make my characters suffer. What terrible physical or psychological angst can I make them endure? How many have I killed over the years, murdering and torturing for the pure spite of enjoyable fiction? Ghosts haunt, corpses reanimate, and the apocalypse blots out the sun. Death rides a pale horse, and then courts a beautiful woman and lingers a while, spreading accidental pestilence.
It’s funny, when I read the previous paragraph it sounds like the recurring dreams I used to have. When I was younger clouds gathered over my emotional lake, threatening storms disturb the surface into rough waters. I was unhappy about a lot of things. I still didn’t talk about them, after all I might upset someone, but once my head hit the downy pillow it all came out as my subconscious tried to make sure I didn’t boil the lake dry. Before zombies were the horror mainstay they are today I was having nightly battles with them in apocalyptic landscapes both familiar and otherworldly. Sometimes there were lakes of molten fire that I had to cross with a motley band of survivors while the rest of the population were dead and ravenous. Or I was holed up with a couple of people in a house surrounded by the undead. Inevitably someone I loved would turn, and I would have to shoot, stab, bludgeon, or crack their skull under my boot like it was a rotten pumpkin.
I didn’t need to go to a therapist to know I was angry with the people I loved. Over the years I have learned to assert myself, and to shed some of the fawning behaviors that led to my anger. I turned it around, but I still don’t care to disturb the emotional waters. I am content being content. I like not looking back too far and dwelling on old slights, and I don’t worry too hard about the future.
Looking at my fiction, however, I can see now that there is still a lot of room for growth, and my subconscious is still making sure I don’t repress too far. It’s a powerful well to tap, all that hidden emotion, and I find channeling my feelings into my fiction a healthy creative way to deal with some of it. It seems to me, now, that I also need to find a few more ways to be okay with expressing some of what I’m feeling to the people around me.
Maybe being honest in my non-fiction writing is a way to begin?