Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Writing as Revenge

Angry girl, Pablo Picasso

I heard some writer say, or maybe I read it... "If they didn't want me to write about them, they should have treated me better!"

Writer's write for all kinds of reasons, and revenge is probably on the top 50% of the list. If not revenge, then to "set the record straight."

 Yeah. That.

Trouble is, there's nothing more transparent and pitiful than writer's who write to get back at someone, unless they are highly skilled at what they do, and use humor, satire, or at least high irony to do it. If you have someone to rake across the coals, my advice is to wait. Maybe ten years. Maybe twenty. Wait until you have at least approached the ability to forgive, to see the humor in the situation, and to recognize that it is only one example of a certain category of human misbehavior. Wait until you can see your own culpability. Then you are ready to pick up the keyboard and play it for all it's worth.

You know that feeling after a verbal confrontation when your mind went blank? (Writers can be surprisingly bad at verbal repartee!)  And then all the things that you could have said start running through your head? The first hundred or two-hundred things you think of are going to be really dumb. If you have any sense, you'll be glad you didn't let them spill out. 

But ten years later, even twenty, that situation may come back, and you'll finally be ready to demolish the opposition. They may be dead and gone, but that's OK. Because as Dorothy Parker once said, "Writing Well is the Best Revenge," and you can't write well without some perspective.  Otherwise you might waste a lot of ink on projects like this...

Not that there's anything wrong with rushing to judgment. That's what journals and morning pages are for; sorting out all that crap in your head. It takes much, much longer than you might imagine to get that crap sorted. Some people die full of it, still complaining about their mother, their math teacher, the bully on the corner. 

It's not always easy to let go of these things, but if you never clear the deck of most of them, they will muddy up your ability to write with any kind of perspective.

Writing, at least good writing, is always transformative, both to the writer and to the reader. Revenge is the ultimate in stuckness, though it is an excellent subject in itself. Seeing what happens to a character when their prime motivation is revenge, is one of the more compelling plot premises. 

But few people want to read the rantings of an righteous and angry narrator or protagonist, unless it has a clear purpose, short duration, and is brilliantly edited.

So I guess, revenge will always be part of the writer's arsenal, whether it be personal, political, or ideological. Used sparingly, expertly, it can burn just right. Otherwise, the whole swamp might go up. 

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