We hear about open-mindedness a lot in our culture. It is often viewed as a good thing, a virtue even. Those who adhere to traditional values on the other hand are viewed as the antonym of open-minded, and the enemy of diversity. While that certainly can be true, open-mindedness, like everything else must be tempered.
Being open to ideas, experiences, and other people’s beliefs is a generally a good thing. In a society that is so divided, a little more of that would do wonders to bring about healing. Not all ideas are equal. Some view all religions, political beliefs, and philosophies to be the same. If only people would understand that, then there would be peace, right? Not exactly. Many belief systems are destructive, and because we are human, even the good and true ones often get warped.
A balance should be struck between the hardened skeptic and the hippy that believes anything goes. Listening to people is always important, but that doesn’t mean their ideas are valid, in fact they might be very toxic to society. How much toxicity have we allowed into our culture for the sake of being “open-minded?” That is a question the reader will have to answer for him or herself. I certainly do not have the answer, but with all the dystopian media I have consumed along with the insane ideas now peddled as truth, I cannot help but wonder if fiction is closer to reality than I had thought.
Humor can be difficult. There is such a wide range of humor and what people find to be funny, it is difficult to pin down a concrete set of rules to go by. While that is true, it is also true that there are things that more people will find funny than others. I believe the root of successful humor is reality. Something we find funny is usually an exaggeration of reality.
I recently wanted an episode of “The Last Man on Earth” a show which I felt has gone downhill since last year. However, the last episode my wife and I saw came across as no where near the realm of funny but down right absurd. Now I’m not going to give away spoilers or details, but it came across to us as 4th-6th grade humor. I’m sure the comedy displayed on the show appealed to someone out there. After all it is still airing new episodes. For me it was so wildly sophomoric that I thought it was dumb and the furthest thing from funny.
This had me thinking about humor. As authors we need to convey a range of literary elements, and humor is one of them. When it comes to comedy, sometimes creativity doesn’t reign supreme. Instead, how funny something is has to do with reliability. We see the world through the lens of experience. Of course, not all experiences are relatable, and thus where the differences in tastes lies. That is okay, but when “comedy” crosses the line into implausibility and absurdity, that is when it becomes immature.
This is why over-reliance on fart jokes for a movie geared towards adults is typically frowned upon. Farting can be funny, but adults don’t relate to the idea that every fart is funny like a child would. For us writers, we must keep this in mind when we include comedic scenes. Not all my find our attempts at humor funny, but we should at least aim for the situation to be as relatable as possible.
In my last entry, I discussed victimhood and the culture growing around that. Pain is a shared experience, it is one of the things that all humans everywhere face. Most wish to avoid it, however more and more American culture appears to be embracing it, placing people into categories based on historical and emotional pain groups. A writer’s job is to pay attention to the world.
As stated in the previous blog. I completely understand that there is hurt that I don’t understand and can never understand, and at the same time I’ve faced things that others will not understand. That is the truth of being human. Pain is pain. Yes, some of it is more traumatic than others, such as seeing combat or being assaulted, but claiming that as an identifying feature accomplishes nothing.
There is a recent study that says teens are creating fake social media accounts to “bully” themselves. Is this how much we prize victimhood? Have we ended up creating an environment that favors those who define themselves solely by their pain that this has become a reality? Life is short, and as we argue about who hurts more and what pain is more legitimate, feeling sorry for ourselves, our life is passing by.
As I watch this unfold, I cannot help but feel like this is something that would be considered unbelievable if it was in a fictional book. Especially the part where teens bully themselves to get attention. If that was in a book I was reading, it would feel campy and forced. Yet this is the reality of the world we live in.
I’ve said before that a big part of writing is observing the behavior of people. This observation enables authors to be guided toward more realistic characters. One observation that has become very apparent in recent years is hurt. So many people appear to be defined by the past and the pain that was inflicted upon them.
We are emotional, sensitive beings, even people who care very little for others are still sensitive, particularly when it comes to their own feelings. I do not pretend to know about every type of pain and how to overcome it. I do not know what it is like to be a veteran with PTSD or to give birth to a child. I have not felt the pain of going days without food, or the hurt of being divorced. One thing I am certain of, if you are human you have been hurt.
Pain is as much of the human experience as pleasure. We have all felt it, and not only have we all felt it, we have our own personalized version of it. I know from my own experiences that there are things nearly impossible to get past. My wife too has endured pain and suffering few know about, and she has shown such a level of grace that it seems inhuman to me.
We each know pain, but not all of us are familiar with the same type of pain that may plague another person. That being said, no pain is too great to overcome. Yes, there are hurts that are beyond what humans were ever meant to endure. I do acknowledge that, but at what point do we become stuck and defined by our pain? There seems to be so many people that this scenario applies to. This is seen heavily in identity politics, groups of all shapes and sizes coming out of the woodwork screaming “What about me?! I have been wronged!” Yes, yes you have been. You know what? So have the people you think are against you.
If we identify ourselves only by pain and gather with those who shared similar hurt, then how can we grow? If we continually shout, “what about me?” when someone voices a concern. If we utilize a person’s race, religion, philosophy, or nationality to say they do not understand pain, what are we accomplishing? Nothing, nothing but more hurt and more division. There is no glory in victimhood, and ultimately it will lead to shallowness and loneliness. If we think our pain to be so great that we can in turn shout down someone else then that reflects more on us than anyone else, even if our pain is legitimate.
In a creative writing class I had several years ago, the teacher cautioned against writing in dialect. The irony was that at the same time I was taking an Advanced Placement English class that assigned several books written in that particular style. Throughout high school and subsequently college I have periodically read books written in dialect, and I can see why it isn’t common place anymore.
“There Eyes Were Watching God” is often hailed as a classic, and assigned in classrooms all across the country. I struggled to get through it, I could barely make out what the characters were saying. I love reading, obviously since I’m a writer, but reading books written entirely or mostly in dialect is an insurmountable challenge for me. I can figure it out, but my brain wants to fix the words which means it makes reading slow.
Authors are called to “show nor tell” in their stories, and writing in dialect is one way to accomplish that. To me, though this shows the pitfalls of relying too heavily on showing and not implementing it wisely. Sometimes, writing short bursts of dialogue, such as a few lines, might be a creative way to show a character’s accent. Writing an entire book that way is clunky. That isn’t me saying I claim to be a better writer than these classical authors, but I share this perspective to let others know that if they feel the same, they aren’t alone. If you are like me, then dialect can be not only clunky, but distracting from the overall plot. Thank goodness it is a product of the past.