I enjoyed both The Benedict Option and Live Not By Lies, so I could be described as a Rod Dreher fan. I used to read his columns in The American Conservative every day because he is an engaging writer, his topics are interesting, and we share a similar horror at the disintegration of Christian and classical values in the West. At a certain point, though, I tired of feeling frightened and disgusted in my spare time.
Yes, I read enough bad news for work, which is fine. It is even necessary. Interest in transgenderism and the other letters in LGBTQ is a raging social contagion among Canadian 11-year-olds now, and this--I told a less frank family member--is why we fight.
There is a difference, though, between fighting for society and exposing your own pain to the public at large. I'm thinking about Rod Dreher's recent TAC posts about his upcoming divorce, which include this week's "personal crucifixion" piece, followed by yesterday's "miraculous personal resurrection piece," which I couldn't finish. At a certain point, it just seemed unhinged.
I have blogged on and off (mostly on) for 15 years, and despite the praise that I received after writing of my personal misery about this or that (insomnia while single, for example), I count myself fortunate that at first I focused so much on other people. That is, I looked up potential models for successful Single life and wrote for other Single people. When I was too miserable to do that, I wrote serial stories which released me from the prison of myself for at least two hours a day.
My entire life was transformed for the good by blogging, but by blogging happily and for other people. The moment to become a Dr. Taylor Marshall-style podcaster passed me by---and, really, as every wedding anniversary goes by, I am less and less a credible advocate for the Catholic Singles community. As a happily married lady, I may also be rather dull. Happiness is awesome but lacks dramatic tension.
Readers love dramatic tension, and I have encouraged my writing students to pile on the agony in their fiction. One is particularly adroit in this, putting his heroes through ever worsening disasters until they are dead or broken old men crushed by their own sins against the Fifth Commandment. However, I think writing of one's own dramas can be dangerous because it traps you in them. "Why I am still a Catholic" is not as exciting a read as "The Church betrayed me, and I'm outta here," and NYT bestseller author Rod Dreher is much more likely to bring the latter to the attention of millions of readers who have never heard of you.
I was never a fan of the Angry Young Man confessional school of writing, and I'm not a fan of the new Angry Middle-Aged Christian Man confessional school of writing. You do what you must to feed and clothe your families, of course, but holy cow. Men exposing their emotional pain--through their work!--was not a conservative value when I was young. And the men I admire most--including my dad and my husband--do not expose their emotional pain. My dad doesn't even complain about his physical pain, and if B.A. complains about his, it's from having a cold, not from having the sneaky remnant of a brain tumour.
However, freedom of speech, the right to make an income, and all that. I just don't think men writing continuously for the public about how betrayed they feel by other men and women (or God) is healthy for them or for society. Once, yes. Definitely yes. It may help others feel less alone and, more importantly, take the steps they need to heal, forgive, move on. But going back to that well again and again, no.
Meanwhile, I have discovered that one thing that makes me feel enormously happy--in fact, euphoric--is speaking or hearing foreign languages with a high degree of fluency, so I'm now going to stop this and study some Polish. I only thought to write about it because I'm worried about other excellent male writers I know going down the Exposing My Personal Pain path, which would rather interfere with my enjoyment of their writing.
"Readers love dramatic tension, and I have encouraged my writing students to pile on the agony in their fiction."ReplyDelete
I think there's a certain limit to how much agony is written about in fiction though. Sure, you don't write stories where everything is wonderful, because that's boring. Narratives need struggles for characters to go through.
I've read or watched stories in the past which I found emotionally exhausting. It took me a long time to even get through one tale because of how dramatic it was. I had to take breaks. You don't want your readers to feel like they're participating in a marathon. They might not finish or perhaps won't return to your story.
I think that writers who constantly expose their personal pain should instead privately journal. I could see them sharing what they wrote with a mental health professional though. Maybe later they could publish their experiences if they've come to a place of healing or have made significant progress in their journey. Readers could benefit from learning that someone else went through something similar to them and get advice on how to overcome these challenges.
Yes, that's what comic relief is about!ReplyDelete