Seeking My Best Self

trying to make sense of my life – and lose some weight

Dark Equals Deep – and other Writing Myths

Tragic and comic masksYears ago, I had a work colleague with a PhD in Philosophy. John loved to wax philosophic (who knew, right?) which drove many of our fellow managers CRAZY. Time equals money, and he was not quick in unfolding his thoughts. But I’d learned that if you were patient and listened carefully to his rambling tales, every twist and turn was pertinent.

My work day often began with some arcane observation from John. One day, as we were hanging up our coats, he turned to me and said, “It’s a myth that negativity equals depth. There have been studies, you know. Yet we persist in thinking that one who is pessimistic is somehow wiser than one who is optimistic. Don’t be fooled.”

It was a typical John comment. It also matched my observations. In my experience, negative people tend to be more narrow-visioned than positive people, which is why they succumb to a pessimistic viewpoint. They are LESS deep, not more.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well, because the same myth pervades the writing world, especially the short story genre. It seems that unless the tale is filled with sex, drugs, death, and unless it ends in woe, it isn’t considered worthy. Why does this perspective permeate literature? How did negativity become the standard of depth?

I’ve been told that this dour perspective represents REAL life.

Really? Whose life? Certainly not mine. Not the lives of the people around me. Have our lives held their fair share of tragedy and sorrow? Have we made poor choices? Traveled through depression, alcoholism, drug-dependency, suffered the results of poor decisions? Of course. That’s the fare for climbing on the earth bus.

But I’ve never considered ever-increasing anguish to be the natural course of things. When I’m depressed, I don’t dwell on the despair of Diane Arbus, Kurt Cobain, and Mark Rothko. Instead, I look at the lives of Gandhi, Mandela, Martin and Loretta King, Cesar Chavez – all of whom suffered at the hands of others, all of whom suffered from their own inadequacies, and ALL of whom chose to rise above their circumstances and strive for positive change.

When I get caught in the trap of negativity, I draw inspiration from the Peace Pilgrim and from the songs of Joan Baez, John Lennon and Mishka. Do I contemplate my circumstances? Of course. Do I spend too much time whining and worrying? Yep, yep. Do I write about these things? Well, you’ve been reading my blog thus far.

But I firmly believe that negativity isn’t the natural end of the story – of ANY story. I believe that hidden in the worst circumstance lies the seeds of heroism. That’s the reality I see. That’s the truth I strive to reveal, both in my written work and in my life.

PS: I came across an interesting comparison of the cognitive psychology of tragedy vs. comedy: Characteristics of Tragedy vs. Comedy. It supports my perspective. Which is why I offer it, of course. 🙂

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