Pouring Trauma Into Art

My wife watches a lot of TV. Not bad TV – proper shows like The Sinner, and Prodigal Son (a lot of crime dramas, actually). I don’t; and not because I don’t like TV. I watch a lot of bad TV – mostly reruns of Family Guy and South Park. But it’s just a huge commitment for me to start watching a show that asks me to get invested in the characters. I was also burned badly by Lost and Heroes, so I tend to just avoid TV altogether unless it’s something I can mindlessly zone out to.

But my wife loves getting invested in shows and characters, and particularly loves British TV dramas; I think they tend to be more realistic and showcase the human nature side of things more than most US television. One show she’s been particularly into recently is No Offence, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek police procedural set in Manchester. At one point whilst Googling the show during its playback (I was in the room and partially paying attention), I mentioned that the show’s creator and screenwriter had also worked on another renowned British show, Cracker, known for its realistic and often dark portrayal of police work and criminal psychology, and for its deeply flawed and broken characters.

What struck me, though, was that in researching this writer, Paul Abbott, I discovered that he himself suffered from an abusive and broken past. Amongst other things his mother and father both left them, leaving his pregnant seventeen-year-old sister to raise the family; he was raped when he was thirteen, ended up trying to kill himself, and was ultimately admitted to a mental hospital.

They say write what you know, and in Abbott’s case this certainly seems to hold true. Not necessarily the police part, although I’m sure he had plenty of exposure to the legal system growing up, but the repeated traumas of his youth.

I think many authors look for ways to express their pain through their work, and the same holds true of artists, and generally creators of all kinds. It can be a kind of catharsis, a way of exorcising demons that would otherwise take hold and control our lives. When I listen to Korn’s Jonathan Davis’ solo album Black Labyrinth, I’m struck by how personal the album is; whether he’s hinting at things or outright stating “I deal with things inside that would make anyone else go insane”, it’s an album full of pain.

All of us are molded and defined by the events of our lives, but often there are one or two key aspects that carry forward throughout our days. For me, it’s depression; even though I don’t always feel depressed these days, and my bipolar is largely kept at bay with medication, depression will always be a defining characteristic for me – something deeply integrated into my psyche and personality, and something that defines who I am.

When it comes to my creativity, this naturally comes out. In The Redemption of Erâth, the entire story is largely an analogy for depression, from the darkness of the world to the inescapability of fate that brings people together only to tear them apart again. It remains to be seen if depression can be conquered, or if it will win over the world of Erâth.

There are so many different traumas that we suffer through, and of course different people will react to the same type of trauma differently; what inconveniences some can destroy others, and where some will blank it from their minds to cope and survive, others can never escape the pain. Creativity – art – can be for those people a powerful way of dealing with that pain, a way of externalizing it so that it hurts – hopefully – just a little bit less.

Thoughts of the Unfinished

Last week I lost a good friend to cancer.

You can read my tribute to him at cmnorthauthor.com, but I really wanted to take a moment to reflect on what his death means in terms of the loss of creative endeavors. You see, for years we would talk about making and creating, during lunchtime walks and in snarky texts. We would discuss what we wanted to achieve, the difference we wanted to make, and how depression would often stand in the way of our goals.

But in the end, only one of us got there. For the last two years, his focus narrowed to simple survival. And while I wrote and published books, he slowly withered.

I know that I write to communicate; I write to help, and to change lives. With my fantasy work I might only do that in the minutest of ways – entertaining people, keeping their thoughts off the stresses of their lives – but it gives me a sense of purpose.

It also helps me come to terms with my own mortality, because of course one day I’m going to die, too. And I want to know that I’ve left something behind – something tangible, something to remember me by.

When I think of his death, I’m saddened, of course; I’m saddened for the loss of his presence, his influence on me, and I’m saddened for the grief of all those who loved him. But I’m also saddened at the thought of all the things he’ll never get to do. He’ll never play a new video game; he’ll never write his book. He’ll never know the ending of The Redemption of Erâth – something I would speak with him about frequently. All the new things that might have brought him joy will never be his to experience.

But they are still mine; they are all of ours left behind. There are so many new things yet to come, and old things never experienced, and it would be a waste of life not to seek those things out. I can’t pretend that his death changes my own creative endeavors; I had always planned on finishing my series, and writing more beyond. But maybe it gives a new flavor to my motivation: the knowledge that there are people in the world who may not have forever left to them makes me want to push forward all the more.

So if there is something that can grow from his death, let it be the experiences that remain in the world for all of us. Don’t wait until tomorrow to watch that movie, or write that book. Do something today, and make it matter: if only to yourself.

Because in the end, all we have are the experiences that form our lives. The day will come when you run out of time, when the only experience left is the final one that we’re all fated to go through. But until that day, live. Live happy, or live sad, but don’t delay it another moment.

My friend – I know how your story ended, and I’m sorry you’ll never know how mine does. But it will, and when it does, it will be everything we ever dreamed.