Friday, May 05, 2006

Experience & Civilization

I have a question. Actually, according to certain people, I should have that sentence permanently tattooed on my forehead because I always have questions. Good trait for a writer, I say.

This question arose from my watching Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee, a British mini-series based on Meera Syal's novel of the same name (which I haven't read). It was a really good show I thought, very intense, very emotionally real. Basically it's about the friendship between three women and how life gets in the way of that.

After watching that show, I got to pondering the ramifications of writers and experience. Is it necessary to have lived a lot of life to write with the emotional confidence I saw in that drama? Personally I don't think so. Some people have instinctively high emotional intelligence, while others don't. But that wasn't actually my real question - what I truly started thinking about was whether writers have to live in society to write good books, to interact and converse with others.

We've all heard of reclusive writers who shun human contact and produce shining works of art. Part of me thinks that that is a good thing - they can hone their words to razor sharpness without the constant background noise of civilization. However another part of me asks - how can a writer possibly write about people, about their hearts and souls, without being out in the world and observing the heartaches and happiness that move us as human beings?

I don't know if I'll ever have the answer to that question. Maybe when I'm an old recluse, I'll revisit the topic, but for now - what do you all think?


Susan Abraham said...

Hi Nalini,
I just feel that I have to attempt an answer especially that as a writer, I went through some deeply harrowing experiences (by circumstance & not choice) in these last years.
There was a time when I was really innocent in my outlook about so many things. And these in my younger years. Then I wrote poetry and children's stories from a natural joy of life. I didn't feel I missed out on anything because I wrote about the things that engulfed me with passion. When I look back that was a writing life full of bliss and peace and I'm glad I had that time. To me, it's a period that still radiates with light - a light from my innocence towards life in general. I wrote well and wih ease because I read a lot so I walked a different road entirely.
Then followed several years of deep pain and I couldn't write a single word - from being too preoccuppied with sorting out my troubles and from trying to heal myself of things that had happened.
Then one day, when I was almost out of the darkness, I found my enthusiasm and love for writing, returning solidly to me once more. Now I'm back to writing a novel and other things but my ambitions are major and higher, riskier and more dangerous. Perhaps it's also to make up for lost time. Now I write with the kind of a strange wisdom from hindsight and life itself but on this road, I have to scan through the earlier wounds to look back at material and to reflect on what I want to say. This happens almost all the time and worse if like me, you have a long memory. The remembrance of the suffering stays and as a writer, you have to find a way within yourself to lift your writing ambitions to a higher platform and sidestep the bad that the suffering can no longer grip you in any way however trivial. I have thankfully, managed all that.
But now I write differently and in a different way. Though I believe it still wouldn't hurt to get back that bit of magic and innocence I once cherished so long ago. It was an emotional innocence at the time, towards a more idealistic view of life.
At the end of the day, I think that no matter what the lifestyle, the worst killer is being trapped in a parochial community and a dull, parochial mind. It's better to have lived, I guess, then to have never lived at all. But best of all, to be extraordinary in the sense that a love for life and a passion to want to live it to the fullest, ensures that the imagination never runs dry. with warmest wishes,

Susan Abraham said...

Hi again Nalini,
I was actually focussed on the first part of your post which wasn't your question at all. Oops!
I think it's refreshing, nourishing and all of that to any human soul to be out and about (especially more so for a writer) enjoying life to a hilt with friends. You just never know what happens tomorrow. Although when you write, you write alone. Believe me, it's no fun being a recluse.

Milady Insanity said...

I think that it depends on how you write.

Me, I usually start with characters. I notice that when I start a new WIP, I don't like to read fiction. I don't much like people either--well, just more so since I don't like people most of the time anyway.

On top of that, I am naturally an introvert. The number of people I can tolerate on a daily basis can be counted on both hands.

JLB said...

Susan, I don't think you missed Nalini's question... I think you cut right to the heart of it. Writers can draw on both their imaginations and their experiences, and I believe that as our lives progress, we are naturally inclined to enter new and different phases of creation appropriate to our emotions and interests.

For myself, my writing also changes with my experiences, and while I think that Nalini has a point about getting out and actually having experiences to draw from in creating characters, I don't think that's all there is to it; rather, I believe it to be a question of quality versus quantity.

Like Milady Insanity, I might enjoy being as reclusive as possible, but until I just go hide in the woods and never see another human face, the truth is that I continue to have more than my share of human interaction. I may not have a swath of 20+ "friends" that I hang with, and I may no longer immerse myself at the office with 100+ people per day... but I do interact with people (probably more than I even care to).

I don't believe it's the "number" of people or experiences that we encounter, but the depth of our experiences that makes the difference in our creativity and creations. One change encounter, be it lasting or passing, can possess equal wealths of experience and emotion to draw from. The rest is under the jurisdiction of the imagination!

Milady Insanity said...

jlb, you said it!

Experiences can be as simple as eating a good apple, a fragrant strawberry, or excellent chocolate melting on your tongue.

It's not necessarily about climbing Everest or trekking through the Amazon basin.

Thank goodness, or every writer would need to work retail!

Emma Sinclair said...

Well, speaking as someone who generally prefers to NOT leave the house as mush as possible...

I think you're right about some people having higher emotional intelligence. For instance, when I do go out and about, I think I absorb more than, say, my physicst husband who really only sees the surface of things.

Like someone said, it's quality of quantity - how deeply you look at things, not just the number of things you've seen.

Nalini Singh said...

Susan, JLB, Milady, Emma, thank you for your takes on this.

Susan - I love what you said about writing changing as life changes, and especially this part: But best of all, to be extraordinary in the sense that a love for life and a passion to want to live it to the fullest, ensures that the imagination never runs dry

That, I think, is at the heart of it. How you live, what you take in from each experience perhaps, as JLB and Milady put it, not how much. Some people live more life in a day than others do in a year.

Emma - I love that example of you and your husband. Do you ever ask him what he sees? It'd be interesting to compare your points of view, don't you think?

Susan Abraham said...

Thank you JLB for your insight. And Nailini, I forgot though that there are/were famed international poets and writers who were languishing in prison (solitary confinement) for political ideals or the like, for the longest time. They survivived by writing esssays, poems and stories. Probably, some of their best works came from such an intense time. cheers,

Susan Abraham said...
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