Tag Archives: tragedy

In Extremis, De Profundis

I wanted to blog yesterday, but to be honest I spent the day feeling scraped out, hollow, raw. There was nothing in me worth sharing. Anything I might have written which didn’t express this reality would have been a lie, and it would have been a waste of the time of anyone who took the time to read it.

So I didn’t write anything. But today the hollowness has been replaced by a deep, gnawing anger. And that I can write about.

I am Caucasian. European. Irish all the way down. I don’t have any other ethnicities in my genetic makeup. This means I am freckly, pale, prone to sunburn, likely to be Vitamin D deficient, prone to depression and alcoholism, and a whole host of other drawbacks that come with being ‘pure-bred’. I can’t help this; I didn’t choose to be born to my parents, in my country, at the time I came into being.

Just like everyone else in history.

I have no right to claim any sort of kinship with any of the men and women who died on Wednesday in Charleston, South Carolina. I have no intention of doing so. Their struggle, and the struggle of Black people in America on a daily basis, is not mine. But I am still a human being, and just because I have no part to play in their efforts doesn’t mean I am not allowed to feel compassion for those efforts, and to feel devastated and sick at what happened in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. And I do feel devastated and sick. I also feel hopeless. I feel afraid, though I know my fear must be of a different calibre to that felt by people of colour who face discrimination every day. My fear is more for the future of the human species as a whole, not for my personal survival. I’m aware there are people for whom fear about their personal survival is a daily challenge, and I wish so much that this wasn’t true.

That this atrocity happened in the same week as the tragic accident in Berkeley, California, which claimed the lives of six Irish students, is overwhelming. Such loss, and such destruction, and such sorrow, and it’s hard to see a way through.

Sometimes I wish there was a way to not feel things. Just sometimes, you know? A switch you could flick or a button you could push to cut yourself off for a while, like Data’s emotion chip in ‘Star Trek’. But if we could do that, would we have the courage to turn it back on again, and let the tide of emotion flood through us once more? Or would we take refuge in the coldness of disconnected self-interest, caring about nothing but what impacts us directly?

Well. I’m glad, in many ways, that I’ll never have the answer to that question, and I’m scared to think of all the people who seem to have that chip enabled all the time, the ‘I’m all right, Jack’ types who refuse to see or experience the interconnectedness of all humanity, and who have no compassion for anyone who isn’t exactly like them.

Why aren’t there easy answers to the questions of how we are supposed to interact with one another? Why do our basest instincts always come to the fore? Why do we allow greed and small-mindedness and bigotry to win out over simple, generous compassion? Why do we always live down to our lowest expectations of ourselves? Will we ever change – can we?

Jon Stewart says it better than I can. He says it better than most people can, I guess.

Horror

I’ve never been to Boston. I’ve never been anywhere in the US, for that matter. But Boston is a place which lives large in my imagination. When I think of America, I hear the Boston accent. I think of the streetscapes of Good Will Hunting, the pubs and the wide avenues and the laughing people. People who are proud of their heritage, particularly if it’s Irish heritage.

Image: blogs.uprm.edu

Image: blogs.uprm.edu

News footage of yesterday’s bombing of the Boston Marathon showed a fire truck parked not far from the finish line. Doctors, first responders, rescue personnel, police officers, the wounded and the terrified, thronged around it. From the ladder on the back of this fire truck a flag was flying; not the Stars and Stripes, but a flag that seemed so at home in this most Irish of American cities. It was the tricolour – the Irish flag. My flag.

The news from Boston was horrifying enough without the extra knowledge that some of the bereaved parents from Newtown, Conn., whose children were lost last December in another tragedy, were seated near the Marathon’s finish line. The twenty-sixth mile of the Marathon, as far as I know, was being run in memory of those who were killed in Connecticut. Injustice piled upon injustice for these familes, and the rest of us left to question: ‘Why? Why on earth, why would anyone do this?’

I would feel sympathetic and angry and horrified and sorry for those caught up in a tragedy like this no matter where it had taken place; my heart would’ve gone out to the victims, and to the brave medics and ambulance and fire crews regardless of where they were. But for some reason the fact that it was Boston which was visited by this terrible darkness makes it worse. The fact that a sporting event was targeted, an event in which people test themselves to find out what they’re made of, also makes it worse. The fact that it was a sporting event on a holiday in Boston, a day when families are out in droves, where children are off school and celebrating the onset of Spring, a day which should be full of joy, makes it worse. The fact that people who’ve already seen unimaginable tragedy should be caught up in it makes it worst of all.

Like everyone else, I’m trying to keep thinking about the massive response given by those who ran to help, those who ran straight towards the danger in order to find out who they could assist. I’m trying to think about the response on Twitter in the aftermath of the bombs, where people shared that they had room for a stranded runner to spend the night if they needed, or the numbers for people to call if they wanted to try to find a loved one, or how to donate blood in order to help. I’m trying to think about all the thousands of people who survived, and who will survive, due to the heroism of doctors, nurses, first responders and ordinary citizens. I’m thinking about how this Boston Marathon really showed what the people taking part in it were made of – not just in terms of their athletic ability, but in terms of their courage and compassion, too.

If there is to be any sort of ‘happy ending’ to this story, it should be that the majority of people are still good, and they still care, and they still want to help others. Their instinct is still to run towards those who need assistance, to try to think of ways they can help, to try to anticipate needs and fill them. No matter what happens, we need to hold onto this. Everyone has a role to play in making the world a more peaceful, and less horror-filled, place. Whether this is something as huge as drafting the law or keeping the peace, or simply being kind to every person you meet, makes no difference. We’ll never get there unless we are all pulling in the same direction.

Let’s all pull together on this one. Take care and have a happy Tuesday.

Writing Ethics

Today, something slightly odd is on my mind. Despite this, though, I’m confident that someone, somewhere, has thought about this very same issue and has come up with some conclusions, so I just want to throw this post out into the ether and hope for the best. In a lot of ways, today’s question is related to the ideas I talked about here, but I think it deserves its own post.

Here it is. Do you ever worry about the ethics of what you write?

A couple of days ago, I started writing a short story. It began innocently enough, with my narrator reminiscing about a lovely summer she’d experienced as a child, where the sky was always blue and most of her time was spent on the beach, or hanging out with her friends. However, as the story progressed I realised I was doing something rather larger than writing a short story. I was, in fact, talking to myself about something that had actually happened, a real-life tragedy; I was writing a fictionalised memoir of a very sad event that took place in my home town a long time ago. As a result I began to wonder if it was right, or fair, or proper, for me to take an event like that and use it as I saw fit in order to create a piece of writing out of it. I’m still not sure.

Image: amazon.co.uk

Image: amazon.co.uk

The very sad event in question involved a tragic accident where young lives were lost, suddenly and terribly. Of course, I realise that the story I wrote may never (and, for a variety of reasons, probably never will) be read by any eyes except mine, so the issue is largely moot, but the question is still nagging at me. Is it fair, or right, to make use of real-life events, particularly sad events, to create a story?

The story I wrote doesn’t slavishly follow each detail of the event as it actually happened, but creates a world where a similar accident takes place. Characters are invented, timelines are shifted around, and the people in the story are older than the real-life players. Nevertheless it is, I suppose, my attempt at fumbling my way through the jumble of emotions that I obviously still carry with me surrounding this event. I know most stories have a grain of truth somewhere in them, and may be sparked off by a real-life happening, but I’ve never before written a story which had such a firm basis in fact. I’m not sure it’s something I’d like to do again. I feel, in some ways, like it’s a violation of the memory of those who passed away, and that it’s disrespectful to their families and those who dearly loved them. Now that I think about it, I’m not even sure why my feelings run so deep. Perhaps it’s just because of the emotive subject itself, and the particular loss that I remember experiencing at the time.

Another story I’m currently working on features a child – probably about twelve or so – who is being bullied at school. I’m trying to create a story where the child finds the courage to stand up to his bullies, but I’m concerned about whether that’s the ‘right’ thing to do or not. Should a story ‘teach’ a child to take certain actions in the face of aggressive behaviour? Should the story fall in line with whatever is stated in the official guidelines provided by schools, or failing that, the State, or whomever else? I’ve written this story, and I’m happy with it, but I’m hesitating to send it around to publishers. I’m just not sure it’s right, and I’m also not sure if I should be worrying so much about this issue.

I realise writers can’t tailor their work to suit an agenda, and they have to write whatever they feel drawn to. Despite this, do any of the questions I’m raising here make sense to anyone else? If you’ve experienced an ethical dilemma in your work, how did you solve it? Do you even agree that what I’m describing counts as an ‘ethical’ dilemma? Writing shouldn’t be didactic, of course, but I think it can sometimes be a fine line when the audience you’re writing for is composed of children and their parents. While what you’re writing shouldn’t teach, or preach, I’m not sure it should exhibit behaviours or thought processes which would be alien to the children’s experience or their parents’ wishes either.

I think I’m going to put away my story about the summer, and leave it to posterity. It will be my private memorial to a quiet, personal pain. Even if it’s not unethical to write a story based around a sad event like this one, I don’t feel it’s appropriate to make work like that public. Perhaps I feel this way because of the nature of the event itself; I’m wondering if this whole issue is bothering me so much because the event is one that had an impact on my life when I was at an impressionable age. Perhaps tragedies that are devastatingly personal (as opposed to historical events, for instance) shouldn’t be made use of in order to create art. Having said that, of course, I didn’t set out to write a story around this particular event – it came, fully formed, out of my brain. So, if there’s something in my mind that needs to be said, who am I to deny it the chance to be expressed?

*sigh* Back to square one.

Opinions? Comments? Flying tomatoes? I’d love to hear your views.