A blog about writing and all things story…
Last week in a writing class at Hugo House’s Write-O-Rama, the topic of violence in our stories came up. I expressed
my view that there can sometimes be great intimacy in the act of violence, depending on the socio-economic, cultural and everyday life experiences being brought to the arena.
Now, there has always been violence in the animal kingdom and there always will be. But it can help writers (and all humans) to understand the sources, causes and events that may be underlying the reasons for SOME intimate violence in our society so that when we write about it we can write with truth and deepen our stories.
Many years ago I volunteered with an organization that helped battered women escape their abusers. One morning, before I became a world-weary volunteer who had heard it all, about 3 AM I sat with a woman who had just been brought into a shelter, blanket around her shoulders, black eyed, bloody clothes, and a fist of hair pulled out of her head where the medics had placed a large bandage. She clung to her precious two year old daughter. Both had red eyes and looked lost and terrified. We chatted while waiting for the police officers to finish their report. Something she said stuck with me, not because I hadn’t heard it before, sadly I had, but because I had never heard it from bloody swollen lips of a traumatized victim,
“He does this out of love.” She said. “I know I make him angry. I can do better.”
I didn’t know whether to cry or hit something. Thankfully the shelter’s staff counselor arrived before I had to say ‘the right thing’ which to this day I don’t know what that would have been. That beautiful little girl’s eyes haunt me. Will she replicate her mother’s journey? Will she feel responsible, complicit in her own abuse?
I later learned the woman had been a victim all her life, at the hands of her father, mother and husband – as is SO often the case. She was indoctrinated into the intimacy of violence and knew no other way. To her it was love.
The intimacy of violence can be intoxicating for a woman who was once a girl denied love, and instead was beaten, likely by her father who should have been the one who loved her most. What that young girl, now grown woman learned from that life experience is that love often comes at the edge of the fist of your most beloved. That woman who never had healthy attention, marries a man who beats her, learns to call abuse love, and continues this cycle of violence. This is why that little girl’s eyes haunt me.
Or, a boxer whose father beat him, and who gets in to boxing to defend himself and there finds he feels most alive, loved, vulnerable at the end of another man’s rage. It’s twisted, it’s sad and for many it’s all they love they will ever know. I’m not painting all boxers with the same brush, just the ones I’ve known.
In cultures, like ours here in the US, football, which by honest accounts is a violent sport, reaps the attention of millions of people every year, not unlike Rome’s Gladiators in an arena where they fought to the death for the entertainment of hungry masses.
While watching a violent game the opportunity to shout, scream yell, fist pump, belly bump and hug or fight is expected masculine behavior. In a male fan’s daily life that intimate behavior is rarely acceptable. Can you imagine a man at the insurance, banking, or law office belly-bumping or hugging another man, a fellow associate, without being looked at strange or possibly called gay? And there it is, the big fear, GAY, Homosexual – I think the intimacy found in violent sports often provides men from homophobic societies with the excuse to be close, intimate in a way that is objectionable anywhere else in their lives. Though this works great for writing comedy.
Affection among primitive peoples, like the tribes in New Guinea where they are loving toward one another, hug, hold hands and cuddle up around the fire in a childlike manner is almost laughable to other societies who misinterpret tenderness and friendship with sexual proclivity.
As writers when we can tap into the emotional landscape of a character’s secret world, then bring our reader into that world, we have hit gold.
What secret world, emotional landscape shapes a character’s life? How does that secret world effect a character’s choices and actions? How does the intimacy of violence impact a story?
I would be remiss to not offer help if you are reading this and feel you may be a victim of abuse. Please seek help. There is no excuse for abuse. No one should be expected to tolerate it.
Abuse can occur to anyone of any age and gender and from any walk of life. It can take the form of physical battery, emotional bullying, psychological coercion, sexual abuse, or neglect. Click here for more info, Helpguide.org
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