One of my writer friends, Abigail Shepherd, wrote a post about sad stories, and I realized I had something to say about it, since a long time. Her post only served to remind me of it. Though my taste is completely different from Abigail’s, there’s plenty it has common with my views on sadness and literature.
“Sweet Tales of Sorrow” is what I want my first book to be called – a collection of bittersweet short stories (of which I haven’t written a word). Though I’ve put the word “sweet” in there, I don’t find myself writing anything that might make the reader smile, if you exclude a single piece I wrote some while ago. I read short stories and novels about sadness, particularly The Book Thief, which left me thinking deeply about the serious stuff in life after I was done reading it for the second time.
I’d decided I would become a writer who writes short stories. The ones I read were mostly sad, and with the deep effect that they had on me, I had come to assume that sad stories affect people more than happy stories do. I found myself reaching for stories that would break my heart. I wanted to read stuff that would leave me crying my heart out for people who don’t exist. For things that didn’t happen in reality, and tragedies no real living creature had to suffer. But I wanted those stories anyway.
I’ve read it many times on the internet how reading is an “escape” to a good place, a safe place. For some people, it is an acquaintance with reality – of things that exist and hit me with the truth they hold in themselves. We read them for the reality they bring us into and the comfort they provide and let us know that we aren’t the only ones. That every other person out there is going through his or her own personal Shakespearean tragedy. When I was a little girl, sadness hurt me. It pained me to see children begging in the streets or at the squares. It hurt even more when someone behaved rudely with poor people – old or young. I was devastated to see their condition, to know that I couldn’t help them, and to know that I had food and clothes and they didn’t.
These children and poor people keep popping up time and again. At times I’ve tried to ignore it, because they come to me when I can do nothing but look at them and pity them. So I turn away, and the more I turn away, the more I feel guilty for ignoring the sadness that lingers around. I thought looking away would help, but it doesn’t change the truth. It merely pushes it in the background.
As I grew up, I learned there were other kinds of sorrow too: of pain, of loss, of separation, of misunderstandings, of death. Sorrow was more than what appeared at the physical level. It was deep down inside us. It was out heart dangling from tight strings that swing and sway and finally break and let the heart fall down and crash into uncountable pieces of us, scattered in our words, in our tears, in the people we know and in the days we’ve lived.
I asked myself a few times what is the reason I want to write about sorrow – this inevitable, inseparable part of our existence. I find it disturbing and stay positive to drive it away, but it always shows up, like weeds that you have to pull out again and again.
Some say there’s no happiness without sorrow, that joy holds no value for the man who has never known what it feels like when your eyes turn moist and it hurts from the inside on a mental level.You need the heartbreaks and the tears to know what happiness is. I know it, I understand it, and I even accept this idea: that you can never have every day to be bright and sunny and filled with wildflowers and warm hands, but the part I don’t like is that there’s sorrow, and that you’ve got to deal with it. It’s worth the joy in the end, but not every sorrow is followed by happiness, and not everything that makes you sad is transient. Some of it stays there in the background, pricking you in the middle of happy days. That’s the part I struggle with. That it’s there. That sorrow exists. It’s hard to accept that it does.
When I re-read my diaries recently, I found telling myself to be strong whenever I wrote about something that saddened me. I told myself I had to be strong if I wanted to write sad stories. Now I realize where the trouble lies, and why I want to write sad stories. It’s to accept the sorrow. A few weeks back, as a part of my daily writing routine, I was writing about a poor little boy who had nothing, and as I further explored his story in the first draft, I found it difficult to make his story even sadder. I had to do it to him or the story won’t have meaning, but it hurt to put that kid in such miserable conditions, even if it was all fictional. It felt as if I was hurting a real human being.
It was hard, and ignoring it didn’t help, because as I wrote that story I kept thinking of all the kids out there who are going through the poverty I was putting my character in. That except for a few factors, the little boy and the real ones out there were very much the same.
And all this makes me think that maybe I’m a weak person. As I stepped out of my nutshell and explored discussions about books, the trend of strong female characters and feminism pulled me in. Suddenly I wanted to be like them – strong and independent. Independent though I was, it was difficult being emotionally strong. I broke down defending myself. It was hard not to cry at times when it seemed like I was speaking and everyone around me was deaf and no one was listening. I felt bad – bad for being emotionally weak, and although my life wasn’t a tragic one, it still felt like I must remain strong.
But it’s not easy and no one had really said that sensitivity meant weakness. Three years later I still sometimes wish I was a little less sensitive, but I’ve accepted that my strength as a woman is not defined my soft-heartedness. I’m not even old enough to be a woman.
Until before I read Abigail’s post, I thought us bookworms looked for the sad stories to be comforted and feel a little stronger. But turns out there are people who look for the happy endings too. I don’t mind them too, but I’m under the illusion that the more I read (and write) about sorrow, the sooner I’ll be able to deal with its existence.
I’ve sometimes found sorrow to be overwhelming. Like the time when I went to see my mother in the ICU on my birthday, and she couldn’t even lift her hand properly. I’d cried for like an hour, the longest I’d ever cried, the truth of all that had happened finally sinking in. I look back at that event in our lives with gratitude, for the change that it brought in our lives is doing us much good. Seeing my mother so helpless and inches away from death so early in life was something I’d never thought I would have to go through. I don’t know what I’ll do when death would take her away form me.
I don’t think about death. Or at least I don’t try to. It scares me. Spiders are a different thing. They can be avoided. You can’t avoid death. It will come. I fear it, like most of us do. I fear those I love will be taken away from me too soon. Or that I’ll be gone too soon, before I’ve done everything I want to. The only thing I don’t want is to have a wasted life. I fear the temporariness of things, especially of all of us who walk this planet. Perishable stuff.
I say it here and I’ve said it to myself a million times that writing about sadness will make me deal with it, but how? I don’t really know how effective my plan will be. Will it really work? Will it help me? I don’t think about sorrow all the time; I’m a positive person to an unbelievable degree, but when sorrow stands in front of you, this shameless creature that turns up everyday in the news and in people’s dry eyes and broken voices, you cannot push it away. You cannot tell it to leave, because it never will, and I will have to take him with me, accommodate it in my house of life, or the foundations will fall. I will have to, and I hope that someday, I do so with ease.