I haven’t done a lot of writing on this website. And yet I’m very grateful to anyone who takes the time to check it out. One problem I have with a blog is that I prefer to use fiction, narrative, to say what I am compelled to say.
The books that I’ve published rely on research into real lives that fit my pet themes. These themes always have something to do with integrity, which I define as the quality of actually behaving according to one’s ethics. I’m fascinated with the idea that humans are capable of having integrity, yet often choose not to. We excuse ourselves from making a serious effort to live up to our ideals, even though many ordinary people have shown that courage, honesty, and maintaining a love of life are not super human. They are choices.
In my first novel, there’s the woman who sees her Jicarilla Apache friends slaughtered and thus learns what evil is and that she has to reject it. In another story, there’s the woman who has to finally admit that her drinking has caused others to suffer, including the man who was hanged after he helped find her missing children. There’s the man in Careless Love who lusts after women so indiscriminately that he has sex with an axe murderess in her jail cell; but a thirteen year old girl gives him an opportunity to see his own bullshit. There’s the 19th century French doctor who faces up to his own part in a world of hypocrisy and exploitation after knowing a Native American on the verge of being his own people’s great shaman. There’s the 14th century Irish woman who passes through many identities before tragedy teaches her to give them all up and “honor what’s been lost and savor what one has.” And there’s the 6th century Pagan Nun, who cannot put her faith in anything but kindness. All of these characters move through self-deception and dogmas to see what is and to align their actions, as much as they can, with what they believe to be humane and noble.
I am not as good as the characters I create. And that is one of the reasons I don’t have writer’s block, but writer’s frustration. I don’t have the time I need and want to explore all the amazing examples of ordinary humans who have refused to succumb to their own or anyone else’s cynicism. I am not done teaching myself, through the stories I concoct, about how a person not only maintains, but develops strength and integrity in the midst of brutal and cynical circumstances.
I have one finished but unpublished manuscript called Bad Molly about a woman who comes through the Irish famine and ends up in the Territory of New Mexico as a laundress with the United States Army in 1860. Molly spoke to me many nights when I’d have preferred sleep, her hands on her hips, saying things like, “So when is that you think you’ll pull your sorry backside out of that bed and start writing this story?” Every fantasy she had, except about owning chickens, got soiled or nixed somehow, and yet she constantly demonstrated practical courage and expected it of others. She, no doubt, is very irritated with me now as I write this blog.
For example, I should be writing the book I’ve outlined about the daughter of a con artist and cult leader in 6th century BC Greece who inherits the secret that all dogmas are bullshit.
I should be finishing the play based on the true story of a man whose daughter was shot to death on prom night, and who ended up forgiving the boy who did it, a boy who grew old and sick with colon cancer in prison.
I should be outlining the story of a woman who survived the sinking of the Titanic to get a degree in bio-chemistry and work as a nurse in a World War I hospital on the French front.
This stuff is real. I don’t make it up. Or I don’t make the core of it up. I just stumble upon every day acts of awesome backbone and think that all of us running around talking about human nature as though it were license to lie, cheat and steal need to jump into narratives where people don’t buy that. People do amazingly generous and courageous things, which doesn’t mean that they don’t also pick their noses.
And that’s what I would continue to try to write about if I were writing.