Helping Others Versus Self Preservation

Creating characters in fiction is a fun process. It involves part recall and part imagination. Most characters are based in part on real people, or composites of real people, that the author either knows or has heard of.

In real life, our own personal character develops in a more complex way. Some people believe in karmic destiny, in which we choose or attract the circumstances we are born into based upon actions performed in past lives.

I don’t believe in that exactly. I believe that, like everything else, we attract and are attracted to people and situations that reflect our attitudes, emotions, goals, fears, desires, past experiences, and future hopes. I believe that our parents’ state of mind at the time of conception has a lot to do with what type of child they bring into the world at that time.

This happy (or sad) accident of nature and fate determines a lot about who we will become and what we will experience in life. It’s rarely all good or all bad. Usually it is a generous mix of both.

My mother told me that, at the time of my conception, she had been earnestly praying for a child. Welcomed into the world in a prayerful state, I have always had a religious/spiritual bent. She ate little meat during her pregnancy as well. Perhaps, as a result, I have always had a complicated relationship with meat, giving it up for years at a time at various stages in my life.

But the children we get, and the parents we get, also show up to teach us something. Sometimes these lessons are hard and painful. Sometimes early experiences damage us for a lifetime. But if we observe ourselves carefully, we can figure out what our gift is to the world. If we know what rejection, harsh criticism, and neglect feel like, for example, we can become that much more sensitive to how we treat others. We can gain special insights from less than positive experiences and share those insights with people who may feel stuck in negativity.

But, sadly, there are those who never do learn from their poor upbringings. Rather, they become permanently unable to cope with the rigors of life. They may push away anyone and everyone who tries to help. They may blame others, live in a fantasy world, and fail to ever grow. It’s a sad thing to see a beautiful human being spend an entire lifetime trapped in his or her own negative thoughts, perceptions, and actions, but it does happen.

Helping these people without becoming overwhelmed by negativity is a balancing act. You want to help without enabling. You want to hold them up, but not allow them to sabotage the good in your own life. I have found that using my mind to “think up” the right way to help doesn’t work.

Rather, I have to use mindfulness to feel into the right balance between helping others and practicing healthy self-preservation. In other words, I don’t automatically shun “negative” people and their problems. But, at the same time, I am mindful that a panicked drowning person can inadvertently pull you under for good.

Sometimes the best thing we can do is love certain people from a distance, and cheerfully encourage whatever progress they make. This doesn’t make us cruel. It makes us wise.

May you choose your companions carefully this weekend and have a blessed time.

Peace and love,

Raven

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The Importance of Journaling

Thursdays are normally my clean-up days. I wake up, straighten up for an hour or so, then go into meditation. This week, however, I stumbled across an old journal of mine. I’m generally not interested in the past at all, but I thought it would be fun to scan through what I had written.

I found an entry about an old boyfriend from years ago who wasn’t very nice to me. One of those things where you break up and the next thing you know he’s posting about introducing some woman to his parents. “Hi, I’m getting engaged!” “But, wait, didn’t we break up a couple of seconds ago?”

I care nothing about this now, but it was a bummer then. However, when I read what I had written about him, I realized that it wasn’t even a bummer then. In my mind, I had glossed over the negative because so much time had passed. When I actually went back and read my journal entries, it was obvious that we were in no way right for each other. If his new boo is the right one, I’m happy for him. Truly. Time heals all wounds (if you let it).

But time is also a liar. Had I not stumbled across that journal entry, I might have told myself a story about that situation which was patently untrue. The truth was written in black and white: Our break up had been inevitable. Only the clarity of hindsight made that crystal clear.

As a writer, the truth of any situation is what is most important to me. Memories are unreliable. How we remember something often has nothing to do with what actually occurred. Only by recording things as they happen, can we capture how we really feel in the moment – before time has a chance to come in with its airbrush and make it all pretty.

Our characters are the same way. What they remember in our stories will not be accurate. Show how that happens. And if you’re ever struggling with writer’s block, it can help to have your characters write a few journal entries. It helps us get inside their minds when we allow them to write about their problems freely, from their own perspective. Just open up a new Word doc and call it “So and so’s diary.” You may be amazed at what you come up with.

And if your characters are unhappy, that’s a great thing for drama! Have them write about it and get some juicy details flowing.

Happy writing!

Peace and love,

Raven

Twin Peaks and the Nature of Evil

The new screenplay I’m working on has characters that defy labels of “good” and “evil.” It has been interesting exploring their motivations and their desires. I have come to like all of my characters, the good ones and the bad ones.

I’m also re-watching the first iteration of Twin Peaks (1990-1991) and I’m on Season Two. As strange and unrealistic as the story is, the show really makes me think. As I watched LeLand, one of the hosts of evil spirit Bob, attack Maddy, I paid specific attention to Leland’s relationship with Bob.

As Leland is attacking Maddy, we go back and forth between seeing Bob or Leland as the attacker. Leland cries out “Laura,” and “my baby.” Bob, of course, just grunts and growls. But, if we are to believe that Leland is his true self for brief moments, and Bob at other moments, then Leland is not only bad when he is inhabited by Bob. He has seeds of Darkness within him even without Bob. Leland, the man, has an unhealthy (and unholy) attachment to his own daughter, whom Maddy reminds him of. So, is it really Bob who motivated Leland’s violence? Or, was it Leland all along – and Bob, the spirit, was just along for the ride because he had a willing host?

This made me think about real life. Are people evil because they’re just evil, or are they overcome by spiritual forces that compel them to do evil? If they are overcome by spiritual forces, then they will be horrified and remorseful once they come back to themselves. Leland is remorseful once the full weight of his deeds hits him. And I’ve seen criminals express genuine sorrow and remorse for their crimes (usually once they’re caught). They often are hazy on the details of their crimes. They remember just before it happened and right afterward. The doing of it is a blank.

Are they suppressing an unthinkable memory? Or, were they “possessed” by a murderous spirit that, in a sense, took them over?

I’m no David Lynch expert, so I have no idea what his intentions were with the show. But, my own take-away is that Leland is not some blameless vessel that was simply taken over by evil. He was a co-creator of evil who fell in and out of lucidity by choosing to ignore his conscience.

And that’s the point for me: evil is a co-creation. I do believe that evil exists as a spiritual force of sorts. It thrives where goodness is rejected. But, as humans, we have a choice. We can choose to embrace evil and negativity, or we can choose to embrace goodness and integrity. Evil is introduced when we choose to follow our selfish drives, and ignore what we know is right. That introduction becomes a way of life when we persistently ignore the nagging of conscience.

Evil, I believe, then gains a foothold in us through trauma, pain, and fear. These powerful negative emotions make us more vulnerable to outside malevolent influences as well as internal moral conflicts. What approaches us from the outside is eventually invited to the inside, as we submit to its influence. So, while we may hate that which is evil, we also must understand and have compassion for it, since the seeds of it exist within us all. We avoid Darkness by resisting it. But, the weak among us are unable to do so. Thus, criminals and “bad guys” are humans, above all.

This ability to view both the “good” and the “bad” guys with balance, compassion, and thoughtfulness is important for writers. One-dimensional characters are forgettable and false. There is some good in the worst and some bad in the best. Twin Peaks rises to the level of art because it recognizes the complexity of the human experience, and explores it in a novel and compelling way.

We, too, can infuse our writing with complexity if we approach both our beloved and our hated characters with the knowledge that Good and Bad are stereotypes. Real life humans are a mixed up combination of both.

Happy writing!

Peace and love,

Raven