Monday, September 26, 2011

reflections on of wyrms and women pt 15

The hardest part of putting an old project online is going through with posting the parts i find embarrassing. i think this section about Sam & Nora was one of the earliest, influenced by reading lots of novels where the lives of grown women are shaped by the terrible shit that happened to them as little girls (Ann-Marie MacDonald's novels are the perfect example, I had read them as an undergraduate student, written about how the dead women in her novels become screens for the projected anxieties of the people around them.). Bad things happening to little girls is a tactic that Star Trek uses when its time for a teary episode. It's an easy way to generate emotion. But i committed to putting up the manuscript as it exists without alterations, and i think its important to reflect on how and why my position on this particular scene has changed.

One thing i no longer like about this tactic in terms of literature is the direct causation: Sam was maybe abused by her best friend who herself was being abused, so she becomes a dysfunctional adult. It's predictable. If i were to rewrite now, there would be no childhood trauma. Sam would be allowed to just be depressed and lethargic and uncertain without an obvious cause. Nora would probably just disappear from the story. Or she'd be a very different character.

At the time, though, i thought this kind of scene was necessary to establish character. A glimpse at a past that hints at abuse. Sam's mother's reaction here is off, too. She's heard that there was abuse occurring in a household her daughter frequently visited, and she doesn't flip out about whether or not Sam was in the house when this was occurring, she doesn't ask if Sam knew what was going on or was herself a victim? It could be that Sam's mother figures she knows her daughter and would see if something was wrong, but it still seems like a very subdued, controlled reaction. And who is misreading the situation? Sam? Her mother? Both? This was meant to be an untidy scene, but it's too vague to work i think.

Besides, is Sam sexually inhibited because she's been abused by her friend or because she's an uptight narcissist. i'd like to think the second, but this scene seems to indicate the first. Which is a problem when the story is focalized through one character. i'm not certain anymore that well-adjusted Tia counterbalances the uncomfortable idea that sexuality is determined by childhood trauma, and that's not an concept i want to endorse. not to say that sexual abuse doesn't have an impact on a child's sexual development, it can, but there are a range of possible reactions and developments, and really this scene is too simplistic to address all that.

The point is that i now think that sexual abuse shouldn't just be thrown into my manuscript as a plot device or as an explanation of character. It makes me think about the way some comic book writers use rape as a shock mechanism to show how grown up and dark comics are now. Yes, rape happens alarmingly frequently in the world. But writing about rape requires awareness of the repercussions of how and why rape and the lives of people who have been raped are depicted.

Maybe a few years ago i wasn't quite so critically aware. Or maybe i was just not applying that awareness to my own writing. In either case, here's one of the instances where putting a first draft out into the world makes me think about taking a lot more time to refine future texts so that my stance on the literary & political worth of the writing doesn't shift quite so drastically upon later reading (though to what extent is that avoidable? hrm. makes me happy i was never a prodigy who published at 16, that's for sure).

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