I recently watched Hannah Gadsby's Nanette. It was amazing, but I'm not here to talk about that. I do want to talk about something she woke up in me. It has to do with her discussion of self-deprecating humor and how rethinking that changed how she thought about her art as a whole.
It helped me realize something about my own work, about my oh so edgy tendency to write stories about the monsters, where the monsters win. Like some asshole stuck in the grimdark 90's, I have this need to show the emptiness of hope.
I mean, happy endings are overrated. Right?
I used to write monsters because I wanted to understand why. I saw horrible things happening every damn day. Man's inhumanity to man. I don't mean to be flippant about it, but you know the deal. I'm also pretty certain that was bullshit.
In truth, I focused on the monsters because I've always felt that way about myself. I'm not being dramatic. I know haven't done anything absolutely horrific. I've never killed anyone. Never raped anyone. So far as I know, I have rarely intentionally caused any harm.
But I come from monstrous blood. I carry the dna of someone who did uncounted damage to my family. Nope you don't get the details. Yup, he was shitty. He also, as far as I can tell, honestly did not believe in what little heart he had that anything he did was wrong.
So, knowing that, I have to ask myself how much of what I said two paragraphs ago is true. Objectively speaking. I have to wonder how much harm I have wrought. I can't get away from questions of how many times I have fucked up in ways that hurt others. I have more answers to those questions than I prefer to admit.
So, I wrote monsters to forgive them their horrors. I drew out the horrors they inflict to find the humanity in them. To excuse them, in even the most minor of ways. Because if there was something comprehensible in the actions of pedophiles and murderers and transdimensional devourers of souls, then maybe it could be okay to forgive my own transgressions.
But forgiveness is not the same as being better, as making things better. None of this has been about improving the world. It's been about excusing myself.
That can't cut it anymore.
Ever since Seether kicked out that damn song that cut right through me four years ago, I've repeated the refrain. I've said that I all really want is something beautiful to say. And I've said that I just couldn't find it.
That was a lie. A cheap, limp, transparent fucking lie. I didn't want to look because that shit takes work. That shit is hard. That shit is fucking terrifying.
When Hannah said that she realized that self-deprecation wasn't humility, but humiliation, it rang a bell in me. It took a few days, but it clicked that my work with monsters wasn't humanizing the alien but dehumanizing the pain of the victims. It was taking the power of change away from them. It was the fictional equivalent of those 4chan douchebags that want to defend Nazis as an intellectual exercise.
Maybe that was what I needed in the past, but it isn't what anyone needs now. We have too many monsters and too many excuses for their behavior. We need something more than that. I need something more than that.
Over a century ago, Gilbert Keith Chesterton told us that fairy tales "do not give the child his first idea of bogey… that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness and stronger than strong fear." It's a lesson that could have been heeded more in his time.
I can't step away from my broken and beaten characters. There are few I understand as those who feel a lack of hope, after all. It's time, though, to concentrate more on ways for them to heal. It's time to spend the effort in looking for the ways we beat our monsters, interior and exterior, and use that struggle to make something better.
Fuck, will this be hard.