Sunday, August 14, 2011
Human Beings First, Forget the Labels
The first time I had coffee with my friend and fellow author, Ray Ellis, I told him that my novel, All She Ever Wanted, dealt with racism. He looked at me for a minute then calmly and without judgment informed me, without having read a word of it, that it didn't deal with racism because there is only one race, the human race. It was a turning point in my life. I've never thought about racism the same since that conversation. That change in thought helped me find an even stronger conviction and desire to explore and understand the human condition.
As human beings we hurt, we dream, we work, we play, we laugh, we cry, we love, we hate, we fail, we succeed, and so on. Our feelings get hurt. Our bodies get hurt. Our relationships suffer obstacles. Our lives face challenges. This doesn't change because we happen to fall into any of those "labels" we use to divide.
As part of writing about the human condition, I research, examine, study, and analyze the human condition. I blog about my struggles to become the best me I can because I'm fairly certain others can relate. We all struggle to be our best selves. Some may think these posts are self indulgent, and I suppose some are to a degree; however, if I share my struggle with something and that happens to help someone else, then it's worth it. And, sometimes what seems to be about me is really about my observations of someone else's situation. Sometimes they are the things I wish I could say one-on-one, but I know won't be heard. Whether saying them in a more generic way reaches the person I wish I could say them to or not, maybe they'll help someone else in a similar situation.
I think all writers, especially fiction writers and poets, write about the human condition in one way or another. I tend to do it from the perspective of character growth while many write about it by wrapping the storyline around a social cause. Murder, rape, domestic violence, love, hate, romance, civil rights, and the list goes on and on are all part of the human condition. Even the criminal is human though in fiction it often seems like they're not. I've talked to and read authors who prefer to keep their criminals two dimensional, after all who cares what's going on in the criminal's head? There are readers who prefer the criminal not be humanized at all. I struggle with that. I can see their point... kind of. On the other hand, I have a real need to understand "why" even in a book. Even the bad guy had to come from somewhere. That's my need to understand the human condition.
When I write, I'm very interested in examining what makes the characters tick - every character. I want my characters to make people stop and think. Maybe to consider something in a new way. So I spend countless hours inside my characters' heads interrogating them, conjoling them, charming them, and listening to them. Sometimes I do this for days or even months before they make it to paper. Other times only for hours.
I think it would be safe to say I wrap my plot around my characters and the growth they will experience in the book. That's what excites me about writing. The idea of figuring out something new regarding the human condition and sharing it with others gives me a sense of fulfillment or at least purpose. Or even reminding people of something that has been lost in the stereotypes people tend to accept so easily. Or encouraging people to feel a little compassion and connection with a human being they might otherwise turn away from. I sure hope that my readers find my examinations of the human condition, whether in a novel, short story, poem, or blog entry, entertaining, interesting and enlightning.
Mostly though I hope my writing about the human condition helps people see that we really are all human beings inhabiting the same planet. We all have that much in common in spite of all the labels assigned us...
T. L. Cooper grew up on a farm in Tollesboro, Kentucky. She earned a Bachelor of Science from Eastern Kentucky University. Her poems, short stories, articles, and essays have appeared online, in books, and in magazines. Her published work includes a novel, All She Ever Wanted and four books of poetry. When not writing, she enjoys yoga, golf, and traveling. Currently, she resides in Albany, Oregon.