Tag Archives: writing

A Poetry Interlude

I never know how much context to provide preceding a piece of poetry, but here is all the context I’ll give you for this one. This poem was inspired by a friend who loves poetry and is herself a prolific poet. I myself do not do much dabbling in poetry, whether reading or writing, but I sent this poem to the friend whose post inspired it, and she compared it to an ee cummings poem, and that made my day. So here it is; I hope you enjoy it.

Safety First

Facebook tantalizes me with temptation: “Check out your memories!”
No warning label. Proceed without caution of any kind.

What is in my memories?
Sometimes pure, nostalgic fun
Tendrils and wisps of a more innocent, more slim, more confident, past self
Less weathered.
Less care worn.
Less filtered.
Less experienced.
Less empathetic.
Less everything, it sometimes seems.

Most often, though
the things that crop up are not things at all, but people.
Former friends. In the comments.

I went through a phase, you see,
in my younger days, when I realized
that Jennyfromthesecondgrade
didn’t really need
to see my every thought, picture, fear, or confession.

Facebook tantalized me back then too.
Unfriend, it whispered.
Annoying? Unfriend!
Over-Emotional? Unfriend!
Too Republican? Unfriend!
Too girly? Too sexist? Too liberal? Too Christian? Too atheist? Too cryptic? Too verbose? Too serious? Too silly?
Unfriendunfriendunfriendunfriendunfriendunfriendunfriendunfriendunfriend

 I created the perfect echo chamber,
full of those wonderful creatures who only think the way I do,
and now my feed is clear, concise,
. . . somewhat empty, and . . .
a little redundant.

My old friends show up faithfully, but only in my memories, and
Facebook tantalizes me still:
“Add friend!”

Oh, but Facebook. That’s one temptation to which
I won’t succumb. I’d choke
trying to swallow that much pride.

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Filed under bloggy, experimental, irreverent, writing exercises

Forgiving the Dead

My paternal grandmother died in 2009, and I struggled less with the fact of her death than I did with the way her death was treated in my family. I loved my grandma, had a good relationship with her, and was certainly sad over her passing. However, she had been hospitalized for six months before her death, so it had been rather a long time since I’d really had my grandma anyway. For me, her death provided relief. I was relieved to be free of the emotionally difficult and physically tiresome nights of hospital duty we all shared (though, admittedly, I’d been doing it for only one month of the last six because, before that, I had lived in Oklahoma, five hours away from the entire situation). But, more than that, I was relieved that she could no longer feel the pain she had been plagued by for the last half a year. One of the more difficult things I’ve ever done in my life is stand helpless in a hospital room while my grandmother cries out for someone to stop the pain, or for more meds, or for the nurse to be called for the fifteenth time in an hour; and then to watch her become completely crestfallen as the nurse tells her for the thirteenth time in an hour that, legally, she is not allowed to administer any more medication just yet. So yes. Her death, her release from her pain and suffering, was a relief to us all.

I knew – I think we all knew, in fact – that my grandmother was not a perfect, flawless angel. But her death elevated her to a level of sainthood in my family that no one else has ever attained. I wanted to remember my grandmother fondly, and I wanted to miss her, but the way some others in my family spoke about her as if she had been the most unerring, completely sinless human being they’d ever known was a difficult untruth for me to swallow.

I know reverence for and special pedestal placement of the dead is not uncommon. I know it’s the norm, in fact. Long has it been tradition not to “speak ill of the dead,” a precept likely based on the idea that people who cannot defend themselves should not be badmouthed. But my grandma is the closest person to me whose death I’ve experienced, and rather than mourn her with happy memories the way the rest of my family seemed to be doing, I chose to focus on her flaws, the things she got wrong in life, the ways she failed. I think this was a psychological attempt on my behalf to bring balance to what I viewed as sentimental, inauthentic blathering from my family members about what a wonderful person my grandma had been. I have never thought my grandma was not a good person, but it bothered me endlessly that many flaws we all knew about were suddenly brushed under the rug upon her death. I was angry and irritated by actions I perceived to be dishonest and fake. “DEATH DOES NOT A PERFECT PERSON MAKE,” I would write angrily in my journal, or shout to my empty house.

I did not understand why we couldn’t mourn her as she was – a loving wife who often kept her husband’s erratic behavior in sharp check; a meticulous keeper of house whose home was always clean but sometimes felt like a museum for all the breakables you weren’t supposed to touch; a fun grandmother who loved to laugh but also a stern disciplinarian of any of her grandchildren who behaved in ways she didn’t deem decorous; a devoted member of a pastor’s family who never gave up on her loved ones but sometimes did lose her temper with them; a woman who could appreciate a good practical joke but not an irreverent one; someone who loved to play games but stuck to a rigid and legalistic understanding of what the “sin of gambling” was (no playing cards allowed, but all dice games were, for some reason, allowed).

My intent here is not to paint an unbecoming picture of my grandmother. My intent is to depict a human being who was complex and flawed. Basically good? Yes, I believe so. But imperfect? Yes, certainly, if only by default of her species label.

But, after her death, my family appeared to have a tacit agreement that her shortcomings and flaws not be discussed. We must all pretend they didn’t exist, and that was not something that came easily to me. Yes, I loved my grandmother. Yes, I missed her. Yes, I would have her back on this earth and alive and healthy today were such a thing possible. But she had faults, and in the wake of nobody else acknowledging this truth anymore, I began to over-acknowledge it whenever I thought of my grandmother. Any time someone spoke of her in an overly sentimental way, I felt the need to combat the inauthentic-feeling emotion by remembering (to myself, not out loud) one of her mistakes. Over time, this unhealthy practice began to have the unsurprising effect of building resentment and bitterness in my heart toward my dead grandmother, mostly over tensions that lay between us while she lived but that I either never addressed with her or never forgave her for.

One such incident occurred when I was only nine years old. At that time I was the youngest of three grandchildren in the family, and the only girl. My family often joked that I was “the favorite granddaughter,” and even though I knew this was only by technicality of me being the only granddaughter (age-old joke that it is), I still took pride in being the favorite something, even if we all knew it was a jest.

The year that I turned ten, though, a new grandchild was born. Nobody knew the sex of this grandchild until the delivery day, on which my family received a phone call to let us know the news. My grandma was the one calling, and she asked whoever answered the phone (one of my parents, I presume), if she could speak to me. I, excited at the prospect of a new baby in the family, eagerly took the phone and said, “What is it?!”

My grandma’s voice came clearly over the phone, “Audra? Guess what?”

“What!” I could hardly contain my excitement.

“You’re not our favorite granddaughter anymore.”

I don’t remember what happened after that; I only remember the pervading emotion I felt.

What my grandma should’ve said, and what she meant, was, “We can no longer claim that we have a favorite granddaughter anymore because now we have two we love equally.”

But what an emotionally underdeveloped, nine-year-old, favorite-by-default granddaughter heard was, “You’ve been usurped. The new baby is now our favorite granddaughter, and you aren’t.”

Now, as I approach the age of thirty, I know that my grandmother meant no ill by her statement. I know she didn’t mean for me to be hurt, to take it the wrong way, to cry privately about it and build resentment toward both her and my poor, innocent baby cousin over the fact that I had been – as I felt, anyway – replaced. I also know that in her excitement over the birth of a new baby, and her desire to share with me the celebration of gaining another girl in a male-majority family, she did not take adequate time to ponder exactly how to word what she meant to communicate. Or maybe she did, and got too flustered to remember it correctly, who knows.

But I was nine, and I didn’t know any of that (at least, not for sure for sure) back then. And so the hurt festered, and the resentment and bitterness toward both my grandma and my only female cousin grew. My instinct now is to feel ashamed that it happened that way, but again, I was nine. I had no tools by which to process my hurt, or to articulate it. And thus was planted what may have been my first experience of my grandmother as imperfect.

There were other experiences along the way, and I wasn’t the only one to notice them. It’s not like there was a long list, and we certainly didn’t have grandma-bashing sessions; I’m just saying, I’m not the only person in my family who had tension or conflict with her over the course of our lives. My grandmother was a matriarch in every sense of the word. We all at intervals adored, respected, and sometimes feared her.

When I was between the ages of twelve and fourteen I had another experience that later cast my grandmother in a negative light. She was a pastor’s wife for almost the entirety of her life with my grandpa. And she was a very good one for her generation. She kept an immaculate house, she played the piano during services, she stood around greeting parish members after church until the sanctuary had all but emptied out, she was friendly and kind and remembered small details about the lives of the parishioners, her clothes were always pressed and clean, and she regularly entertained guests of all kinds in her home. She was truly the picture of a perfect pastor’s wife, adroitly executing her half of the “Pastor and Mrs. Marvin” career package.

But she didn’t always do it without complaining. Once, during a summer visit I was making to their home, I was following her around like a puppy after a Sunday morning service. I was ready to go back to the parsonage to sit around and do nothing (and get out of Sunday church clothes, of course), and I wanted to be sure I was by Grandma’s side when she decided we could go. I remember she ushered me out of the church building more quickly than usual that particular Sunday, not sticking around until every last person had been greeted, not running around cleaning up abandoned Sunday school rooms or dumping half-full pots of coffee in the kitchen sink, not bustling around and turning off lights as she exited each room.

I don’t remember if I asked for an explanation of her hurried behavior or if she offered it unprompted, but I remember what the whispered explanation was: “Let’s get out of here, quickly. If [church parish member’s name] sees me, she’ll want to talk, and then we’ll never get out of here, and I’ll have to invite her to dinner, and I don’t want to do that today.”

At the time, I remember feeling I had been given a reprieve. For the first (and last) time I could remember, I didn’t have to idle around the church building, waiting for one or both of my grandparents to wrap things up. We were going straight home, like normal people did after church! I had won a small but important victory, for I was on summer vacation as a young teenager. Wandering around church buildings waiting for my elders was not on my summer vacation agenda. Sitting around watching TV or movies at their house, though, was.

But I’ve never forgotten my grandma’s words or attitude from that day. They were distinctly inhospitable, and I’ve thought of that moment often over the years, most usually when internally searching for those negative ways to balance out the excessive sentimentality that followed her death, which I mentioned before. Never, I’m ashamed to say, did I also consider the fact that her behavior that day, inhospitable though it may have been, was also supremely uncharacteristic. Never have I considered why she might not want to get drawn into a conversation with a particular parish member, but as an adult who has been drawn into numerous conversations that I did not wish to be part of with fellow churchgoers, Twitter users, or coworkers, I can certainly understand the involuntary cringe that occurs when a person who is long-winded, or difficult to be patient with, or particularly rude, or socially awkward, initiates a conversation.

As a pastor’s wife, my grandma probably had few to zero outlets for her tiredness or inability to handle certain situations on a given day. Perhaps that Sunday she was extra weary. Perhaps she was thinking of the fact that her teenage granddaughter, whom she only saw a couple times a year, was in town, without parents or brother, and that she wanted to maximize the quality time we could have instead of spending it entertaining someone she knew would probably drive me to another part of the house in boredom. Who knows. As I admitted, I’ve never until recently considered what might have been her motivation. I’ve only taken what was most likely a weak, uncharacteristic moment on her part, and have mentally used it against her in the days and weeks and years following her death.

All of my built-up, unresolved resentment toward and frustration with my grandma reached a climax a few weeks ago when a few of us were cleaning out some of her things one Saturday at the house she shared with my grandpa. (We’ve cleaned her things out slowly over the years, it being both too painful and too much volume to do it all at once.) One of the things we found this time was an article she had written for and gotten published in a now-defunct publication called Nazarene Preacher. None of us in the party (made up of my parents, my grandpa, and myself) even knew she’d had anything printed in that publication. We’d never seen these articles before. My grandma was known by everyone in the family as an excellent writer, but it occurred to me when we found these articles that I’d never really read anything she’d written.

I sat down on the bed my grandparents used to share, opened the publication to the page where my grandma’s name was printed, and began to read. To be perfectly honest with you, the publication being called what it was, and my grandma being featured in a column specifically for pastors’ wives, I did not have high hopes for the article. But I was quickly captured by a voice that felt familiar, intrigued by a personal life story I’d never heard. This article, published in 1970, related the personal struggles of a young pastor’s wife, who worked outside the home to supplement the family income, and was also raising four boys, the eldest two of whom were teenagers in 1970. The article, in a very short space, contained a raw and honest account of my grandma’s assessment of her own shortcomings, her misgivings about her duties as a pastor’s wife, her self-doubt about her ability to meet the expectations of that particular and demanding life role. The farther I read, the more familiar the article felt. Even though I’ve never raised children and have never been a pastor’s wife (or even a regular wife, for that matter), I recognized the genuine reflection and introspection I saw unfolding before my eyes. It was the kind of honesty I usually only see…where?

…In my own writing, I realized.

The article ended on a hopeful note; one of encouragement to herself that also served as encouragement to any other wife or mother who might find herself in the same predicament of doubt on a given day.

When I reached the end, tears having welled up in my eyes, I was struck by the overwhelming realization of how alike my grandma and I are, both as writers and as people. Her familiar, inviting voice was my writer’s voice. Her honest, informal, good-naturedly self-deprecating, lay-everything-bare style was my style. And yet, I’ve not been externally influenced by her as a writer because that was the first time I’d ever read anything of hers. I’ve developed those traits naturally over the years. They’ve always been in me. I didn’t know until that day that they were in her too.

I took that article home with me, and I tear up every time I think about it or look at it. I forgave my grandma that day, for all her shortcomings, flaws, and general stains of character. And I gained a new understanding of why we don’t discuss them anymore. It’s not that we’re ignoring them. Nobody thinks my grandma was perfect. But she was part of us, and pieces of her are in all of us, and maybe the best and most faithful way to honor her memory is to cultivate those best parts of her that we find in ourselves.

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I Am Not a Turtle (Or, Lemme Outta This Box)

I no longer want to be forced into the introvert/extrovert boxes. 

I am way too much of both to feel comfortable choosing a side.

So please stop generalizing and cramming me inside those parameters.

Please and thank you.

I posted the above text recently on Facebook because so much conversation seems to revolve these days around the introvert/extrovert debate, and so many people excuse or explain away behaviors and mannerisms by slapping one of those labels on it.

However, I, for one, don’t feel comfortable being labeled and dismissed. I am not one dimensional. I am complex, and so are you. Sometimes I display introvert tendencies, and sometimes I display extrovert tendencies. Either way, though, everything I do overall is just an Audra thing. I do what I do because I am who I have become. Sometimes that matches up with introversion and sometimes with extroversion and sometimes it’s a combination of both and sometimes it’s something way out of left field that nobody has bothered to define yet.

I’m also tired of the fact that (as this Gawker article so hilariously pokes fun at) introverts want to be left alone but whine about being understood. Introverts scream for space but post a million things a day online about how to understand them. Introverts have more of an online presence than most extroverts I know (myself excluded), and yet they whine about needing to be left alone. What I’d really like to say to introverts is, if you want to be left alone, don’t remind us all that you’re still around by posting online forty times a day. Out of sight, out of mind. If you disappear, we’ll leave you alone. Promise.

The reason a lot of extroverts don’t have an engaging online presence is that they’re out in the world, doing something, being their extroverted selves. Introverts, on the other hand, stay home – because “that’s where they get their energy,” but then they apparently use up all that energy arguing with people on the internet because, by the time I ask them to hang out next, they’re too tired, and need alone time.

Now, all of that is a little tongue in cheek. However, my friend Elizabeth wrote about her introversion the other day in a kind, unassuming, personable way. A way that made me want to try to understand introversion, and her, better. And in the comments she and I had an exchange wherein she said:

Now you’ve got me wondering what it is that introverts assume wrongly about extroverts, though . . .

So I decided, without being a researcher, to write some things about extroverts that introverts either don’t know or don’t seem to understand. After all, if introverts are allowed to publish eight internet articles in the last month about themselves, surely the web can handle two about extroverts, right? (We can’t produce more than that because we’re outside, though, doing things. Case in point: Once I click ‘Publish,’ I’m going out for a run.)

Without further circumlocution, here are ten things that the word extrovert does not mean.

1) Extrovert does not mean limelight.
Just because I’m an extrovert does not mean that I want to be the center of attention at the karaoke bar, or the regular bar, or the work party, or anywhere that a large crowd is gathered. Enjoying being around people does not mean enjoying having all those people look at you and expect something from you all at once. Now, it’s most likely that the majority of entertainers and performers are extroverts, but that’s not a two-way thoroughfare. Being an extrovert does not mean one wants to be or is an entertainer or performer.

2) Extrovert does not mean Energizer Bunny.
Introverts seem to think that extroverts never get tired and never need a chance to recharge, which is simply not true. Our recharge times and activities may look different, or not take as long, but they are needed and important nonetheless. At the same time, though, extroverts understand that time does not stop, and the world still spins, despite the need to recharge. They are more willing – and possibly more able – to continue to live life in normal ways, pausing occasionally to recharge but knowing that optimal recharge isn’t necessarily always feasible. Extroverts are willing to run on lower than full battery for longer than introverts are because they know that a world where everyone shuts down at once would not be a world worth living in. (Take Mexico, for instance. They place prime importance on the afternoon siesta. When was the last time you heard someone describe Mexico as having a “booming economy” ? Or even the last time you heard someone say, “Mexico. They’ve got it figured out.”)

3) Extrovert does not mean clingy.
Yes, extroverts enjoy your time and attention. Yes, they probably make you feel like they would take as much as you are willing to give, but there is a limit. Just because you haven’t found it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Extroverts are capable of being discerning, boundary-observing human beings, and they do not need your attention 100% of the time. It helps to establish clear boundaries so that they know when and when not to ask you for quality time. And quality time is, in fact, they key term here. When extroverts are engaged in activities they deem quality – meaningful conversations, fun outings, etc. – they do get excited by that, and energized. Whereas introverts seem to have a mercury thermometer that starts at 100 and goes down to 0 beginning when the activity starts – no matter what the activity is – extroverts are able to discard the thermometer as soon as any interaction enters into the realm of quality. It is not interaction for interaction’s sake that energizes the extrovert. Quality time feeds an extrovert’s “feeling loved and worthwhile” bucket, so extending those interactions only makes it overflow, and who isn’t a fan of that bucket overflowing? Extroverts don’t want to spend endless time with everyone, so if they continue to want to spend lots of time with you, take it as a compliment.

4) Extrovert does not mean afraid to be alone.
Extroverts do not fear solitude and silence, nor is it always necessarily viewed as unproductive. Extroverts are not afraid of the proverbial dark. They are capable of being alone, and lots of them even enjoy it. For me personally, I have learned that my extroversion is better served if I live alone. I enjoy being out and about in the world, and I take opportunities to leave my house as often as I receive them. (When I lived in Oklahoma, for instance, my dog learned to train his bladder for long hours alone. I think the longest I ever left him alone was 28, possibly 36, hours. No accidents in the house. But we did stand in the grass for a looooong time that day after I arrived home.) The point is, I might go out six days of the week out of seven (or not, at this age). But when I come home, that is my space, and I have no desire to invite anyone into it. I am going to take off all my clothes and turn up Pandora really loud and dance around the house completely naked. Or I won’t. I’ll make some tea and cuddle under a blanket and read a book. Or I’ll sleep in my bed. Whatever I do, though, it’s important that it be done alone because once I shut my front door, solitude is what I crave.

5) Extrovert does not mean Party Animal
When I was a younger, springier chicken, going out six days a week out of seven might have meant carousing around and painting the town red (but, knowing me, likely not). But more often than not, for the extrovert, it just means being out and about and participating in life and the world around us. Going to a library function, an art festival, the zoo, a baseball game, etc. These aren’t grandiose affairs to be experienced once every six months. These are Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday. Just because we can handle being busy doesn’t mean we want to attend and get drunk at every party at every bar in the city. It rarely (if ever) means that, in fact. Someone who wants to go out to the bar every night and get drunk every weekend is not an extrovert. That person is simply 22. (And if that’s the type of person you’re trying to avoid, then do what the rest of us figured out a long time ago, and stay away from Kansas City’s Power & Light District.)

6) Extrovert does not mean attention-deficit.
Extroverts are totally capable of finishing what they begin. It’s just that doing so does not always feel necessary or important.

I hope you’re able to take some of my sarcasm and some of my truth and come to a little more of an understanding about extroverts. One time, I complained that I was tired of reading about introverts all the time, and how come nobody ever wrote anything about what extroverts need, and I got a response (from an introvert) along the lines of: “Because, you’re too needy, and you’re loud, so everybody already knows what you need.” Or something like that. It was a joke, I believe, but it felt careless too. The implication was that introverts know everything there is to know about extroverts, and that extroverts are easily understood because they’re shallow, and loud, and obnoxious. It’s true that some extroverts are those things. But nobody likes to be generalized.

And maybe everything I’ve written here is wrong. I know that I have introverted qualities. Supposedly being a writer is a sign you’re an introvert. (Whatever.) Maybe my explanations here are more true for me, someone who tries to balance identifying with both sides, than they are for blue-blooded extroverts. Take from it what you will. But my main goal is to help introverts know that, just as they feel the need to be heard and understood, so do extroverts feel the need to be un-labeled, un-boxed, and un-generalized. Because as soon as you make a generalization, you dismiss someone. And as soon as you dismiss someone, you strip that person’s dignity and right to a complex personality.

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The Myth of the Happy Ending

If I could get on a soapbox (other than this one, I guess . . . which would be silly . . . because this truly is my soapbox, but whatever), here is one thing I would say to writers everywhere: Don’t fear the tragic.

Writers tend to avoid unhappy endings. They think that a happy ending equals closure, and that does not have to be true. They also think a happy ending equals a happy reader, and that does not always have to be true either. Yes, stories often need definitive closure, but closure doesn’t have to mean happily ever after. (Whether a story really needs closure is a whole other blog post.) Writers have gotten this erroneous impression about the “need” for happy endings from readers who think that they want happy endings.

But readers do not always know what they really want in a story. And I think that by giving them what they think they want, we are insulting their intelligence and allowing them to wallow in a mire of mediocre material where they don’t realize what kind of literary luxuries they’re missing.

Let’s take a look at one of history’s most revered and respected writers – Will Shakespeare. If given ten seconds to name as many of his plays as you can, I’d be willing to bet this computer I’m typing on that in ten seconds, you could (and would) name more of his tragedies than any of his works from other genres. Heck, Romeo & Juliet is the first play that springs to most people’s minds when they think of good ol’ Shakesey. (And don’t comment and tell me something different. That just means you’re the exception or you’re showboating, and I don’t care.) After R & J, the plays I can name the fastest are these: Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, As You Like It, Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, Othello, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Though not all are tragedies, the first three are, which of course you should have seen coming because it proves my point, and why would I write anything contradictory to my point?

Shakespeare was a great playwright because his tragedies moved people (and still do). People get pissed off when they read Romeo & Juliet because anyone who’s ever been in a relationship that has lasted longer than a week knows that communication is the key element missing from Romeo and Juliet’s relationship and that their pathetic, dramatic, teen-emo-worthy deaths could have been avoided had they just had better communication or a little patience. (But then, where would the story be?) Still, it’s infuriating to watch these adolescent idiots moon over each other and make mountains out of molehills and end up dead because they let their hormones control them.

However, are not rage, annoyance, anger, infuriation – are they not emotions? Even if you’re sensitive (read: silly) enough to feel pity for the two lovers or mourn their deaths, is that not still a reactionary emotion? Has Shakespeare not stirred you? Of course he has! Which means he has written well.

I love the phrase character you love to hate because it describes a writer’s skill so well. There is a prime example of this technique in a movie I recently watched, He’s Just Not That Into You. In discussing this movie with a couple of my friends, I said there was a particular character (Gigi, in case anyone has seen it) in the movie whom I absolutely hated, and my friends both gushed that they loved her. I asked how they could, and they said “Because she’s so cute!” And I said, “But she’s so stupid and clueless and pathetic and annoying!” One friend argued, “But she’s supposed to be over the top. No one is really like that in real life.” Whether the character traits were exaggerated intentionally or not, the character still got under my skin and I still hated her.

Which means that the writers did a brilliant job with that character. Not to toot my own horn (but then, why would I have my own blog if I didn’t intend to do just that), but I think that my reaction to the character is “correct” and my friends’ reactions “incorrect,” in terms of assessment of technique. I don’t think viewers are supposed to love this character. If she is a well-written character and if the actress portraying her is doing what she’s supposed to be doing, then viewers should be annoyed by her because she’s absolutely ridiculous. In a movie, the ultimate effect is comical, yes. But in real life, nobody would want to be this girl’s friend. Especially not me. In essence, we are supposed to love to hate her. Which I do.

This is what tragic/sad endings are supposed to do as well. If done right, a tragic ending should anger the reader or make him cry, and if it does, the writer has achieved her goal. If you have a strong outburst of negative emotion that directly pertains to a scene in a book, then it should not matter whether you “like” to cry or you “like” sad endings. All that should matter is the fact that such a reaction was able to be evoked from you. If you don’t like to cry, all the better. Because I think it’s safe to assume that if you don’t like to cry, you don’t do it often. Which again points to the skill of the author who succeeds at making you cry.

An example of someone whom I believe fears the tragic is J.K. Rowling. If you haven’t read all seven Harry Potter books and don’t know how the series ends (and don’t want to), please do not continue. You have been warned. If you would at least like to see my conclusion, then just skip the next three paragraphs and pick up with the words I don’t respect. . . .

Before you get in a tizzy about the fact that I’m critiquing one of the world’s most renowned writers, please note that I am in no way disparaging Rowling’s talent as a writer. I think she’s brilliant, and I love her series. But I think she got afraid of where it was going and took control near the end instead of letting the story and characters take their natural course.

I would have loved to see her kill off Harry. Of course I love Harry, but that’s exactly why I was hoping he would die. My outpouring of emotion over the death of one of my favorite literary characters of all time would have been intense, and it would have been warranted and well earned. Now, I know that Rowling is no stranger to tragedy in her fiction. I know she kills off a lot of people, especially in her last two books, and I did cry over most of them. But what courage it would have taken for her to kill Harry, and what skill it would have required!

Writers who risk everything by being bold and daring enough to be willing to upset readers are met with a challenge that forces skill, determination, and supreme effort. And the ones who succeed are to be commended rather than decried. I still love Rowling, and I know my opinion in the literary world is worth nothing (but then, that’s why I blog about it instead), but I’d have really respected her a whole lot more if she’d been courageous enough to kill him. And I was superbly disappointed by her attempt at closure in her happily-ever-after epilogue. To me, that felt like a coward trying to hide his shame.

I don’t respect readers who say they don’t like sad endings. If that is really true, then they aren’t realizing their full potential as readers. To me, this is like the person who says he avoids dating or relationships because he’s afraid of getting hurt. This person isn’t doing himself any favors. Instead, by closing himself off from love or the possibility of it, he’s missing out on a lot of fantastic emotions and feelings and experiences.

I can neither respect nor relate to people like this. I don’t care if I end up hurt. Wounds heal, and a broken heart isn’t going to kill me. I’d rather have the laughter, the physical touch, the intensity of shared emotion, and the chemistry and spark that come from human connection. Tears always dry eventually.

So for the sake of their readers’ emotional education, writers have to be willing to break hearts. It doesn’t mean that everything they write has to be sad. But all writers should be more open to the idea of hurting their readers, and all readers should be more open to the idea of getting hurt.

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