Photographer Adrien Bisson came to my studio to do a photo shoot recently. I had the bubonic plague (I kid you not — a certain strain of virus has hit Massachusetts and sent three people I know to the hospital with pneumonia and broken ribs from coughing!)
For some reason, I decided to go through with the photo shoot and not postpone it. Adrien spent a couple of hours taking shots, setting up lights, finding the right angles. I had KD Lang on the stereo. Adrien used to be a musician, and I realized I should be playing music that made him feel comfortable and creative and flowy. (My music was just depressing me, anyway, but nobody, not even KD could get through the fog of my sickness). I put on Edith Piaf, and the throaty voice of the French singer filled the studio.
Still I was feeling pretty awful. I’d chosen the wrong clothes to wear, because I was too sick to think. I couldn’t breathe. I was sweating with fever. I felt like sobbing like a baby.
Despite all of this, Adrien was able to get some good shots. In the end, after it was all over, I felt strangely healed. Adrien has a good way of ‘seeing’ you. I felt like my rough self had been ‘seen’. My vague, unfocused self. My despairing self. My friend Leah has a similar gift. She sees your darkness and not only allows it but honors it. I get so tired of all these ‘smiling happy’ people, all these gluey faced robots.
What does this have to do with writing? If you’re writing memoir, SEE the others in your novel. See their good bits, see their ugly bits. See them. Don’t stay on the surface. I gasp for a single breath of the realistic conveyance of a single real person. I need it like air.
If you write fiction, don’t create a shallow person. Give them their darkness. Let them live their whole life. How much you could heal the world that way.