Date Archives December 2019

I Write When I Am Sad, and Hell is Other People

A heart never breaks all at once. It does so in parts, much like a good book. Each turn of a page reveals new horrors–new ways of experiencing similar pains–and as you read on you hold secret hopes that certain characters will soon exit the premises. At the same time you hope for others to return. You furtively eyeball the words of each page until they become blurry, looking for the slightest mention of a place where you might find solace. A sneak peek of what’s to come.

I talk often about solace because I am often looking for it everywhere–in temporary obsessions, in half-finished ghost stories, in other people. I have a tendency to lean towards others in my most desperate moments, and when that fails, to run headlong into text. Words have definitely indefinite meanings, and clumps of words can be manipulated to a heart’s content. They stave off sorrow, allowing a person to disguise all of their uncomfortable emotions with elusive statements and intimated double meanings.

I never want to write when I am happy. In fact, I have never met a writer writes when they are happy. The secret of a good writer is that, no matter how lovely or successful they seem or become, they are each struggling with their secret animal. Each one acts as a subtext hidden within the overarching narrative. We write because we are selfish, and it is our ambition to define the boundaries of where we lie and where others begin. Writing is the hunt for that secret animal–the fulfilment of our wish to tame it.

I read a single act of Sartre’s Huis Clos in high school without knowing it was the source of the oft-quoted “Hell–is–other people!”. But the more I think about it the more this seems wrong to me. Humans, whether in hell or heaven or purgatory or somewhere in between, suffer as a result of their own hopes and desires. They project their own wants into the story they are reading; when the ending turns out a different way they feel disappointed and upset. This is attachment, the Buddhists would say, to the material world. This desire is what ruins us, and what ultimately prevents us from reading the story as a good one.