Sometimes, a memory sears itself so clearly in our brains that we have no choice but to bypass recall and instead step right back into it. It’s Saturday night and I’m seventeen. I’m standing in the kitchen of a house I’m sitting, and I’ve just found out my two childhood best friends have been secretly dating. I’m trying to be happy for them, but I’m hurt. I’m seventeen, and being hurt about things is expected.
As that chapter closes, in the living room, another begins. In the DVD player, a different friend has delicately placed our rental of Atonement. It has James McAvoy and is a period piece, so we already know we love it. But as we move through the years of interpersonal drama and regret set to a gorgeous musical score and WWII backdrop, I learn something critical about myself: I love a good tragedy.
Only recently have I begun to pinpoint why.
I’ve always felt like there is a difference between being authentic and being genuine. We live in an era of authenticity–or thinly veiled marketing of what we want our “authentic” lives to look like–that demands we be our authentic selves, all others be damned. This is, as they say, the path to happiness.
But saying that others must accept you at your worst is akin to saying “I’m an Aquarius, so I’m unemotional.” You know that you’re being less than your best, and yet you wear it like a badge of honor.
Being genuine, on the other hand, requires that you maintain the same face regardless of your audience. It says “I’m not perfect, but I’m working on it.” It asks you to decide who you want to be, and then dares you to live up to it. This is the reason why being genuine is, in my opinion, the greatest compliment someone can receive.
But being genuine requires you to be vulnerable. You have to be comfortable enough to receive–and downright expect–rejection. It means you have to be willing to share your story.* You have to be comfortable letting your light shine, so to speak.
The Collapse Series began as a fun bit of fantasy for me to send to my girlfriends. Based on a dream, it cobbled together pieces of unfinished stories I’d begun again and again. Nothing really mattered; it was just meant to be a bit of an escape.
See, we escape into stories because they serve to highlight our own narrative. There’s a reason that the most purchased book of all time (and the Creation of all the Universe, by Judeo-Christian standards) begins with spoken word.
God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. **
This is the relationship we have with words, with stories. We know that we can use them to bring about change, that our breath can force out truths we dared not address, that our voice can do irreparable damage through our cruelty or–even worse–our carelessness.
As I worked on my stories, I realized the message I wanted to send was not just fun or fantastic, but empathetic. Though set against a background of gods and monsters, The Collapse tells the story of what it’s like to be abused, to witness tragedy, to experience trauma, to love someone who has experienced trauma, to live in isolation, or as an outcast. It asks how our fears cripple us, and what we can do to be better.
This is why we love tragedy; this is the uniquely beautiful purpose it serves. It would be easy to write a story where an awesome, diverse cast is able to band together and live in harmony, but through peace, we lose the relationship with the characters. It is through character flaws that we are allowed to safely learn. We are drawn to those people and stories that remind us that we are doing okay. That our story is normal. That we are all growing. That we are, in fact, beautiful people.
It’s our duty, then, to tell our own stories. It’s our duty, then, to let our lights shine.
*If you’re looking for inspiration in vulnerability, Que Sera, Sarah is a beautiful blog/serial story written by my most precious friend.
**If theology is more your thing, seriously you should read Long Story Short, by Joshua McNall.