Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Reflections of an ambivalent author

All right, I'm late again. And I don't even have Rick's excuse of a fried electrical system. Although on second thought...

It's Yom Kippur, the single most important day in the Jewish calendar, a solemn day of reflecting, taking stock and atoning for the transgressions of the past year. I am fasting (contributing to the slightly fried electrical system) but I am at home instead of attending service. I am supposedly reflecting. In between reflections, I am writing the next Inspector Green novel and have just finished a scene where he is attending a funeral in a church.

As I imagined Green's thoughts, it struck me how much he and I are alike. Since I created him, I suppose that's to be expected, but he's almost twenty years younger than me, the opposite sex, and has worked in the trenches of law enforcement for the past quarter century, whereas I have worked in the healing, conciliatory profession of psychology. There ought to be some differences. In our souls and our values, in our passion for equity, justice and compassion for the underdog, we are similar. So too in our less lofty aversion to bureaucracy, paperwork, arbitrary rules and bosses.

But now, as I write those latest scenes, I realize that we are alike too in our ambivalence towards spirituality and tradition. Green, son of a Holocaust survivor and mindful of the whispers of his past, feels uncomfortable and vaguely traitorous sitting in church listening to the priest talk about resurrection. He straddles two worlds, the often brutally secular world of his job and the murky, mystical lure of his heritage. The demands of the secular world drive him, consume his thoughts and his days, while leaving his spiritual heritage often forgotten. He is not fully at home with it - its hopeful outlook and promises seem so at odds with what he sees every day - yet he cannot fully shake its shadow.

And here am I, fasting in order to observe an age-old imperative, yet working and like Green, feeling vaguely guilty that I am somehow falling short and failing my heritage. This is not meant as a treatise on atonement or spirituality, merely an interesting insight into the creative process of a writer. Into that permeable boundary between us and our characters and into the power of the subconscious to guide our imagination. Perhaps to enrich it and to make our characters more human. Their flaws, emotions, and yearnings more universal.

Not a bad accomplishment for the most solemn day of the year.

1 comment:

Charlotte Hinger said...

Barbara, this post reminds me of how important it is for writers to stay in touch with all their emotions. Happy all the time characters would be dull indeed.