Less Fortune

I used to enjoy a roleplaying game called Heroes. To construct a character in this system, players were allotted a set number of points to spend on things like strength, intelligence, magic spells, and swordsmanship. However, a player could choose to give his character certain weaknesses (a limp, nearsightedness, paranoia, a dependant grandmother) for which the character would be awarded additional points. The greater the weakness, the more points the character received. My friends and I joked once that we could create a super hero by making our characters deaf, dumb, blind, schizophrenics.

Which reminds me of the characters we create in our stories. Often our characters’ most interesting traits are their weaknesses. Just as often, the story is about our protagonist’s weakness – their insecurity, hubris, poverty, or greed. A hero overcoming an outside force is certainly the stuff of drama, but it is when that same hero overcomes an inside force, when the fog of fear is cleared from the mirror, that the reader not only cheers the victory but feels that victory as her own.

It is fun to choose our roleplaying heroes’ strengths and weaknesses, just as it is interesting to chose our literary characters’ phobias and charms, but it is often hard to imagine this same creative process at work in ourselves. Who would want to be born without legs, or into staggering poverty, or to drunken parents? It is easy—compassionate even—to attribute the circumstances of such lives to uncaring fate. Just as talent seems unfairly distributed, some of us are just dealt a better life than others. It’s called reality, Jack.

But whose life would you trade yours for, knowing that to trade your life means to trade all of it – every kiss, every dream, every thought, every love? It’s all or nothing. Can you not feel the absurdity of it? Can you not feel how somewhere in the unique confluence of consciousness that is your life something necessary and valuable and useful and hopeful and kind is looking to take shape? If it is true for me it must be exactly as true for everyone, from every pauper to every president. Now that’s equality. From this view there is no such thing as more or less fortunate, there is only life in all its variety.

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Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

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Let The Dance Begin

I learned about strength one night from a little old lady. I was in my late twenties and I was studying Aikido. On the night in question I was attending a seminar, which is a special class taught by a guest teacher. In this case, the guest teacher was Mary Heiny Sensei, whom I had never seen teach, but who was a bit of a legend within my circle of teachers.

Aikido attracts all types of people, young and old, tall and short, fit and not-so-fit. As I was stretching, I saw a little old lady step out of the bathroom. That is to say, she was short, she was pushing 60, and she had the pleasant energy of a friendly grandmother. “They’re coming out of the woodwork for this one,” I thought.

Then the little old lady put on her Hakama, the skirt-like pants black belts wear over the gi (the training pajamas). “Oh,” I thought, “Little Old Lady is a black belt.  Figures.” Then the little old lady stepped onto the mat, and instead of kneeling in the line of students awaiting the start of the class, she walked to the head of the mat and faced the students. The little old lady was Mary Heiny.

That was only the first surprise. The next was the class itself.  To demonstrate the first technique we would be practicing, Heiny called on two black belts, both men, both in their early thirties, both teachers of mine. She commenced to throw them around the dojo with a power I had never seen before.  What’s more, there was no effort, no strain; she might as well have been dancing.

I don’t remember any of the techniques she taught me that night; that first demonstration was lesson enough for me. And no, not to teach me to quit judging people too quickly – it would take me years more to learn that. Rather, I saw that strength is the effortless, focused, deliberate delivery of energy. She harnessed the energy around her and directed it in such a way that the black belts had to fall. It was beautiful.

I remember reading that Jimmy Hendrix wanted to play the guitar the way Little Richard sang. Since that night I have wanted to write the way Mary Heiny practiced Aikido. You don’t have to be a little old lady to fear someone else’s physical might because there is always someone bigger than you somewhere. In this same way, there is always some reason your story could fail: it’s too fast; it’s too slow; it’s too romantic; it’s not romantic enough. But if I harness my creative energy deliberately and effortlessly, I allow through something stronger than fear, and all my imaginary foes fall like weary dance partners.

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