Over the past couple of weeks, I finished a short story and entered it in a contest.
The beginnings of this story came to me one morning as I warmed up on the keyboard. It was worth exploring, so I tucked it away in a file I call Write Aheads.
When I read the announcement for the short story contest in a local paper, I scrolled through my Write Aheads, came across this beginning, and thought it had potential.
Hmm. Wonder where this might lead.
It was the kind of story that revealed itself word by word. As E. L. Doctorow said, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
It was pure blind trust on my part, following that feeble light.
Enter Detective Bloch
The protagonist, I discovered, was a detective with multiple personality disorder. In the third paragraph, he contaminated the evidence at a crime scene. He wasn’t likable. His energy was dark. In short, he was an anti-hero. He even told the reader straight up, “Don’t make me into a hero.”
The fact that this character sprang forth from my subconscious gave me pause. Was I mentally unhinged? Steven King wrote dark characters. As did Michael Connelly. And Robert Crais. Were those writers unhinged?
When this detective first appeared on the page, he caught my interest. The actions he took surprised me. Not to mix metaphors, but as I continued to write the story, the way he played cat and mouse—only showing his cards when he was good and ready—made me want to follow, and by the end of the first scene, the curve ball he threw rocked me back on my heels.
I was all in. I had to know what happened next.
As writers, we play God with our characters. We give them form, imbue them with habits and thoughts and emotions, bring them to life in the fictional world we’ve created. No matter how flawed they may be, how despicable, they’re our creations.
This detective, this anti-hero, wasn’t the sort of character I’d want to know in real life. But in my fictional world, he interested me. I was curious to know more. And when he revealed why he did what he did, I felt compassion.
Which brings me to…the assignment
I’m sharing this, because the assignment for week 6 of the LIFE XT program was:
Add Compassion. Use leaving the house as the cue to Notice-Shift-Rewire the habit of Compassion.
As I left my house, I immediately forgot to notice, shift, or rewire. But by the end of the week, driving home from the grocery store, listening to politics on the radio, I had the opportunity to practice compassion. Nothing hardens my jaw as much as political news. It’s all fake. Except, of course, the news I tune into. And while I’m being honest, I may as well admit: the only side that’s right is mine.
Did I remind myself, while grinding my teeth into a fine powder, that there are people on the opposite side of the aisle, listening to a different version of the news, who are having those very same thoughts about me? Did I use this moment to practice compassion?
But I did practice Presence. I turned the radio off.
My “ah-ha!” moment
Circling back to Detective Bloch, I reflected upon how, in spite of his dark nature, I could feel compassion for the character.
That must be what the Big Kahuna feels for the evil among us.
Writers and the Creator of the universe are similar in that we form something from nothing, and sometimes that something goes rogue (Don’t eat the apple, Adam!). Yet in spite of how wrong, how vehemently opposed we might be to someone’s actions, we can still be curious about what brought them to that place, intrigued about where they’ll end up, and interested in learning their story.
Being curious, intrigued, and interested are pathways to understanding.
And understanding is the bridge to compassion.
I could always be curious about someone who angered me.
Intrigued? Hell, ya!
Interested? Why not?
But could I remember to take that long view, that God-like perspective, when someone was in my face shouting their opinions?
At the very least, I could take a giant step back. Make room for something more divine to light up the shadows between us.