It’s been a rough couple of months for my home state of Colorado. Last month, two of the state’s worst, most destructive wildfires in its history happened — at the same time. And now the mass shooting in Aurora. It’s been a lot of heartbreak and feeling helpless and wanting to make things better for people, but knowing there’s absolutely nothing I can do to assuage the grief after someone’s lost their home in a fire or a loved one in an act of terrible violence. We offer condolences and make donations. Try to build our community.
My writer self becomes conflicted during these times. I feel like a horrible scavenger, because I can’t stop myself from picking apart what’s happening, from observing my own reactions, my friends’ reactions, details from the event itself, and filing them away in the part of my brain labeled “maybe I can use this in a story.” It’s reflexive at this point, and so mercenary. But it also feels necessary. These details may never become part of a story, but if the story does come along, at least the details I have will be real and true. It’s not journalistic — I’m not recording or reporting facts. I’m a fiction writer, and it’s about recreating experiences, and the best way to do that is through details. So I continue to observe and collect.
The other thing my writer self does is empathize. It’s a natural part of developing character — you put yourself in the scene, you imagine what it’s like to be in that situation, you imagine what people are going through — both the perpetrator and the victims. I want to understand, so I play the scenes over in my mind from all points of view, again and again. And again, it feels mercenary and exploitative. I get more emotionally involved than is probably good for me, and it certainly doesn’t help the situation at all.
As a fiction writer, I don’t think it’s fair or useful for me to write directly about these events, and I don’t want to. But I still want to gather the experiences, file them away, and let them ripen. If I ever write about something like this, maybe I can make it feel more true by paying attention, by being respectful now. I want to acknowledge the tragedies, sympathize, help when I can, and respect the experiences of the people directly involved. And I hug my friends and tell my family I love them. Try to keep hope and remember the good times.