Friday, August 12, 2022

The Dark Side

 I’ve long had an interest in dark stories. Not horror or gothic, but real-life bleakness. Movies such as The French Connection, Chinatown or LA Confidential. TV shows like The Wire, The Shield, or Deadwood. Even songs along the lines of “Tom Traubert’s Blues” or “Red Right Hand.”


None of this makes me special, but I wondered about it for years. I grew up in a semi-rural area in what a friend once described as a Beaver Cleaver household. There was the usual youthful angst, but my parents and I always got along, my brother and I are close, and Dr. Sole Heir and Lieutenant Son-in-Law give every indication of enjoying my company. Hell, I even get along with my ex-wife (the first one) and (almost all of) her family. I’ve never had problems with drugs or alcohol or the law. I’ve never fought in a war or been the victim of a violent crime; PTSD is not a problem for me. I’d have to say I’ve led as happy a life as anyone I know.


So where does this affinity for such stories come from?


I am the product of a liberal arts education, the primary benefit of which is to instill the love of continued learning, and provide the tools to accomplish it. I grew up working-class in a depressed economy (Greater Pittsburgh in the 60s and 70s when the mills couldn’t close fast enough), have seen family members out of work, and had a couple of lengthy bouts of it myself. I’ve seen what things could have been like had not I caught some timely breaks.


I also read David Simon’s and Ed Burns’s book, The Corner, where they spent a year in the vicinity of one of Baltimore’s worst drug corners getting to know the people who lived there. Not the fiends and dealers so much, but the 90% who have to try to get through their days fighting what’s around them.


No child looks forward to growing up to be a heroin addict or alcoholic. People often dabble as ways to ease the pain or tedium or frustrations of their lives and before they know it, they’re addicts. Do they bear some responsibility? Of course they do. Is their situation their fault? Not the way “fault” is typically used.


I think it was former Texas Governor Ann Richards who once described George H.W. Bush as having been “born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.” (That’s unfair to the 41st president, who spent many years in distinguished service to the country; maybe she was predicting 43.) It’s a good descriptor for people who were born wealthy yet still consider themselves self-made. President 45 is a classic example.


The thing is, the older and (hopefully) more observant I get, I see it at lower levels. Born a straight, white, cisgendered male started me on first base, regardless of my working-class roots, and, as any student of baseball can tell you, getting on base is the most important element of scoring runs. I had nothing to do with that. I’m intelligent and self-disciplined, but these are accidents of birth. I have made a nice life for myself with these attributes, but nothing extraordinary, and there was little holding me back.


How does this lead me to the stories I mentioned above? I think it’s because I appreciate that such things didn’t happen to me, and through little effort of my own. People are caught up in horrible things not of their own creation all the time. It’s good for me to be aware of what could have happened.


Authors tend to write the kinds of stories they read; I am no exception. I write them to work thoughts out for myself, but also as a way to express to others what kinds of things can befall us. I am acutely aware that I have no bona fides for writing such stories, never having experienced any of the above. The best I can do is to try to relate how an average person might react to such a situation.


That’s why my protagonists are not alcoholics or drug addicts or abuse survivors, nor do they suffer from PTSD. I would not presume to try to relate how any of those folks would react to the situations I write about. I’d be no better than a dilettante, and would do them a disservice. I can describe how an average guy might react, and how continued exposure to such situations might wear on that person. So that’s what I do.


I have stories in my head right that take me places I have not previously gone as a writer. These stories will take work, and they’re going to have to be aware without being self-conscious. I think I can do them justice, but I’m not sure. All I can say is that I’ll do the best I can, and, if I don’t feel I have measured up…well, I’ll keep the results to myself.


The next couple of years will be interesting for me.



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