I submitted this essay in application for the Dr. Ellen Taliaferro Scholarship to the San Francisco Writers Conference 2017. The prompt was this: Write 500 words or less on the power of forgiveness. So I did. And I won! The conference took place at the Mark Hopkins Hotel this past weekend. It was fabulous. Thank you Dr. Taliaferro!
“It took a long time, but as soon as I let go of my anger and resentment, I was free. I dropped the chains I’d been carrying around like Ebenezer Scrooge and felt as if a single balloon could lift me off the ground and carry me to the sky.”
I wrote those words some time ago while working on a story in which my main character had been betrayed. She was suffocating under the weight of her own hostility and venom. As the writer who created this character, I understood her refusal to forgive. In fact, I was quite sure I didn’t want her to. But as any writer knows, sometimes characters have minds of their own, as if they can jump off the page and poke the author on the shoulder and demand we go in a different direction. That’s what my character did – she forced me to allow her to forgive . . . of course that changed the trajectory of my plot, but that’s another story!
I used to think forgiveness could only be given following an apology. I mean, why should I let someone off the hook who isn’t sorry for acting against me? It makes sense that apology and forgiveness go together. They are opposite sides of the same coin. They complement each other like ingredients in a recipe:
Sift equal amounts guilt, remorse, and admission of wrongdoing into bowl. Add an open mind, a kind heart, and a scoop of understanding; stir gently; bake as long as it takes. Enjoy the delicious blend of sincere apology and heartfelt forgiveness.
But over time I’ve learned that forgiveness is like a piece of art that stands on its own. It might be part of a set, but it is still complete and rich with possibility all by itself. A willingness to “let it go,” with or without the apology, makes us better people. People who forgive readily are happier, easier to get along with, and have more patience. They don’t hold grudges or revisit old arguments and are kinder than those who choose to stay angry. And what I find most interesting, people who forgive are quicker to recognize their own faults and apologize for their own misdeeds.
So, back to the story in which my character decided to forgive her betrayer . . . She and I ended up parting ways, and I decided to set the story aside. But my opinionated character left me with a wonderful gift, a message whispered into my ear:
“The true beneficiary of forgiveness is not the one who receives it . . . it is the one who grants it.”
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I’ve gone in and out of several writing groups over the years. For the most part, I’ve gotten at least something out of each one — encouragement, sympathy, advice . . . and oh yeah, homegrown vegetables – writers have all kinds of interesting hobbies! For many of us, however, there comes a time when a critique group fails to serve its purpose. Here are FOUR situations that indicate it might be time for you to move on.
And what’s that got to do with writing anyway?
One of my writing colleagues recently published an article about prejudice against beauty. What? Who doesn’t like beauty? We all enjoy seeing beautiful things, places, faces. But what we don’t usually consider is how that pretty face makes us feel. Envious? Intimidated? Intrigued? Superior? Before that gorgeous gal utters a single word, have we judged her based on appearance?
Drawing conclusions, positive or negative, and making assumptions about people according to how they look is human nature. If I see a good looking guy driving a fancy-schmancy car, I think he’s rich. But he could be the chauffeur, the son of a rich guy, the boy-toy of an heiress, a car thief . . . who knows? From a young age, we are taught not to judge a book by its cover (or a man by his car), but we can’t help it.
From Science Daily: “Contrary to what most people believe, the tendency to be prejudiced is a form of common sense, hard-wired into the human brain through evolution as an adaptive response to protect our prehistoric ancestors from danger.” Okay then, it’s all about survival. While we’ve come a long way since the caveman days, we cannot ignore our instinct to be wary of those who might harm us, thwart our plans, or get in our way. Stereotypes help us make sense of the world, and we want to be able to look at people and think we know what they’re about.
So what do stereotypes have to do with writing? For starters, it’s one way writers create surprises, twists, and tension. We take preconceived notions and turn them on their heads. The drunk, depressed girl with no life becomes the one who solves the mystery (The Girl on the Train); the nerdy newspaper reporter turns out to be the super-hero (Superman); the ambulance chasing, low-life lawyer is at his core a noble advocate for the truth (The Night Of); the outcast, scrawny dog/wolf steps up to be the leader of the pack (Balto).
As writers, we often give a protagonist prejudices as a way of showing character arc and creating tension. The protagonist must evolve, have a change of heart, or experience a revelation in her quest for whatever it is she desires. And it’s the “will she or won’t she” question that keeps the reader in suspense.
So the next time you draw a conclusion based on nothing more than appearance, don’t feel bad. It’s your inner caveman at work. Just know, you might be wrong . . . then again, you might be right.
Read Mark Fine’s insightful article here: http://www.thefinemaxim.com/are-searchyou-prejudiced-against-beauty/
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Writers must be brave. When we write, we reveal stuff – what we think, believe, imagine. It took me a long time to get over feeling vulnerable and exposed. Actually, I’m not over it – I’ve just learned to live with it.
As a writer of fiction, I have no choice but to open up my head and spill the contents onto paper, creating stories with a fervor and passion that allow me to let go of my fears. My current work in progress deals with sexual abuse, a subject that is difficult to read and excruciating to write. My readers will judge, infer, and assume things about me when they read it. But I’m okay with that. As writers, we reveal how we think, expose what matters to us, divulge how our brains work and where our imaginations take us. All of that is what makes me the kind of writer I am.
If you want to know me, read my stories. Bits of me are sprinkled throughout every one of them. And if you really want to know me, watch my interview with Chris Williams from “I SHARE HOPE.” We spoke about everything from kids to cooking to how anyone on earth is able to inspire hope in others. His project will renew your faith in people. And it just may change the world.