We’re all on some sort of journey, aren’t we? Check back here
periodically to find out more about G. Elizabeth Kretchmer’s journeys
through the literary world and through life.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Big Island of Hawaii recently and watching whales from aboard a ship piloted by Captain Bob. When one of the humpbacks launched its 40-ton body out of the water, the inevitable question arose of why whales breach.
“To clean their skin of parasites,” Captain Bob said. “That’s the most common answer, anyway. But some think they just do it to entertain us.” And, someone else on the boat added, breaching can be a way the whales communicate with one another.
During the ensuing conversation, my mind drifted off to pondering the timeless question of why writers write. There are as many answers to that question as there are writers, but the simple answer, I think, would be that writers want to entertain, educate, and/or explore.
When I first sat down to write The Damnable Legacy of A Minister’s Wife, I thought I was writing to entertain my readers. Woman has regrets. Woman goes on quest and faces adversity. Woman conquers all. But as I wrote, I decided that such an approach wouldn’t be fair to my characters, my readers, or myself. It simply wasn’t true to life. And it was far too superficial.
I started over again, this time delving deeper into research than I’d ever initially anticipated. I’ll write later, and in more detail, about my approach to the research behind this book, but what I learned in the course of writing this novel was that there was so much I didn’t know. Some of the topics I researched include attachment and adoption, mixed ethnicity relationships, climbing Denali, and various takes on the afterlife. The more I learned, the more I realized that, unintentionally, I was communicating information to others, and while education wasn’t a primary goal, it motivated me to keep going, to think that someone might learn from something I’d written.
But more than anything else, I discovered along the way that I was really writing to explore. Every time a character said or did something, I had to dig into their psyches to understand how they were feeling. I had to understand what prompted them to say or do whatever it was they did. Sure, these were characters in my head, but as many writers can tell you, they didn’t necessarily feel like they were part of me, in the same way that we sometimes wake up and wonder why a certain person appeared in a dream during the night. (Last night I dreamed about Muhammed Ali.) Writing about other people, whether fictional or real, forces me to explore and study human behavior far more than I would even if I were to embark on a study of Freud or Jung. It also forces me to look into myself, where problems and flaws and internal obstacles abound. It forces me to look at myself on the outside – how I relate to my external world, and what I do for others, and what bugs me. In undertaking this exploration, I can find healing. I can shake at least some of the parasites from my life.
So now that I think of it, I guess, there isn’t really that much difference between writers writing and whales breaching. Whether for entertainment, education, or therapeutic value, writing and breaching are both an act of breaking through the surface, an act of exposing ourselves – and our vulnerabilities – to the world.
“Or maybe,” Captain Bob said, “the whales just breach for fun.”