Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Art, Bullies & Myths

I just got done reading Marathon Cowboys by the very talented Sarah Black.  She poses an interesting dilemma that many artists (be they painters, writers or musicians) face.  That is: when does art get too real?  I've read books where authors use actual men or women in their lives to people the pages, seen paintings done of real life that are heart breaking and soul affirming, listened to music that cuts so close to the bone, you know its about something personal for both the songwriter and singer.  We all have.

I'll admit it was really disconcerting the first time I read a book where the heroine was named and styled after a mutual friend of the other author and myself.  I think there's a legal issue in there I'd never want to deal with and reading the love scenes was in a word - awkward, but I'll admit freely to seeing bits of my sisters and daughters in different heroines and my husband in all my heroes.  I explain it like this:  characters are like people in real life.  We rub off on each other the better we know each other.  Sometimes I'll say something that sounds just like my sister; sometimes I'll accuse my niece of channeling her older brothers.  It's life...we leave bits of ourselves on the people we touch and vice versa.  So too with characters, my characters are touched by my life and vice versa. :) [Which is a Latin phrase meaning the other way around, by the way.]

But when does borrowing (subconsciously or wholly aware) from life to make art work become invasive and unacceptable?  I can't answer as either an artist or inspiration for anyone else, only myself.

I've had people ask me to write them into a book and I've always refused because my characters are too real to me to be carbon copies of people I know.  I've used names that are similar to or exactly that of my children or nieces and nephews, but with characteristics wholly different from their namesakes. I'm not sure I could do that now they're all adults (or close to it)...it's too hard for me to write feeling the constraints of what a character is supposed to be rather than what they simply are.  And Heaven forbid someone thought I was saying they were like that, when the character is nothing like them at all. :)

The exception?  Villains (both male and female).  I've used the names of people who have hurt me, or those I loved to moniker the least likable of my characters, the ones I don't try to redeem.  It's pretty cathartic really. :)  Seriously...it helped me works through some of my deepest abandonment issues with my dad and the stepfather I called Dad until he walked out of my life without a backward glance.

But it's kind of like reality TV...at what point does the artist (or viewer) need to step back because courtesy and compassion are not dead anachronisms in our society?  I love Dancing With the Stars, but was wholly unprepared to do a search on reaction to the show one week only to find this incredible amount of animosity and hatred being directed toward Kim Kardashian, who isn't a contestant even - just the sibling to one.  Whether or not reality stars are what I like to think of as celebrities, I was absolutely appalled by the bullying going on and the clear numbness to it in evidence.  Really?  In the name of art...or public reaction to it - we're going to turn a blind eye to behavior that would have made my mother cry.

She was such an amazing woman, my mom and some days I miss her so bad, I can barely breathe...but she taught us that bullying was wrong.  As a customer (who might always be right, but who should darn well be courteous), as a student, as a person - full stop, period.

When I was in the fourth grade, my mom got called to my school.  (Mom got called to school more often for me - her straight A student - than my pot smoking brother or kleptomaniac sister.  Thank goodness my two oldest siblings and the youngest weren't quite as demanding, or Mom would never have survived our school years.)  Anyway, back to my story...mom got called because I was boycotting my classroom.  Why?  Some of the kids were bullying my best friend and the teacher hadn't made them stop, or apologize.  A favorite teacher, she was not spared my wrath however.  Not when it came to tolerating meanness.  Mom refused to tell me to go back to class.  The principal and my teacher were beside themselves, even more so when Mom gave them a lesson in teaching morals, not just the three Rs. ;-)  The kids were made to apologize and you know - they never bullied my friend again.  Some meanness can be stopped and should.

I don't think boycotting certain websites is going to stop the cyber trolls from their nasty work, but it will stop at least one person from feeding it...me. :)  Yep, I still boycott bullies.  There are fan sites for shows I no longer visit because the other fans spend way more time stirring up animosity toward others than focusing on why they love the show.  There is one book review site I won't ever link to or even link to other sites that link to it.  There are others I visit rarely because of their tendency toward bullying and I've stopped reading reviews (of my books and others) that start with any sort of bullying language.  Maybe it won't make a difference to the bullies, but it will to me...it will to the writer or personality I stand up for verbally or with my own reader review.

And to bring this full circle, have I ever named a villain after these particular bullies?  Nope.  Mom taught me that too...don't give bullies recognition of any kind.  They thrive on attention and I won't be giving it to them.

Where do myths come in?  Well, it's the myth that people in the public eye should have to put up with anything and everything because they chose their lifestyle.  Mom said malarkey on that and so do I.  Is a celebrated actor under more scrutiny than a grocery clerk?  Most certainly.  Should we be rude to either just because we can?  Certainly not.

It's your turn: going back to the beginning...how would you feel about finding yourself starring as the lead in a book, or the focal point of a well-known painting or the subject of a song that thousands of others are going to hear on the radio?


Judy said...

I dread the thought of being put in such a position, because I can't imagine it being particularly kind. I grew up the scapegoat in a family of bullies. With a lot of work, I've learned to accept compliments graciously, but that doesn't mean I wholly believe them.

That being said, I have discovered the need to not take myself too seriously. I saw a movie that had an awkward girl who could have been me. Really. It was a little unsettling. She did some things that I did, to such a degree it really did feel like seeing myself on the screen. Others saw the movie and were offended by the stereotypes. I laughed so hard I cried. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I knew I'd taken a huge leap in learning to be emotionally healthy when I could laugh at myself.

Maria D. said...

I lead such a boring life that I really doubt anyone would ever write or do anything else and I think in one way or another all human beings are dysfunctional in one way or another. We have, as a society, lost our way in regards to common courtesy and in just being decent people. I think part of it is that we laugh at things, movies or books, when someone behaves badly and eventually we loose sight of the fact it was bad behavior. I don't watch reality tv because I k now it's all scripted and while I agree that there is no need to get mean spirited about it- some of the people involved really do sort of ask for some of it by constantly putting themselves out there and behaving badly too.

Leni said...

I understand someone being inspired by some personality traits, looks and style, but it would be a bit odd to see myself being the subject. I guess it depends on how I was portrayed.

marybelle said...

I like my privacy too much to see myself out there.

Maureen said...

I think an artist may feel they are portraying a person but it is their idea of who that person is which could be very different from what someone else sees. I don't think I would want myself portrayed though by anyone that might bring any attention to me.

Lucy Monroe said...

Judy...discovery of self and the ability to laugh at one's more challenging characteristics is, I think, the mark of a very healthy mindset. Well done! Bullying is horrible, but the best revenge is to live a happy life, right? ;-)

Maria...LOL I think the same thing and then someone wants an interview and I try to talk about my books or family - at least I find them interesting. ;-) I so agree on much of what you said. We as a culture are responsible for our foibles and dysfunctions and our personal choices translate into societal norms.

Leni...that's the rub, isn't it? I mean, I shudder to think of how someone might portray me...would they pick the parts I like, or the parts that are hardest to own?

Marybelle...well put. I think it is a matter of privacy and is it possible that (extrapolating a bit on Maria's comments) as a society we are diluting the right to privacy for the individual with our reality TV programming that makes it seem normal to voyeristically view other people's otherwise pretty ordinary lives in all their minute inglory? I just wonder. :)

Maureen...I can so understand that. I'm not famous, but my life is way more public because of my writing than say...my neighbor's. It always astounds me when I hear people say they want to be famous as I know how difficult I find being in the public eye sometimes at this less invasive level. Nevertheless, I love "hearing" people talking positively about my books. It just makes me happy. It's a dichotomy I can live with, but being the focal point for art? Not so much.

My mother once painted a portrait of me...the portrait had a small nose and blue eyes - she looked like Liza Minelli. I do not have such a small nose and my eyes are brown. Mom said she painted me as she thought I wanted to be seen. It was very disconcerting and the painting lost some of its sparkle for me once I realized I had inspired it...because I could not identify with that image. That blue-eyed kind of glamorous looking girl. :)

Jenna Bayley-Burke said...

writing a love scene starring someone I have coffee with? Um...that would suck the fantasy right out of it and zap the fun. No thanks.

Bullying is such a hard thing. It appeals to the weakest common denominator, literally. I hope I'm teaching my kids you don't have the right to make somoene else do or feel something bad. Too often I have to place a hand on their shoulder and ask 'is that kind?' Maybe some day they'll start asking themselves the question.

Anne said...

This was a unique post for me.

If my role/picture, etc. was positive, I probably wouldn't care too mch, but I prefer my privacy so I'd rather not have it happen, good or bad.

I once met a stranger on a train and she said, "You're Anne, Michael's sister and you....." I was shocked, sort of pleased that he (at 20) acknowledged me and said a bunch of positive things, but was very shocked and weirded out that a stranger to me knew so much.

Lucy Monroe said...

Jenna...I know, right? As for teaching our kids - that's the best way to stop bullying and other disruptive societal behaviors. And our hope is that they then pass this to the next generation. :)

Anne...how disconcerting/kinda cool that would have been. :)

Lorna said...

My feelings would depend on how I was portrayed. If I was shown as a caring mother, hard and honest worker and good friend, then I think I would fell pretty good about being portrayed in an art form. Now, if they showed my occasional petty, jealous and neurotic side, then I would feel horrible.

I enjoyed reading your comments on bullying. Just the fact that you stood up to the teacher on behalf of your friend, is a very telling testimate to they type of person you are and your mom's support is so very telling on what a strong woman she was. I'm sorry you miss her so much. It's heartbreaking to lose a parent. I've always been told that time heals all wounds, but that is not true. Time just dulls the pain, the wound of losing a parent never heals. My father was killed in a car accident in 1984 and there are some days when it still feels very fresh. Hugs to you.

Lucy Monroe said...

See, Lorna...that's the problem isn't it? Flaws make for more interesting characters, but I'm not sure I want mine under the microscope of creativity. ;-) I'm sorry about your father...and I agree. Time doesn't heal so much as help us deal and maybe gain perspective. Each day I am gifted with my husband, children and grandchildren is a gift even more precious as my children lost their grandmother when I lost my mom. ~HUGS~

Lorna said...

I agree. Character flaws make the person unique, special and real. No one is perfect and when you read a good book, there is usually something different about the hero or heroine that makes them memorable. I've read hundreds of books and there are still specific characters that stick in my mind. I really like smart women and men that recognize the woman's intelligence, however the characters also have to have some unique quirk or flaw that makes them human.

Lucy Monroe said...

Exactly, Lorna...I'm just not sure I want to see *my* flaws on the page for viewing. LOL