Different Voices not always my own

Last night my cousin and I saw Dar Williams in concert. She is this folk artist that I completely adore. Her music is clever, inspiring, heartbreaking and revolutionary. She is a storyteller who is not afraid to delve into voices that might not necessarily be her own but at the same time be unafraid to explore the possibility that they might be. One song in particular, Buzzer, she said (and I am paraphrasing here) that she could see that although she isn’t a person who blindly follows authority, at the same time, she could see what she might have been like had she been that person.

Right now, I am in the middle of a section of the novel that I am sort of – no I am – avoiding because it requires me to become a voice that I completely abhor. It makes me incredibly uncomfortable to write in this person’s voice because in my mind, it goes completely against my sense of self and ideology. Yet, I am aware that the ability of writing in this person’s voice means that there must be an aspect of self that understands or is interested in pursuing what it would be like to be the person who is, as Dar Williams discusses, willing to push a buzzer, inflict torture, because someone says to do it.

I am also just reminded of Kate Winslet’s performance in The Reader. There have been controversy about the movie because of the sympathetic portrayal of a Nazi SS guard. The questions the movie raises about people’s moral choices. In respond to a judge who asks why she let 300 women burn in a barn, she says something like, “They were our responsibility. We couldn’t let them escape.” She had a job to do and she did it. The morally grey areas were ignored.

And so I am faced with the antagonist who is going to do something that I find diplorable. It is where the novel is heading and how to bring the story forward. I didn’t quite know it was going to go in this direction, but it came out last week and I cannot put it back in the box where I wish it was. Clearly, I need to write about the question that has always concerned me since I was the age of the kids that I am writing about: How is a person willing to racist? How is a person willing to hate a group of people so much that they are willing to inflict violence upon them? See them as inhuman. This is something that I have never been able to grasp. And those morally grey areas that people will find themselves in, I don’t understand where that question might be. For me it is a no brainer. People are People. The End.

But, the period in which I am writing about calls for this kind of dichotomy of ideas. If I have something to say with my words, I need to be unafraid to say those things. I think part of my block has been that I have been afraid that what I will write will scare or anger people. Unfortunately, someone somewhere won’t like what I have to say. I cannot worry about that person right now. That imaginary person has kept me silent for far far too long.

I was inspired last night by Dar Williams’ courage to write and sing from a different voice. Tori Amos does this all of the time to the point in which her last album she personified four different women. This has forced me to realize that I must be willing to write from perspectives that may not necessarily be my own, but explore the different facets of the human condition. For that would be the most truthful kind of writing.

I only hope that I can do it with the same kind of wisdom and compassion that all people deserve.

About Melanie J. Fishbane

My novel, MAUD: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery was published in 2017 through Penguin Random House on April 25, 2017. I hold an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Here I talk about my writing process, things I love, and creative people who inspire me.
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