|The little tyrant in us
By Abbas Mehdibeigi
January 23, 2003
If you were under the impression that being a writer is an easy task, you
are in need of serious reevaluation of your impressions. The problem is not the creation
of fiction or writing what you have created. This part is easy. Everybody can create
fiction or write. That is the way we communicate in our daily lives. We are constantly
recreating and rewriting ourselves as well as others. We rewrite ourselves as per
demand, and rewrite others as per our needs.
Why do you think we get pissed off at others? I tell you why. Because the way they
have written themselves does not match with the way we like to write them. Or, because
the way they have written us does not match with the script we have prepared for
our own character. The difficulty of writing is to create characters who can co-exist
in a story. If the characters are not able to co-exist the story unravels. The words
fall off the page and you end up with a blank piece of paper.
Of course writing fictionalized characters and putting them in a narrative is not
as controversial as writing your own character. When writing your own character you
are putting yourself in a straight jacket. First, you have to thoroughly evaluate
what is expected of you in the situation you are in, and your script should meet
the demands of that situation.
Second, you have to stick with your script. This is not easy. Sometime you forget
which script you are supposed to follow. You might unwittingly be yourself for a
moment and blow your current guise. I should say you might take "yourself "
too literally and forget that that "self" is really a transient mode and
is not really yours. Then not only your current self will lose credibility, but you
will prove to everybody that you will never be a good politician. You have, then,
to kiss running for an office goodbye.
So, you see, we are all writers by nature. But, the reason I said being a writer
is not an easy task is because you have to choose between characters. All these characters
that we constantly write for ourselves and others, and use them briefly wont go away.
They hang around and look for another chance to be put to work.
Whenever I want to write, these characters surround me and each one strongly demands
to be put into a narrative. They won't fail to remind me that I owe it to them. They
are right, I wrote each and every one of them to save my neck one way or another
as the circumstances warranted. Now, they say, they deserve to be put into a novel
or a story or at least a short story so that they feel that they belong to some text.
They like to be part of a narrative. Of course I agree with them, being a character
has no meaning unless you belong to a text.
Stories are about heroes. In other words, heroes make stories. You are either a hero
or you are nothing. I personally prefer to be a hero. Each time I've written myself,
I've written myself as a hero. I am an honest person, and honestly, I have not seen
anybody else who has all the characteristics of a hero as I do. This way I have written
a lot of heroes.
Even though I have all these heroes, I have not been able to write a story that sticks
together or can preserve its integrity. Each time I write a story, as soon as I try
to proof read it, it comes apart. It unravels, line-by-line, word-by-word. Not even
a single sentence stays intact. I can give you an example, then you might be able
to tell me what is wrong.
Once I tried to write this story about a group of emigrants trying to organize their
community so they can have a more active participation in civic activities in the
city they were living for a long time here in America. You know how easy it is to
organize here in America. You see all kinds of groups here. All it needs is a common
interest, common hobby, ownership of a certain make and year model car or even a
pet, then you can have your group.
Maybe the reason I am even mentioning this is because I am an emigrant myself (I
should better say an hyphenated American). Probably if I were un-hyphenated I would
have taken it as granted and I would not have even noticed it. Maybe that is why
I was trying to write a story about it. You see, it took my fictionalized emigrants
something like twenty years to realize that it is O.K. for them to have their own
I am not going to tell you which country they were
originally from. It would be politically incorrect for me to say that, or I might
be accused of being biased for or against. Besides, if an author tells his readers
everything, he or she is encouraging the readers to be passive consumers of the text.
And that is not healthy for the readers. Readers are consuming lots of other things
already, if they consume text as well that would mean another dollar spent on weight
loss program, and that is not fair. By the way, there should be a difference between
text and popcorn or hamburger.
When I wrote these emigrants I tried to preserve their authenticity. I wrote them
the way they were in their country of origin. They were not used to forming groups
or to make decisions for themselves. They did not need to, because all decisions
were made for them. Throughout their long history they had benevolent leaders that
did this for them so they don't have to spend their precious time worrying about
these trivialities. Like good shepherds these leaders knew how to take good care
of their herd.
Regardless of the type of head cover these leaders preferred -- crown or turban --
they had one thing in common. They had mythic origins. They were either "shadow
of god" or "spirit of god ". They were superhuman, heroes. When you
have heroes as your shepherd you have to be out of your mind to worry about worldly
affairs. Especially when your benevolent leader is always there to convincingly warn
you about the consequences of encroaching on God's domain.
This constant friendly reminder eventually makes obedience
and avoidance from decision-making part of the make up of your mind. It can even
become, to the chagrin of the scientists, part of your genetic makeup, and can even
be passed on to your descendants. The rest is theory of evolution and on-set of the
process of natural selection, and before you know it you only have heroes and peons,
leaders and followers, and nothing in between.
When my fictionalized émigrés decided to organize they had to overcome
a big dilemma: decision-making. But decision-making belongs to the leaders, heroes.
To decide you have to be a leader. So they decided to be leaders. But you cannot
be a leader unless you have somebody to lead. Since all of them were leaders and
they had nobody to lead they could not be leaders.
And when you are not a leader you cannot decide. They were in an impasse and my story
was not going anywhere. Being the "Author", I decided to give them a helping
hand. Something like a "Divine Intervention". That is what I like about
being a writer, you possess Providential Powers over your characters, and you don't
have to even run for an office. So I wrote them as heroes so they can decide. But
the problem did not stop there. If you are a hero you need to undertake heroic tasks.
A hero cannot bother with the mundane business of everyday life like work, family
and civic duties.
Now my characters were looking for big problems to solve, the least of which was
Human Destiny. They wanted to tell everybody how to behave, how to run their lives,
and even how to think. They started to sound like their past crowned or turbaned
leaders, the same ones who were responsible for circumstances that made them to immigrate
in the first place. Everyone became a little tyrant. My story began to unravel again.
Even my benevolence did not go far enough. I felt like the rest of the benevolent
dictators who were destined for the dust heap of history.
Now you see what I mean when I talk about difficulty of being a writer? It is not
just creating characters and putting them in a text or a story. You cannot put any
character in any story as you wish. Characters should be compatible with the story.
In case of my fictionalized émigrés I probably over-emphasized their
that is why they did not fit into a narrative of democracy. I am not superstitious,
but some evil spirits just don't go away by wishing so. Sometimes you need some serious
exorcizing. To gain you should be willing to give. It is difficult to part with the
little tyrant in us because that is what we have inherited as a species from our
animal ancestors, but that is a price we pay for civilization.
As to the story of my fictionalized émigrés, I never could finish it.
It sits in the memory of my computer as a text file. Whenever I open this file to
finish it, I can hear my fictionalized émigrés still squabbling about
who is going to be the boss. They remind me of the gods of the Greek mythology, sitting
on their mountaintop and scheming against each other. That's why I gave up on that
story and settled for writing this story about that story. This way I get an opportunity
for some innocuous moralizing and a chance to pretend as if I am not one of them.
Nobody said writers should not enjoy some perks!
Does this article have spelling or other mistakes? Tell
me to fix it.