One of my biggest struggles in writing is a desperate fear of exposure. It’s a very personal act. All I have to draw on is what I’ve lived, experienced, and perceived about the world around me. I can step outside myself to a large degree, but what’s on the page is still coming from inside my head. I am responsible for these words.
I think the best analogy to get at the heart of this might lie in this little embarrassing story. So, you know the Evil Dead trilogy, right? You don’t need to even know the premise to understand this, actually. I just feel better believing you’re at least aware of its general existence. All you need to know is that the protagonist is a named Ash and he is employed at a store called S-Mart. The store’s slogan is “Shop smart – shop S-Mart!” I’d seen the series multiple times prior to a phone call, possibly with one of my sisters, where Army of Darkness (the third movie in the trilogy) came up. I quoted that line and suddenly, I got the joke of it. S-Mart spells smart! Never having seen it written down and taking it as such a throw away line… I don’t know… I just never stopped and thought it through. So embarrassing, right? It felt as if, for years, I’d completely misunderstood a fundamental aspect of life.
I’m afraid of stumbling upon those moments in a very public way and not realizing it until other people point it out to me. I don’t want to look like a ditz. But more than being laid bare and proven stupid, I fear that, stripped down, you’ll see the ugly and it’ll dawn on me that… hey… that IS me. That ugly is my core.
I’m terrified that I’ll come off as a selfish, entitled asshole, and once those traits are reflected back at me from the page, I’ll find uncomfortable truths in what I see. I sometimes wonder if that’s really Lena Dunham’s whole thing. Maybe she’s afraid of that, too, so by purposely putting these deeply flawed, intensely dis-likeable characters out there that reflect the most negative and generationally stereotypical way she could be received, she’s able to somehow free herself from this trap. Maybe once that’s all out on the page and/or screen in earnest, it’s easier to dissect the flaws in that self-perception and ultimately distance oneself from that image, internally if not in the public eye. It’s a brutal, divisive, incredibly bold approach to the problem. It’s also brilliant. I find strength in it. I imagine it’s refreshing to look at comments regarding her characters and be able to say, “That’s sometimes how I picture myself, but clearly that isn’t me, or there’s a lot more to me, because I still have friends that aren’t monsters, which, from the looks of it, is more than I can say for Hannah.”
The challenge lies in seeing the black and white extremes that exist in my head for the unrealistic caricatures they are. The world is way more grey.