I was having coffee other day with some other writers and they were saying the worst occupational hazard they face is the dreaded Writer’s Block; that is facing the blank page with nothing to say. Much to everyone’s shock I said I’d never once suffered from writers’ block. Some one asked me what motivated me and I thought for a while and then had to admit, if I’m being honest, It is anger. I recommend it for writers. First it is inexhaustible. Second, it is always with you and it gives you a cutting edge. Finally, anger gives you motivation and energy so you can surrmount all obstacles. There is nothing like righteous indignation to get you to speed to your computer in the morning. Anger has, of course, always been the emotion of choice for me and other Irish Catholics of the American variety.
The easiest way to explain how anger weaves its magic into the writing life is by exploring the motivation for my new book (forthcoming) titled Good Morning, Monster. The seed for this book originated at my high-school reunion several years ago. The principal had everyone stand up and clap for an alumnus of our class, Tony G., a military hero, who had been awarded the Purple Heart at the White House for an act of bravery performed in Vietnam.
In terms of full disclosure, this military ‘hero’ is the same hyperactive boy who krazy-glued the mouthes shut on the fish I was using for my science project on oxygen for the New York State Science Fair. After months of work, I came into the lab to find them lock-jawed floating on the top of the tank. Don’t bother wasting your breath telling me that was fifty-six years ago and I should give up my resentment. I nurture grudges. Have you ever heard that there is no such thing as Irish Dementia? Why–because they never forget the grudges.
The principal waxed eloquent about the traits of war heroes saying they had to have courage, selflessness, humility, patience, caring, and tenacity. Of course, what he said was true and I agree, we need war heroes. I mean no one wanted Hitler in the white house in 1940. However, as the principal was expounding on military heroes, I started getting hot under the collar thinking of the unsung psychological heroes in my private practice in psychology. I have seen more bravery in some of my patients than General Patton ever saw in World War two.
My patients’ bravery is not time limited as a war hero’s is; it occupies their entire life. Why is it that heroism is not measured in duration? Most of the time heroes are brave for one moment in time or in testosterone flashes. My patients had to be brave every day. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech Faulkner said bravery was sometimes, “simply enduring”.
If you are an abused child, life can be your own personal war. Children with cruel parents have to get up every morning and fight a new battle against incredibly uneven odds. They are captive, powerless, behind enemy lines and are held prisoner. They have no loving childhood to fall back on for personal strength; there is no armistice in sight and there will be no glory at the end. Back wards of psychiatric hospitals are full of these grown children who sank from battle fatigue and fell into some form of mental illness. The streets of our cities are beset with substance abusers that could not fight another day. They had PTSD before they were five and had no veterans’ services to turn to.
As my anger surged, my book began to take form. I would counter the military hero and offer another form of heroism; The kind that is a lifelong fight. There has been a lot written about victims of late and I want to explore strength and resistance. I aim to celebrate my patients’ bravery. They won’t have my old high school principal’s and the White House’s adoration, but their stories will see the light of day, and it will be my way of giving them the Medal of Honour.