Beautiful Monsters

Sometimes, a convergence of “hints” whacks me across the face, wakes me up and tells me it’s time to do something. Here’s what smacked me this time:

220px-F_Scott_Fitzgerald_19211)  I read an article in The Atlantic about F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s thoughts on writing, titled “Nothing Any Good Isn’t Hard.” In it, he says:

But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is ‘nice’ is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the ‘works.’ You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.

nin2)  This lead me to an article on the blog, Brain Pickings about Anais Nin‘s diaries, titled “Why Emotional Excess is Essential to Writing and Creativity” where Ms. Nin was quoted:

You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.

3) A few days later, this tweet whispered in my ear screamed “AHA!!”



Can’t wait to read this book about a man’s “coming of age” in a Japanese POW camp during World War II.


Mr. Flanagan’s quote, in particular, has stayed with me, for I have always striven to show only what was beautiful. I’ve always hidden what is “monstrous” inside me, or, at least what is not beautiful. They are my imperfections, the things that I was always taught would make me “lose face”–one of the greatest sins for someone in my culture. At least that’s what I was taught.




4) Linda Austin’s recent interview of memoir author, Kathy Pooler fell right into place with these other “hints.” In the interview based on Pooler’s book, Ever Faithful to His Lead, when asked about her fear of what her real-life characters’ reactions to the memoir might be, Ms. Pooler replied:

In the end, I reconciled my concerns with the belief that this story is about my truth and my choices, and I made sure I did not intentionally disparage him in the story.

The fact that these “hints” appeared in the middle of a family maelstrom was not lost on me. It was as if someone was trying to send me a message.

In the years decades of my life, I’ve learned a person (me, specifically) can’t keep a monster hidden for long, for any monster worth its weight in ferocity, ugliness, excess, cruelty or sin cannot be kept forever locked behind even the most fortified door in the darkest corner of my an (oops!) internal prison, no matter how intensely one wants to please, to “save face.” Eventually, he (or she, as the case may be) breaks free.

I can’t tell you the number of times “secrets” about me, about my life, have blocked my writing. Isn’t it true that the purpose of writing is to make connections by sharing our experiences, our imperfections, our deepest, truest feelings, whether through non-fiction or safer fiction? Remember what Mr. Fitzgerald said?

…the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

Of course, it isn’t always a “first tragic love story” an author might try to tear out of her heart to put on paper. Maybe instead, an author’s deepest emotion revolves around a dysfunctional challenging childhood, or the birth and end of a beautiful and monstrous marriage. Maybe she’d like to share her thoughts on lessons learned (or not) through mistakes she’s made.

And what about the others who are a part of those stories? People who are also both monstrous and beautiful, no matter the “face” they hide behind. Is it a betrayal to write about their involvement? How do I write the full truth of my story without writing the full truth about their story? Though I may decide there’s no value in “saving” a false face, is it fair to make that decision for them?

I want to write about beautiful things–and monsters, too–because I agree with Mr. Flanagan, and I want to be fully human and not a paper doll cutout of Miss Goody Two Shoes.

Though I make no monstrous confessions here, I am inching toward authenticity. But does authenticity necessitate confessing everything? I am obviously battling with what Mr. Fitzgerald called “what is nice.” I am currently a soldier who is only a “little brave.”

I’ve asked a lot of questions here, and I’d be most interested to read any of your thoughts. In the end, I ask:


What’s the value of “saving face,” if that face is only a mask?

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20 Responses to Beautiful Monsters

  1. Jan Morrill says:

    Reblogged this on THE RED KIMONO and commented:

    What is the value of “saving face” if that face is only a mask?


  2. This goes well with Kathy Pooler’s guest post on my blog yesterday. In her new memoir she opens herself up to write how a girl with a happy childhood could manage to have two marriages to men who treated her badly. I, too, would cringe if writing that personal, but, as you say, most do it to help others going through similar experiences or to help others understand and empathize.

    When we write about our own less than wonderful behavior, we allow readers to feel a bond with us as real people. I tell new life writers not to whitewash themselves into blandness or to paint any character with one color – of course, that goes for fiction, too. I do think fiction has the capacity to carry more powerful messages, only because fiction allows us to create a more expansive or deeper truth than a confined nonfiction story. Red Kimono is a good example! Fiction can leave people guessing which parts are from the author’s (or their family’s) experiences, and if you go on an author tour people will ask about that, as you probably discovered. Great post to think about!


    • Jan Morrill says:

      Linda! I can’t believe I left off Hint #4 about your interview. I’d just read it, and then decided I had to write this blog. Baby steps toward the kind of bravery Kathy Pooler showed in writing her memoir. This was a hard one to organize and write and I obviously didn’t get everything down that I intended to get written. 🙂 Thanks for you comment. I’ve now added Hint #4 about your blog. 🙂 Good interview!


  3. Thoughtful and thought-provoking post, Jan. I think it can be difficult to write about friends a/o family, since if what you’re writing about is uncomplimentary or too open, they may not like it, even if you’ve changed names and so on. That holds me back from some things I might like to write. Like your choice of quotes, especially Nin’s.



    • Jan Morrill says:

      Thanks, Janet. As I think about it, it’s not the writing about “monsters,” whether my own or others’, it’s weighing how much of it to share with others. There are all kinds of reasons to share, and all kinds of reasons not to share.


  4. Linda Apple says:

    Provoking post Jan. It is my experience that I recognize and deal with my monsters personally. I only write about them when it might help others with theirs. I like what C.S. Lewis says about how friendship is born, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” In this case, it is good to let others know they are not the only one with monsters under the bed or in the closet.

    And when you do write about them, I like the quote I put on my FB page yesterday, “There is no need to be perfect to inspire others. Let others get inspired by how you deal with your imperfections. You have always inspired me Jan. You deal with your imperfections with grace. And the difference between you and many people is some keep their monsters behind closed doors and try to appear graceful. You are now confronting them, but with grace. And that, my dear, is why you inspire me.


    • Jan Morrill says:

      I love that C.S. Lewis quote, Linda. I read once where connections are made more fully when each person shares their vulnerabilities. I agree with you, too, about making our writing about “monsters” public only when it will help others. Of course, there lies one of the problems–who’s to say who it will help? 🙂 Thanks, too, for sharing!


  5. Camille Faye says:

    This is a beautiful and monstrous post. It made me uncomfortable at some points because I struggle to be authentic while shedding the “good girl” mask. Another conundrum is that I do, authentically, enjoy being happy and “good” toward others. But there are times in my week when the mask has to come off because some people are bullies and want to push you. I’m getting less okay with that as time passes. I won’t be anybody’s doormat in order to keep my “good girl” mask on. Thanks for sharing, Jan.


    • Jan Morrill says:

      Camille, I’ve often thought you and I share many similarities. You remind me of myself when I was your age. If you are already coming to realize you sometimes wear a “good girl” mask, good for you. I didn’t become conscious of that until I was in my 40s.

      It’s important that we take the risk of removing it and showing our true faces. Sometimes we’ll fall, but we’ll be taller each time we stand again.


  6. Great post Jan. I can relate on many points!


  7. Pingback: There Be Monsters | Pamela Foster, Author and Speaker

  8. krpooler says:

    Jan, It is so nice to “meet ” you through this very important conversation about revealing our truths, then once we’ve discovered them, standing straight and tall and moving forward. I am grateful to Linda for asking the tough questions that have generated this rich and relevant discussion. Excellent post which resonates. I will share.


  9. Beth Carter says:

    What a courageous post. I encourage you to shed the mask and write about good, bad and monsterly things–even if it’s in a private journal or fiction where names are changed to protect the innocent. We all have secrets and it’s therapeutic to finally get them out. That said, I haven’t told all of my secrets (yet) (maybe never will) (we’ll see)… but have already slipped some into my fiction. Readers don’t relate to perfect people. We all have issues, pasts, and monsters under the bed at times. Hugs.


    • Jan Morrill says:

      Thank you, Beth. I see writing as a way to connect and if we can’t be honest, good or bad, then there’s not much of a connection. But you’re right–it takes courage. Step by step… 🙂


  10. I trust you’ve read Yukio Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask?


    • Jan Morrill says:

      My apologies that I just found your comment on my blog, Melina. No, I haven’t heard of Confessions of a Mask, but I will certainly look it up. Thank you for the suggestion!


  11. Pingback: Beautiful Little Voice | Jan Morrill Writes

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