03 August 2014

What We Gain From Loss

Life makes you take turns, wait your turn, and often turn around so much you get dizzy. Instead of rushing on into the heady world of publishing thrill, I've been forced to pause and consider everything in the world around me. Oh, the new novel is fine, waiting its turn. Summer vacation is full of the usual indolence. The day job is waiting like a closed oyster. And the laundry is done. But something is missing. There is a strange emptiness here.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt once famously said that all we have to fear is fear itself. The point was that worrying about something can be as crippling as the effect of the something actually happening. In the same way, fearing loss can be as debilitating as experiencing the loss itself. But loss is its own strange animal. 

Perhaps what a person fears most is loss of him/herself: loss of identity, loss of agency. When you are no longer who you are, who you have always believed yourself to be--when you lose that facade or mask you relied on for so long and people see you for who you really are, a kind of psychological nakedness--that kind of loss can be as real and as painful as death. Loss of agency, your ability to make a mark in the world, to make your own way, to act for your own benefit--can also be as devastating as a physical injury or paralysis yet it can come in psychological forms just as a loss of identity can.

Loss is the principal issue in many of my novels, it seems. It is easy to see in hindsight. Perhaps I chose that theme unconsciously or perhaps there was something intriguing about loss that drove me to explore it and its pain. After all, having a character lose something important and struggle to regain it is always a great way to introduce tension and advance the plot.

Of course there is the obvious loss of the significant other in a character's life. In AFTER ILIUM, Alex Parris loses Elena, the woman he has been having an affair with, and that loss drives him to take all kinds of risks to get her back. Along the way, he is threatened with the loss of his identity--how he sees himself, the kind of man he has been taught to be--and with loss of agency (his inability to act for himself, first by being in a jail, then by peer pressure to act differently than for his own interests, then by violence).

In THE DREAM LAND Trilogy, Sebastian is initially hurt by the loss of his love interest, Gina, but as he grows into his role as interdimensional voyager and accepts all that role entails, he becomes caught up with a life full of threats to his identity. He gets a little schizophrenic (mere IRS clerk or warrior on another world?) and from that wound also paranoid as he sees that others do not see him as he sees himself. Through the trilogy he is constantly losing and fighting to regain many things. It never gets easy. In Book III, Gina faces the loss of her daughter, who she gives up in order to save her.

Eric, the male protagonist in the campus anti-romance A BEAUTIFUL CHILL and his female counterpart, Iris, have each suffered loss in their lives. When they find each other one winter night, they think the losses will cease. They think they have plugged the gaps--only to find they become each other's worst enemy. Each has a plan for the other but they do not accept such plans because they represent loss of identity.

Now, in my new novel, A DRY PATCH OF SKIN, our hero, Stefan, faces the greatest loss of all: his own bodily integrity. As he fights against nature--and God--he fights against the loss of himself. He does not want to transform, against his will, into a hideous and grotesque creature of the night. Moreover, it is that transformation that will cause him to lose Penny, the love of his life, who he refuses to let see him as he becomes uglier. He sees himself condemned to a painful, miserable, lonely existence: complete loss of identity, agency, and love.

People lose lots of things. Some things are given away, purposefully or haphazardly, with or without regret. Others are taken away. Car keys, card games, a race to a traffic light, the city's sports team's championship. People lose first grandparents, then parents, sometimes siblings, sometimes children. Fathers lose wives, mothers lose babies, babies lose fights with nature. People lose jobs. People lose weight. They lose pets. They lose homes. They lose their sense of well-being. They lose their safety. They lose their peace. They lose a pair of shoes they somehow misplaced. But misplacement means the shoes still exist, only they are in another realm. And loss itself can be when something you have is destroyed, whether deliberately or accidentally. You no longer have it. When the tornado comes, people cry out that all is lost--and it often is.

Or loss can be when you hope or expect or anticipate having something and then it doesn't arrive. It's rather like a child's Christmas wish. You have sat on Santa's lap begging for that special toy and the big guy assures you that you'll get it. Parents confirm you'll get it. So you wait anxiously through the days, even counting them off, looking forward to that wonderful day. But instead of that gift you have desired, there is nothing. Not a lump of coal, not even a stocking hung with care. Nothing. It's as though Christmas has been canceled and all the trappings have been taken down. It's as though the holiday never existed and your hopes and dreams never were hoped, never were dreamed. And everything is as it was before. You are returned to the heat of summer and Christmas seems years away again. That is what real loss is: never having that one precious thing.

So grab hold of all you have and be glad for it. Take pictures and stencil id numbers on everything. Lock them away. Then stare into the nearest mirror and make sure you are who you want to be. And always love your bunnies.

(C) Copyright 2010-2014 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

1 comment:

  1. Loss is very familiar to me. "So grab hold of all you have and be glad for it." is very well said. Things change too often xo