I often question the worth of the words I write. Does the world really need another gruesome horror novel? I look at writers like Nicholas Sparks and think, the world needs more writers like that, stories with romance and tension without death and carnage. The world is a tough, brutal place that needs a little light now and then.
A that's the problem.
The world is not a tough place. In fact, it's a ridiculously easy, sanitary, kind, and healthy place. Those of us lucky to live in modern cities enjoy a standard of living unheard of even among emperors and kings. Cheap food, cheap clothes, indoor environments, civic law, stellar health care that has doubled our life expectancy, and nearly unlimited access to information broaden our hearts and minds in ways our ancestors couldn't dream. We almost have nothing to complain about.
But we do. Incessantly. We moan and groan and whine. We're bored, our house isn't big enough, we never have enough money, and other people don't recognize what brilliant and charming people we are. We feel entitled to perfection.
As I dive into my research, I see another side to the world.
Lacking first-hand knowledge, I have to look up grim methods of death and destruction. It might not be cheery, but I find it fascinating and sad, a part of life we seldom discuss. Today I looked up the symptoms, treatments, and first-hand accounts of starvation. What I found instead under the words 'starvation' and 'starving' were diet fads and complaints. "I've been dieting for three days and I'm starving!"
On another search I needed to find the symptoms, treatments, and first-hand accounts of drowning. What I found was a scientific justification for the use of drowning in capital punishment written in 1878. I didn't know that drowning was one of the preferred methods for disposing of criminals for centuries!
These individual discoveries trouble me in ways it is difficult to describe. With the loss of perspective comes the loss of compassion. When we don't recognize what could be, we don't appreciate what is. We have become so safe in our modern world that we are in danger of losing compassion. How can we begin to understand the suffering of others if we've never sacrificed ourselves? How will we find compassion when something does go wrong? How can we understand a difficult life when our lives are not difficult?
This is deeper than obese people unashamed to describe their hunger as starvation. It is a blatant loss of perspective.
Read the article on the the painlessness of drowning. It will chill you, but you'll find yourself saying, "Thank goodness we don't do that anymore." But we do, don't we? Capital punishment is still in force. Is it any less barbaric? Can the vengeful loss of life be anything but barbaric?
Like life, capital punishment is sanitised. A needle in the arm puts you to sleep instead of a noose or a guillotine. But a silent, gentle death detracts from the value of life. We no longer draw and quarter criminals, but we still kill them.
This might sound like a left-wing diatribe urging you to stop the death penalty and feed Africa. Frankly, I don't care what your personal convictions are. What I care about is the blindness we have, as a society, for the dark side. We waste what is scarce, we work long hours but accomplish little, we set aside "family time" because it no longer happens naturally, and we take drugs for depression because we don't know how to connect to other humans.
Horror gives that back. When written well, we see firsthand, experience vicariously, the dark troubles of the world. We recognize that life is fragile, a temporary gift. We see that deep companionship can exist where all other comforts disappear.
When you close the book or the credits roll, you are a survivor. Your house feels warmer, your food tastier, your love deeper.
For me, the horror I read makes me more forgiving of those petty insults I daily suffer.
When I wrote my first book I happily killed people off.
In my second, I pause.
Something has changed. I, a card carrying misanthrope, feel sorry for them, for fictional characters. Even worse, that translates beyond the page. I've started to feel compassion for real people.
It's a brave new world.
I hope you feel the same way.
If not, it might at least give you the courage to diet.