MORNING COFFEE 39 - love your flaws

By Susan Weber

“Learn to love your flaws. Otherwise, how are you going to write good characters?” That was Marlon James, award winning writer from Jamaica, lamenting the failure of nerve among contemporary writers. In a recent talk he said a writer has to be self-curios. This can lead from self-love to self-contempt and back again. For some of us this is scary stuff.

I’m from the U.S. heartland where especially women, irrevocably moms, inevitably artists, should we presume to be sentient beings, learn to tamp down honesty with infinite decorum. There’s a sense that full disclosure of our flaws, even to ourselves, would engulf our tiny life boats in tidal waves we’re not equipped to handle.

But my rules of engagement have recently changed. Even in Ohio, when you lose a spouse of many years you become a tragic figure, replete with gravitas and broad expectation that you sort yourself out. What had been deemed self-indulgent is now seen as helpful to the body politic.

The more Marlon James talked, the more writing well and living well seemed to intersect. “I’m not here to live by anybody’s expectations,” he said. When he finally got that, he began to “just play” in his novels. He said where literature used to reveal, now it is mostly escape. Writing doesn't heal the way it once did. The problem, he thinks, is that contemporary fiction is steeped in dread. Humor is a key survival skill. Writing needs to carry more of that.

With my new prerogative to defy dread and explore characters, personal and fictional, I’ll keep my eye on humor.  It should be useful as I learn to love my flaws.

Photo by Jeyaselvand CC BY-SA 4.0