Monday, November 19, 2012

The Great Escape: What "Twilight" Taught Me About Why I Write

Last Thursday I played hooky from my generally responsible life. For 12 straight hours, I didn't chauffeur anyone, cook for anyone, clean up after anyone, or make sure homework had been done. I even put my clients on hold for a day and didn't do a stitch of writing. Instead, I, my BFF, and about 300 of our closest friends attended the Twilight Marathon at the local theatre where we committed nutritional suicide over-indulging on popcorn, pretzels, and other empty carbs while watching all 5 films -- from Hardwicke to Condon -- back to back to back...

Frankly, I felt a bit self-conscious about the whole deal. I'm not a rabid Twihard. I can't actually make it all the way through even one of the books; the writing just puts me off. Swanning around the theatre wearing a big black lanyard emblazoned with the "Twilight Marathon" logo is not my idea of sporting the latest fashion accessory. 

Still, the event sounded like fun and, as my friend and I rationalized: When would we get the chance to see all of the films together in a theatre again?

Don't judge me.

Nah, go ahead. Judge me if you must. The experience not only gave me an unexpected infusion of motivation, but it was also a huge eye-opener into why I write. 

You see, I met Charlotte.*

Between screenings, I got talking with the woman sitting next to me. She, unlike me, IS a Twihard. Big time. Where my friend and I bought our tickets three days before the event ("If they're sold out, it's no big deal..."), Charlotte bought hers six weeks earlier, as soon as they went on sale.

Charlotte told me her husband has a t-shirt that states: Twilight Ruined My Wife. She is Team Edward all the way, baby, and sported a shirt to prove it. She was politely aghast when I admitted to not having read all 4 books. She's read them all -- several times. And she has attended every marathon before every new release.
Every one.

Now, you can judge me all you want, but don't you dare judge Charlotte.

Because Charlotte's husband has a job that takes him away from home for extended periods of time, she is, for all extents and purposes, a single mom. She has several children, the oldest of whom has several serious long-term medical issues that will never go away or be fully resolved. She had left her kids in her mother's care for the night, but confided that because of the eldest child's special needs, she could only get away for a night out once or twice a year.

Thursday was one of those nights.

For twelve glorious hours Charlotte put her life on hold and gave herself a break. So what if she chose to spend it watching sparkly vampires, impossibly ripped guys, CGI werewolves, and a morose teenage girl? Twilight gave her a Free Pass to another world... just for a little while.

Of course, afterward, she had to go back to her life. She had to once again shoulder the responsibility of doling out meds, keeping the peace, driving to doctors' appointments and school events, managing homework, and raising the next generation. She had to get back to paying the bills, buying groceries, maintaining a long distance relationship, and keeping her sanity. 

She wasn't shirking her responsibilities by taking a 12-hour Twilight break. She was recharging her batteries so she could charge back into the fray.

Go ahead: discount escapism. Say all you want about fans of such stuff looking for a way off the merry-go-round. But beware any feeling you may have of superiority. You never know when life will deal you a hand that has you looking for the escape hatch.

Here's the thing -- though it would be nice to write a bestseller, that's not the be-all and end-all, as far as I'm concerned. It's not all about numbers and sales. Instead, it's about connection.

For me, the Writer's Brass Ring would be to write something that allows people to escape whatever chains are binding their lives -- if only for a little while. That's why I write. And that's why I will never again judge a diehard Twihard. Or Gleek. Or Hunger Games aficionado. Or a fan of any other writer / singer / series / actor. Instead, I'll just do my darndest to create something that moves people half as much. 

* Not her real name.


Michele Shaw said...

Way to go! Exactly. It's all about the connection that reader made and what it did for her. People may judge S. Meyer's writing, but she hit a note with a lot of people. As you said, like we all want to. If I could write something a struggling person used to help them through a tough day, I'd be thrilled. Here's to getting there!

Ami Hendrickson said...

Thanks for commenting. And you're right -- Connection is *everything.*

I remember years ago, I was working with a young writer who was particularly fond of a chapter he'd just finished. "I can't wait to see people's faces when they read this!" he said.

I felt like the Grinch reminding him that he would *never* be able to see the faces of his readers while reading. Such is the nature of the writer / reader relationship.

Meyer is one of the few lucky ones to have an inkling of how much she had influenced her readers' lives. We should all be so lucky.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this post. I actually got a little choked up reading it.

I'm a Harry Potter fanatic (the books, not the movies, though I've seen them). I need escapism. I don't just need it emotionally, but also physically/cognitively.

I live with multiple chronic illnesses, and the symptoms include exhaustion, pain, and cognitive impairment (including a print disability). So I actually listen to the HP books on DVD. There are a lot of books I'm unable to read because of my cognitive dysfunction. All my friends with similar disabilities agree that they NEED TV or Netflix or lite books (mysteries, romance, whatever) as a way to escape and also just a way to give our brains a rest.

I think everyone actually needs escapism, it's just that some forms (running, swimming, dancing, creating or experiencing "high art") are more socially acceptable than others (drinking, playing video games, watching/reading "lowbrow" entertainment).

I've listened to the HP books so often that I can say the lines along with Jim Dale (the actor who performs them). Yes, I'm aware of their imperfections (JKR way overuses adjectives), but they are my comfort food. They don't require anything of me except for me to be, and I need that.

Sharon Wachsler (@aftergadget)

Ami Hendrickson said...


Thanks so much for the comment! I adore Jim Dale's narration of the HP books. IMO, they add immeasurably to the story experience -- far more satisfying than the film versions.

I, too, have found solace in pure escapism when life lobbed asteroids at my tiny little sphere of existence. Sometimes my escapism is in worlds of my own creation. At others, I just don't have the energy to pour into anything creative, so I am grateful for the creativity of others.

As a writer, I don't want to lose sight of the importance of allowing the reader the freedom of losing him- or herself in another world. Sometimes we writers can take ourselves way too seriously. Life can be serious. Art can be the much-needed antidote. :)

Keep on keeping on!