I have seen a large quantity of unpleasant things in ten years of being a street cop, and it seems each year gets just a little bit worse. Some things, I find, roll off you with no more effect than rain on a window, while other incidents ride around in your head for the rest of your life, no matter how hard you try and forget.
I’ve spent a long, cold night guarding a burned up body, chasing away the rats that kept trying to eat it with my flashlight. I have pulled bloated, reeking bodies from the river, trying not to pop them as I worked extremely hard to breath through my mouth and not my nose. I have seen people murdered, maimed, shot, stabbed, beaten, stomped, run over by cars and stuck in wood chippers. I’ve lost count of how many uniform shirts I have had to throw away, and how many times I’ve scrubbed blood off my boots.
This past week was not my worst, but it was as bad as I’ve had in a year or more. There was a lot of blood, and a lot of grief.
And I think it’s the grief that affects me most.
The most troubling experience I’ve ever had involved a mother gripping my face and screaming, begging me for vengeance after I brought her news that her child had been murdered. I can tell you that is an old ghost that has ridden my shoulder and will not be banished.
While policing is my profession, storytelling is my craft, and whenever I do the former I am thinking about the latter.
What can I do with all these experiences, I ask myself? Can I make something constructive out of all this pain? Can I use my craft to make something out of the void that is left by all this suffering?
The answer? I think I might have it a little backwards. I think it might not be so much that my job feeds my craft, but more likely that my craft allows me to be better at my job.
I had a good day today; I spent a large quantity of it with my wife, saw some of my dearest friends, and was able to stand in the clean air with the sun of my face. In the peaceful moments I was thinking on my writing path; where it is going, but also where it has been. And in thinking about this blog, I see that I’ve used it many, many times to shrug some weight off my shoulders. If it wasn’t for my ability to write, to dump emotions, and hopes, and fears, and worries out of my head and onto the page, I think I might be a bit of a raving lunatic by now.
I think for storytellers, writing is the most effective form of therapy. It helps us process the things we’ve seen, and impart to other people the lessons we’ve had to learn the hard way. It gives us a venue to live out dreams we might never acheive in our waking lives, and bring a little bit of happiness to people we would never otherwise meet. It allows me to hope that the things I’ve seen, the brains I’ve scraped off the bottom of my boot with a stick and the severed heads I’ve pulled out of the back seats of cars, will be transformed through one of my stories to touch someone else in a positive way.
Writing is a conduit: it allows us to change violence into joy, and hate into love.
So, as you go through your writing life, remember that the bad things you encounter might wind up as something powerful and effective in one of your stories. And the power of that tale might pull someone out of a bad place and set them right.
I’ve used this quote a dozen times, and I am unlikely to stop any time soon: “Your story might not matter to everyone, but it will matter, very much, to someone.” – Robert J. Sawyer
Try not to worry too much over the shit that rains down on you. You have the ability to turn it into something that doesn’t smell quite so bad.
Thanks for reading, and keep writing.