Of Base Emotions, Savagery, and Survival

As I turn more to writing fiction, I find myself, more and more, observing human nature and emotions. For decades now, I have created my own laboratory, observing what I want to feel and what I don’t. I try to determine what is truly authentic emotion, and what I set up to create a distraction. It’s not an easy journey, and at times I still struggle with accepting the most base part of myself–and others. We live in a modern society, but our actions often stem from the need to survive. We see it in the BP oil spill, which has set up complex methods to ensure its survival. We the people watch in horror as the spill continues to unfold.

There are heroes in this scenario. Billy Nungesser, president of Placquemines Parish, spends day after day working, pleading, and creating unique solutions–including wet-dry vacuums. Kevin Costner, of Hollywood elite, has spent nearly 20 years and millions of dollars of his own money to invest in a spill clean-up solution.

Emotions run high. Proponents of drilling fear that the moratorium will cost jobs. Opponents of drilling beg that the moratorium be long enough to identify and solve problems. Political posturing adds to the mix, as candidates rush to have their points of view aired. Of course, this entire year has been one where fear and anger have threatened to drown us, and more and more I have had to dig deeply inside of myself to find an elusive serenity.

I often turn to my garden when feeling battered. Even if I just walk around and look at everything, I feel cheered and energized. I marvel at Mother Nature and her resilience. Today, though, I had to face a different reality. My broccoli plants continue to be plagued by cabbage worms, and even the presence of wasps, their predators, hasn’t helped. If I don’t do something, the plants will die. My Monarch caterpillars knew not to kill the milkweed; the cabbage worms will gorge until the plant dies.

The best organic gardening solution, other than bringing the beneficial pests (my garden is new, so they’re just starting to arrive), is to pick the worms off the plant and kill them. I consider myself a pacifist, and I hate the thought of destroying any kind of life–but I also am not willing to give up on plants that have worked so hard to survive. So, out I went with my bucket of soapy water, a sponge, and gloves. As I washed the leaves and turned them over, one by one, I encountered dozens of them. My squeamishness ended far more quickly than I would care to admit. I felt angry and violated. I felt as though a member of my family had been personally attacked. I killed them. I yelled at them. I called them nasty names. And the Observer in me watched curiously at this part of myself that I don’t like to admit exists.

The worms hide in dark places on the plants, underneath the leaves, sometimes at the seam of where a stem meets a larger stalk. Like the dark places within my own soul, I have to find them by turning each part of me over and looking in those dark places. I didn’t want to admit that those worms exist, or at least not so many of them, and I avoided today’s killing spree for weeks because I just didn’t want them to be there. I hoped the wasps would take over and do my job–but it was, as always, up to me.

Truth is, the more I examine those dark places, the more I understand my own nature, and the nature of humanity as a whole. We find ways to survive, and some of them are not pretty. No matter what amount of inner work we do, we will still always have those dark places. The best I can hope for is to see them with love, and to bring them to my characters as a fearless writer. Maybe, in the process, I can find more easily the other part inside, the Billy Nungesser or Kevin Costner, and bring them to my characters as well. We need to accept and embrace our dark sides, but hopefully, we can then find our light.

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