Writing What Terrifies Me
Joss Whedon –creator of some of the most fascinating stories and monsters I’ve ever known-- once said something in an interview about how he writes to explore the things he is afraid of.
I found that a fascinating concept and tried to use it in my writing. Because all of a sudden, I could place a claustrophobic character, (because me, me, me! I’m terrified of tight enclosed spaces!!!!), into one and she could find the strength and courage to keep it together and work her way out.
Or an airplane could be taken over by a group of really bad guys and instead of sitting there watching petrified from the window as the land got closer and closer, (like I would!!, like I would!!), the hero and heroine would get up and fight their way out of it.
So wonderful to do: creating scary worlds and situations where I control the outcome and the outcome always –though through many twists and bruises—leads to a happily ever after. Scary situations, conquered!
But it ends up, I realized with a deathly finality today, I cannot truly ever write about the things that scare me the most.
Today I visited Auschwitz and Birkenau. The concentration/death camps in Poland.
I’ve posted some pictures here –almost all of which you can find taken better by a more skilled photographer—about the place where 1.1 million people came through and almost all of them died.
The barren pictures of the outside speak loudly enough to the tragedy of it all… As I walked, I could hear my 10th grade literature teacher’s lecture about man’s inhumanity to man as a theme of Elie Wiesel’s Night - his personal narrative about living through Auschwitz.
I dare say literary scholars might find a less crisp term for it if they visited this place.
Inside the building, where pictures weren’t allowed I lived through man’s inhumanity to man. Such as hundreds of thousands of shoes taken from prisoners as they arrived --the actual shoes-- piled up two stories high.
Or an entire dormitory full of tons of women’s hair… ponytails, that had been cut off of corpses after death in the gas chambers, to be used in blankets and coats back in Germany.
I walked down a hallway that had pictures of prisoners –taken by the Nazi’s for whatever reason, like mug shots,-- their date of birth, date of arrival at the camp, and date of death listed.
Some only lasted days –maybe because they arrived in winter and were forced to work outside with little or no protection from the elements. Some lived for months. Very few longer than that.
One picture caught my eye --a relatively young girl-- because of the picture right next to it.
I thought it was a reprint of the same girl twice, but it wasn’t. Twins.
Fifteen-years-old. One survived five months at the camp. The other seven.
I had to leave the tour for a few minutes after that. Regroup. Maybe because I have a fifteen-year-old daughter myself.
My kids couldn’t understand why I was crying looking at the pictures. Most people on the tour cried when walking through the gas chamber where so many people died being told they were going to get a shower.
I could certainly imagine it. Mothers arriving from all over Europe with their children in tow, having been in stock train cars (not passenger cars) sometimes for days with no bathroom. They were taken off the train and told they were going to be given a shower before going to the dormitories.
I'm sure most of them were grateful to lead their children in to what they thought was going to be a chance to get clean before facing another day. I certainly would've lead mine.
As I walked inside the promise of cleanliness that ended up being death, I cried again.
Ultimately we left Auschwitz with a greater understanding of what happened at there and a true appreciation of our freedom. Of the blessing which is life. It was good for me to experience, and my children.
Probably something everyone should experience.
But I can tell you this, I will never write about what scares me most: watching my family be ripped from me, unable to stop anything about it. Unable to protect them or keep them with me or know if they survived.
To wonder if they died horribly then die myself, never knowing.
I will never write my greatest fears because even if I did it would not ease the terror.
My greatest fears are what so many lived through in this place.
I will not write, but I will never forget.