Instead of the usual type of blog posting this week, I wanted to take a moment to share some personal thoughts about the story. There is an interesting conversation going on following Chapter 25 that may interest you. I’ve already commented at length over there and I don’t want to stymie that conversation by posting again right now. But I wanted to say something more over here.
What is Connected about? We are close to being about half way through the story now so it seems like a pretty basic question. To me the story is about different things. One of those things it’s about is the nature of love. I think what people liked about Part I of the story was seeing two good looking young boys falling in love. That kind of youthful, innocent, love does wonders for the soul and makes us feel good. To me everyone should be happy for Nolan and Josh. They make a terrific couple and hopefully their love will grow and floursh as they cope with the challenges life will bring.
But what about a boy like Tommy? Here is a boy who has never experienced love in his life. His father is cruel and hateful, his mother a drunk. He’s been exploited by others for their own purposes, sometimes innocently enough as with Jean Marie, sometimes less innocently as with Wayne and the Coach. Is it possible for a boy like Tommy who has suffered incredible emotional and psychological damage to experience love? Or is the damage he has experienced so profound that there is really no hope for someone like Tommy?
That’s one of the things I am trying to explore. Whether I am doing it very well is impossible for me to say. Still, as a storyteller, I can’t just ignore how well I am doing it. The question I have to grapple with is whether I do more harm by focusing on the damage being done to Tommy than any good that can possibly be accomplished down the road if somehow he is able to overcome that damage? It’s hard for me to know the answer to that. I suppose each of you will ultimately have to decide for yourself.
So that’s one big issue for the story, i.e., the nature of love. Is it something reserved only for those like Nolan and Josh who have led easier lives? Or can people whose lives are less easy also overcome adversity and find love?
Another topic I want to explore is obscenity, not what is legally obscene because I’m not a lawyer and that doesn’t interest me very much. I want to explore how we think about obscenity in America. As some of you know, I’ve discussed the difficulty of writing about sex on a number of occasions, most notably here and here. I tried to do the best I could in portraying sex between Nolan and Josh as youthful and innocent. That task was hard. It will be much harder indeed with Tommy for a number of reasons.
To the extent there is any sex in future chapters, I don’t want it to be gratuitous. I want it to reveal something of the character of the individuals involved first of all. But I also want to contrast whatever sex there is with something else the story will begin focusing on much more in the near future, i.e., the war. And the question I would like readers of this story to ask themselves is simple enough: what is truly obscene in life? Not, as I mentioned, in a legal sense, but in the ordinary usage of the word. I have a point of view on this. But it is something I would like each of you to focus on as well. Is it obscene for two people to have sex for personal pleasure (or is it only obscene if that is portrayed in a story)? Is it obscene to send young men and women off to fight and die in senseless wars? Is what passes for politics in America these days obscene?
As we move into the discussion of the war, many other questions will be raised. What is right? What is wrong? Does the end justify the means? Is all fair in love and politics? These are some of the other questions the story tries to get at. Again, I make no great claim for myself as a storyteller. What I would like to accomplish and what I actually accomplish is something each reader will have to decide. I am trying to make you think.
There is another important thing I would like to say. I guess it would be really nice if issues like these could be wrapped up in one or two chapters so that we could move on to something else and be done with them. But that’s not how life works. In the real world, these are issues that all of us grapple with (or should grapple with) each and every day of our lives. Clearly, there is no way I can take the characters in this story from birth to death. But I hope you will see them wrestling with these issues longer than a week, a month, or a year. They are not simple issues. It’s not realistic to think they can all be wrapped up in one or two chapters. That means that patience will be a virtue for you as a reader.
Each week I look at one chapter and try to make it the very best that I can. I’m not foolish enough to believe I always succeed. But I try. Part of the problem for me as a storyteller is that each week I am focusing on a lot of trees. These details can be interesting. I spend a lot of time on them because they can reveal a lot about the character of the different characters. In the end, however, they are less important than the forest. But it’s not always easy for me to see the forest when I am so wrapped up in the trees.
I believe in good and evil, right and wrong, the power of love and the power of the absence of love. Whatever else you believe about the story, I hope you will believe that I want it to be a positive force in the lives of those reading it. I’m human. If I screw up or make mistakes, let me know. If you learn something positive from it or think about something in a different way than before, that would be nice to know as well. Maybe it may seem that this post is making more of the story than it should. However good or bad it may be, I do take it seriously; and while I want it to be something you end up enjoying, I’m hoping that it forces you to think about some things I believe are important.