by Kim Kelly
A LITTLE KINDNESS
They say write what you know – whoever they are. I’m not sure about that advice.
First, it’s my own ignorance, and the questing curiosity always hoping to rectify it, that drives my desire to investigate all kinds of stuff through narrative and character – everything from surgery to nuclear fission, from underground mining to botanical classification. Second, since I write historical fiction, I can’t in any authentic sense know anything much of the experiences I write about.
What I do know about, though, is the emotional landscape of the stories that weave their way from heart and brain onto the page.
Love. Grief. Friendship. What home means. Disconnection and reconnection. Hurt. Healing. The deep, intimate madnesses that all of the above can trigger.
But I’ve realised over the past little while that the pulse that runs beneath all my tale-telling is kindness. Characters who have too little of it learn it. Characters who don’t have any of it lose. Heroes possess it in spades.
My heroes – the guys and the gals – are all flawed and frail in some way. Sometimes they’re annoying: stubborn, foul-mouthed, shoulders chipped and packaging damaged inside and out. Sometimes they betray those they love – and themselves. But kindness is at the top tip of their growth, their success and their nobility.
I’ve copped a bit of shit over this from both sides of the literary fence. Lovers of romance can occasionally get uppity that my heroes are, really, a bunch of basket cases. Culture creatures, on the other hand, accuse me of sentimentality and Pollyanna-ism.
The thing is, though, these characters are, to me, in all their feels very real. They are me. The more I write, the more I realise I am writing not so much what I know but what I live.
The pursuit of kindness – how to be generous towards others, to be compassionate, a listener, a forgiver, an understander, how to be larger than your own smallness and stronger than all your weaknesses, how to walk away from anger – is a quest at the centre of my own life. I fail daily, but I will die trying.
Why? It’s no moral cause. Those who know my work well know I fall firmly into Nietzsche’s camp on that: good and evil are crap constructs, reductive idiocies that cause untold war and pain. I don’t want to be kind because I think I’ll be rewarded – in heaven or by others. I want to be kind because it makes sense, because it reduces conflict and creates safe bases in chaos, because, as a chronic anxiety sufferer, I need as much peace and order as I can get.
But more than this, I’ve been on the receiving end of unkindness. I know what it’s like to be bullied, raped, kicked, spat on, belittled, told I’m worthless. I know what it feels like to have the life of someone you love ripped from you so that all you can do in response is scream. I know that these terrifying experiences never go away.
This afternoon, Deano – my husband, best mate and muse de bloke – came in from work talking about a program he’d just heard on the radio about economic violence, that mind-twisting, sadistic game where someone takes such control over your life, they steal your money. I started to cry as we talked about it, because I know what that feels like too, to be shrunk so low, and the conversation sent me straight into a traumatic flashback from many years ago.
Why don’t I write about those experiences instead? Why don’t I write about that darkness and disempowerment? Because I want to tear the power from bullies and bigots of all kinds while I’m alive. Sharp-eyed readers might have spotted that I never mention the name of a certain genocidal German leader whose name was barely off the front page during World War Two. I don’t mention his name because to do so maintains his power. I might detail the acts – but not that man.
I detail the triumph of kindness instead because it’s the only truly effective weapon I have.
Plus Deano, of course. He’s the kindest man I know.