A Telling Courage

I follow the blog of a teacher and fellow writer named Charles French. This week, his post addressed creativity – specifically, he cited an artist, an author, and a prominent psychologist on the subject of creativity.

What impressed me was that two of the three quotes in his blog contained the word “courage.” That these people paired courage and creativity was not a surprise, for I have long thought that creativity means little without the courage to display – to parade one’s creativity before others. To expose oneself to praise or ridicule or dissent or all of the above.

Never was the need for courage in creativity more evident to me than this past weekend.

I recently finished a non-fiction account of my brother Scott – a talented, intelligent, handsome young man from an average middle-class family – who spent most of his life on the wrong side of the law.

Since my college days, my thoughts and memories of this younger brother have centered around the same questions my parents asked themselves almost daily: What happened? Where did we go wrong?

For the last ten years, I’ve been pursuing those questions in an effort to tell Scott’s story. I’ve interviewed his friends, his widow, my mother (my dad having died many years ago), my remaining brother. I have my own vivid memories on which to fall back as well.

My “research” led me to what I believe may have been the answer to Scott’s aberrant behavior (although I will never know for certain).

As Scott’s tale unfolded, however, I uncovered the potential to hurt a lot of people, my mother included. That had not been my intention, of course. But the truth is not always painless.

In an effort to soften any blow, I’ve been articulating my findings to Mom as I searched and wrote. I’ve tried to be gentle, for I love my mom and didn’t want to blind-side or hurt her. That was not always possible, for my mother is hypersensitive to the subject of Scott. But she listened and, more often than not, she agreed that where I was going with the tale made sense and had the ring of truth.

Then last week, I gave Mom a copy of the manuscript. It is raw – there is still time for corrections and additions before I send it off to a professional editor – but its core is there. I warned Mom: what is in black and white will have a different impact than any oral history. I cautioned that she might not like it, for the picture it painted of both her and my father was quite different from the face they showed the world. As a proud and private woman, Mom might find my story disturbing.

However, I told her, Scott deserved the truth – and my book will be as truthful as I can make it.

Over this last weekend, my mom and I exchanged tearful, verging on hostile, phone conversations. She had finished the manuscript. It was well done, she said – then cried. She had tried to read it as if she were an outsider who knew nothing of these people. In doing so, she hadn’t liked the character that was herself at all, from the beginning. She didn’t dispute the truth of my words – but that didn’t mean she liked them.

There will be more conversations, of course. I will give her an opportunity to refute anything she believes I got wrong. I will ask her if she has some softer anecdotes about my brother that she wants to emphasize. All with the caution that I may or may not use her input, depending upon whether or not I can corroborate her take (either with my own memories or those of others).

At this point my worse fear is the damage I may have done to our relationship. I have repeatedly told her that I love her – that I believe she had a tragic part in the making of my brother, but I do not believe it was malicious.

The real test of my courage is yet to come, however. Will Scott’s story even make it to print?

About Lori Hart Beninger

Lori Hart Beninger is a native California writer with three critically acclaimed historical novels (Embracing the Elephant, A Veil of Fog and Flames, and A Peculiar Peace) that follow two 19th century young adults as they struggle with survival and acceptance in the pivotal era of the California Gold Rush up to the American Civil War. Please visit www.ontrackpublishing.com for synopses, availability, reviews, and more.
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