When I finished my first draft of Beautiful Lives, an agent who was a friend of my mentor’s read it. She said a lot of really nice things about my book and about me as a writer, but she also said she represents chick lit authors and didn’t handle material “this dark.”
I was surprised. I said to my beta reader, “but it’s funny.” My reader said, “Dark and funny aren’t mutually exclusive.”
She was right, of course. So was the agent. I wrote a story inspired by real people, with real (difficult, painful, funny) lives. The kind we all have. The kind that is sometimes dark, and sometimes hilarious… and sometimes both simultaneously…
Yesterday, on Twitter someone I like called me sticky sweet after reading my heart-to-heart post. I’ve also been accused of having a halo, and being too nice to rib. Both sentiments do feel like accusations, both make me want to defend myself, both feel unfair.
I had a conversation recently with an artist who is dark and funny and very hip. We were talking about art and what it attempts to do, and how not all art attempts to do the same thing, but we both think the best art attempts to get at a sort of truth. I was thinking, and didn’t say, that the art I respond to most attempts to reveal not only truth, but beauty; amidst all the fear and intolerance and heartbreak and crazy, there is beauty in the way we reach for each other, in the weird, surprising forms that love assumes. My favorite books, movies, music, photography, paintings all attempt to get at that.
I didn’t say it to the artist because I thought it might sound as if I only like happy endings (which I don’t), butterflies and puppies (which I do). It’s the same thing I’ve worried about with the love project. That people will discount it – or worse, me – because spreading love is just too fucking cheerful.
I’d like to say I don’t care, but clearly I do. I keep thinking about it. Writing about it. Since I saw the sticky sweet tweet, I’ve been trying to decide what to do. Embrace it? Denounce it? Write a post about how complicated I am, and how labels like that oversimplify me and the project and the whole messy way that love breaks and mends and breaks us again, and how I suspect it’s the lives that aren’t locked in that break-mend-break cycle that are the saddest lives of all?
Yeah. I went with the last option. This is that post, but it’s also a post in which I go ahead and just claim my hopeless optimism, my absolute sheer determination to focus on love – the simple, complicated, white-hot truth of it. The value of small gestures and big, open hearts… even when people sometimes mistake those hearts as targets.