“There has not been enough sorrow in my life,” my mother said to me over the phone as she drove back from a writing retreat. “There are people who have such harrowing stories and I don’t think my life has been sad enough to write about.”
There is something unique about reading real stories by real people. You read about how they overcome adversity and how they triumph despite every statistic being against them. Holocaust survivors, war refugees, cancer sufferers … Unhappy endings are unwelcome; we want to believe in something great, something amazing, and we want to believe that it can happen to us since it has happened to a “real” person already. We don’t want to read about hopelessness and despair unless it ends happily, with optimism for the future and a smiling face upturned to the sun.
Do I have to feel sorrow before I can write about it? How do we judge whose sorrow is more sorrowful; how do we judge whose sorrow is worthier of telling? Do we have to suffer in order to have a story to tell? Does life have to have sorrow in order for it to have meaning?
“Why can’t you write about joy and love and happiness?” I asked, and she sighed in response.