Letters

The following is a lyric essay I wrote in my penultimate semester of college, written for an advanced nonfiction writing class.  It is a found-form essay, using the form of a series of letters to personal heroes (three of whom are fictional) to allow for self-exploration.

slushpile“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of.”
-Joss Whedon

Dear Batman (or may I call you Bruce?),
I felt like I had to write to you. You are an inspiration to me, and I don’t know who else talk to about this.
It’s not really fair for me to write to you, since I know you are busy in your quest to preserve the spirit of Gotham, and I am writing you, knowing so much about you while you know nothing about me. I don’t even live anywhere near Gotham.
I suppose I warrant a little introduction. I am a college student aspiring to be a novelist. I have just one more semester to finish school.
That sounds so flat in comparison to a person like you– a brilliant, successful billionaire businessman who has dedicated his life to combating crime in the depressed, corrupt city of Gotham. You are part warrior, part detective, part inventor. You are brilliant and dangerous. I’m nothing like you.
And yet, I feel like I know you: the nuances of your character, your powerful sense of morality. I know many of your back-stories, how the keys to any of them is that your parents were killed on the street in front of you, and your fear of bats. Each version of you has been prepared in different ways, going through different struggles to get started. Sometimes you take on apprentices, an assortment of individuals who go by the names of Robin or Batgirl or invent new names when those roles are filled. I know about your failures, your successes. I know your long list of enemies by name.
The part I can’t get out of my head, though, is the death of your parents.
I have nothing in my life that compares to that. I have not undergone any great tragedy beyond the death of one of my best friends when I was fifteen, but he was ravaged by cancer, and part of me felt relieved when he died and escaped his pain. It was tragic, but it didn’t reshape my life.
Is it bad that I kind of want it to? I want to be able to make something beautiful out of his death, something tangible. More than just memories, I want to be able to crystallize the moment I found out he had died and pour it into a book, a story, a poem. That moment when I stood in the office of my high school, my mother hugging me tight then leading me to the car, while I stared blankly, wanting so badly for it to feel real enough that I could cry. Instead I just cried with dry eyes for hours, alone in my room. I want that day to really mean something to me, to shape my writing, and to have an effect on those who read what I write.
A common adage used for writers is “write what you know.” I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase. Well, I don’t personally know the things I want to write about. I want to create something fascinating and deep and meaningful. Beautiful. Emotive. My interactions with the depths of human emotion have been brief and would not seem profound to anybody but myself. The writers around me have almost all known some sort of great suffering– parents have died, disease has attacked their bodies. They can draw on their experiences to create beautiful works of literature. How can I believe I can do that? I couldn’t even produce tears when Garrett died. I laughed during his funeral, so how deeply have I felt pain, sorrow, or grief?
Part of your goal as Batman is to inspire people, right? Well, how can you be my inspiration? I cannot do what you can. I do not have vast funds, combat training, scientific intellect, or the motivation to do what you do. I don’t want to be like you: your life is hard and riddled with sorrows and pain. Plus, you want to inspire people to stand up to corruption and crime, and those really aren’t big issues where I live. No, I just want to be able to draw something from your struggles that allows me to create something really worth reading. Worth writing.
I don’t have a person I really consider to be my mentor, at least not for my writing. I don’t have a person I can turn to who is a voice of experience and reason in creative pursuits. Nobody who will respond.
I don’t know what I’m trying to achieve, writing to you about all this. You can’t be a mentor to me. You’re fictional. You’re inconsistent. You can’t answer me. For heaven’s sake, you depend on my creativity to exist. The closest I can even come to interacting with you is to write a comic book manuscript about you (which is, in fact, one of my dreams). You can be whatever I want you to be, but that somehow seems to make you less worthwhile to look up to. That makes you too flawed, or too perfect.
Plus, how can something that doesn’t really exist provide inspiration?
And what does that say about my fiction?
-N. J. Darkish

Dear Harry Potter,
You’re one of my heroes. You were an inspiration to me, especially all through my childhood. Your adventures always drew me in ways that made me feel like I was living them along with you, an unsaid friend who helped you alongside Ron and Hermione.
You were always so brave. Self-sacrificing. Willing to do anything for the sake of good. You stood up against hellish creatures and people. I used to actually shudder when I imagined the clammy flesh of a Dementor. They scared me in ways I couldn’t describe, and yet you were still resolute against them, using your stag Patronus to fight them back, keeping me and your numberless other friends safe.
And Voldemort and his Death Eaters– their darkness knew no bounds, but you were always there to drive them back with your personal light (and a lot of helpful spells, I might add). You always kept going on, even when you were injured, even when things were really hard. Even when Dumbledore, your friend and mentor, was killed. You never stopped, so it felt like I never stopped standing up to evil.
But here’s the frustrating part of all of that: I don’t live in a world where magic is real. I can never go to a place like Hogwarts. I can never learn a single spell. I will never see an elf, dragon, or phoenix. I will never ride a broom. I won’t receive a badass lightning bolt scar. I can’t even train an owl to deliver my mail.
Even more, I am never going to have to face problems like you had to face. The real world may have a lot of evil in it, but very few men come anywhere close to Lord Voldemort. Real evil men are far more complicated than he was, with have at least a few redeeming qualities. And I will never have to come in contact with any of those men. No, I am going to live my life in relatively boring ways. My big problems are almost certainly going to be financial or health-related. The possibility of laying in a hospital bed with an IV in my arm really doesn’t hold a candle to destroying Horcruxes or dueling a dark lord with powerful magic. Though it still is scary as hell.
So, you taught me all this bravery, but for what? What can I do with it? Go hunt down a terrorist? You’ve got to be kidding me. I guess I could write about my fears, but once again, they’re just everyday fears, so how could they be interesting? Sure, I’m terrified to have history of cancer in both sides of my family. I am afraid that my writing will be rejected– by editors, readers, and myself. Heck, I’m afraid I won’t be able to find a job in this crappy economy.
I don’t know if it would mean anything to write about those things. I want to create a world as wonderful and complicated as the one you live in, but how can I do that without falling flat, without any real magic to draw from?
Or is life magical enough? Is love? I’ve fallen in love, I married my high school sweetheart (like you did). I have friends that I can trust with anything, who would fight by my side, maybe even die for me (like you do). I have had helped change people’s lives (like you have).
–I’m not sure if those wonderful things really count as magic. So, inspirational character of my childhood, why didn’t you inspire me to do something that I know is useful, like learn another language or how to sew?
-N. J. Darkish

Dear Ender Wiggin,
I hope this letter finds you well when you come into existence in the future and somehow come across this letter. I just wanted to let you know I appreciate what you will do for Earth by defeating the Formics, and I appreciate what you will do to allow other intelligent life to exist in the galaxy.
That was a fairly confusing jumble of statements, made more difficult by the fact that you are supposed to exist around a hundred, then upwards of a thousand (because of space travel) of years into the future. To speak simply, I am a big fan and feel like you have helped me to become a better person.
Your genius has long interested me. I felt a sense of kinship toward you as, at the time I first read of your future exploits, I was in junior high, in all advanced classes and several years ahead of my peers in the subject of math. I felt like I was quite a bit smarter than others and it felt good to see the calculating, nerdy kid and his friends be the ones who come out ahead. You will be chosen to quickly advance to Command School, skipping years of training, and even there you will succeeded. As I read about that, I felt like I was just like you. I wasn’t just in the higher math classes– I was almost always at the top of my class, and I had my three best friends there by my side.
You will be given the simulation game in Command School in which you lead the simulated International Fleet to defeat the enemy Formics, just to learn that you will have, against your knowledge, actually given instructions to real soldiers who killed real alien foes. You won’t cheer when you find out what happened– instead you will sorrow over what you have done, mourning for the dead, even though so many were foreign and dangerous. It was refreshing to finally have someone in fiction to look up to who hated violence, who dealt with problems with words and ideas rather than with a sword, gun, or lightsaber. You will leave the world, find the final remaining Formic egg, and then turn to writing to spread your ideas while all your friends will use armies to spread their causes on earth. You will write as the Speaker of the Dead, and your words will change for the better how the entire world perceived an alien species.
I’m not even anywhere close to as intelligent as you, regardless of how I identified with you when I was younger. I was foolish and didn’t realize that I really was just a little ahead of the curve, but soon would become just another college student, quite book smart, which really can only play a small role in whatever success I have in my life.
I will never be able to use words anywhere near the level of impact that you will have. You will be a world-changer. I am just a simple man. I’m a writer, I hold words as having great value, but I am aware that I never will have the opportunity to change lives like you have, nor do I really want to. It’s great to see that words can make such a difference, but I just want to write fiction.
Is writing fiction really enough to make a difference? I’m not even sure if it is enough in my own life, much less in the lives of others. I know some of my loved ones appreciate what I do, but that is hardly earth-shaking. I can write difficult issues into my stories, I can use symbolism, but what does that really accomplish? It seems like the only writers who really change the world are ones who write religious texts (which I will never do) or ones, like you, who only exist in fictional worlds where people are more willing to read and think and change.
Thanks, I guess, for the inspiration.
-N. J. Darkish

Dear Stephen King,
I am one of the Constant Readers that you mention in your forwards and afterwords and your non-fiction books. I have read, by my calculation, all but nine of your books, which, as you know, is no small accomplishment, with your, at the time of my writing, upwards of 60 published novels and collections. I love your writing and have drawn inspiration from what you have written and from your life.
A few years ago I read your most significant non-fiction book, On Writing. From your stories and advice I was able to see a man who had lived what I have long dreamed. Since I was very young, as far back as I can remember, I have loved telling stories, and when I was in sixth grade I decided that I was going to become a novelist, and I’ve never varied from that course. It was very refreshing to see one so successful also starting to write from a very young age.
When I read about the publication of your first novel, Carrie, I felt thrilled for you. I was ecstatic when I read about how its paperback rights sold for so much. I imagined myself in a similar situation: trying to scrape by financially, living in humble circumstances with my sweetheart, trying frantically to get published to help pay for rent, but finally making my break. Your early successes felt like something that I could achieve.
My adoration for you was furthered as I tried to follow the writing advice that you included in On Writing and I discovered that much of it worked for me and my methods of writing. Soon I began to create a number of short stories that I felt proud of (in fact, overly so, as I foolishly tried to get one published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, obviously unsuccessfully). I took a great deal of pleasure as I began to do some of the things that I saw in your writing that I hadn’t seen anywhere else, like subtly connecting stories and books in unusual ways, suggesting interesting connections that are not consistent or major enough to create series, but rather create your own multi-layered universe. Soon my stories began to connect, and few things brought me greater pleasure in writing.
So, you have influenced me a great deal, and have done so in ways directly connected to my dream. But I have begun to realize that inspiration only does so much. I can daydream about being rich and successful, creating complex masterpieces in a few months of writing, like you. I can imagine reaching toward the tops of bestseller lists, I can dream of book signings and becoming a household name, like you. But I am finding that most of the inspiration I have drawn from you has meant so much time spent dreaming of a successful future that I haven’t written half as much as I should have. And is a successful future really important at all? Sure, it would be nice not having to worry about paying the bills, but I don’t think that I really need to be successful to be happy.
I mean, are you happy? What does all your fame and fortune really do for you? Should I even be looking to you as a hero?
Either way, I should be revising a novel right now, or scribbling down fresh ideas in a notebook. I should be submitting polished stories, poems, and essays to magazines. The problem is, I don’t have anything that is good enough to be published yet.
And now I’m just wasting time writing to you.
-N. J. Darkish

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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I love your post!

    What a great idea to write to the characters we admire and aspire to be like! I really think these characters (from fictional books) are a part of us. We experience their emotions, hardships, and the events of their life through the stories we read and they become so much a part of who we are.

    Thank you for sharing your letters. I think I might try this sometime. 🙂

    ~Aspen

    • I agree, we DO feel their hardships with them. They are cathartic catalysts and this type of found form seems to be more real to me.

      • It does seem like a really neat form of writing. Once that helps us process in a semi-fictional way. It’s a very safe way to process things.

        ~Aspen

    • I’m glad you enjoyed my letters. And I definitely encourage taking a shot using this essay form. I was really amazed to discover how much I lean on these (mostly) fictional heroes and it really allowed me to begin to make sense of that relationship. If you give it a shot and are willing to put it online, shoot me a link, I’d love to see how this idea fleshes out for others.

      • Ok, I’ll try to think about who I would want to write to. 🙂 I definitely agree that relating to fictional characters really can teach us a lot about ourselves.

        ~Aspen

  2. Nice! Love how you’ve taken such a unique approach to the lessons learnt from fictional characters 🙂

    • I really must say that I was surprised at how unique the lessons were. I didn’t realize it until I started writing the piece just how complex my relationship with them was. It was really neat.

  3. This was awesome. The ideals that we have grown to love and helped us through childhood in a way are real people. I know Harry and Albus have gotten be through my own struggles. Yet they are only ideas. And i think you hit that point on that they can only teach us so much. And in their sphere. Real life is so different. I think the big thing is to focus on what their stories mean. Behind what they teach us. Voldemort isnt just an evil man. He is bigotry and hatred. That i think becomes very applicable.

    • Thanks for bringing up what I only touched on, Max– the villains that also contribute to the piece. Maybe I should write a follow-up essay to this one where I write to villains that taught me lessons– primarily in negative ways.

  4. You’re so awesome! I don’t believe I’ve read through a single thing like that before.

    So good to find another person with some genuine thoughts
    on this subject matter. Really.. thank you for starting this up.
    This site is something that is needed on the web, someone with some originality!

    • Haha, I hope I manage to keep my material original enough. I loved writing this essay, and I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’m glad that it was a fresh reading experience for you. I hope you take a gander at the rest of my posts– or, at the very least, the personal essays if my reviews don’t have the same appeal to you.


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