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Survivors have a difficult time expressing their feelings. They are more accustomed to minimizing their pain and hiding how they really feel, both from themselves and others. They often become frightened whenever they feel anything intensely, be it anger, pain, fear, or even love and joy. They fear their emotions will consume them or make them crazy.
Being a survivor doesn’t mean being strong – it’s telling people when you need a meal or a ride, company, whatever. It’s paying attention to heart wisdom, feelings, not living a role, but having a unique, authentic life, having something to contribute, finding time to love and laugh. All these things are qualities of survivors.
Well, there isn’t any one profile of a survivor, but there are profiles. Depending on the disaster you have certain advantages and disadvantages just based on who you are. Women are more likely to survive hurricanes. In hurricanes the deaths come from floods and people driving through high water. That’s much more likely to be a man who dies that way.
Each time a Palestinian or an Israeli dies, it is terrible. But they have the right to have a funeral, to be buried, to have a place in the memory of the survivors. And then you have these other places – Darfur, Rwanda, even Colombia – where the dead have no faces and literally cannot be counted. Theirs are minuscule lives moving toward imperceptible deaths. For me, it is the essence of tragedy.
In the ordinary, everyday understandings of the words involved, to say that someone survived death is to contradict yourself; while to assert that all of us live forever is to assert a manifest falsehood, the flat contrary of a universally known truth: namely, the truth that all human beings are mortal. For when, after some disaster, the ‘dead’ and the ‘survivors’ have both been listed, what logical space remains for a third category?
It’s weird, I was such a survivor and so wanted to be a part of life while I was trying to snuff out the life that was inside of me. I had this duality of trying to kill myself with drugs, then eating really good food and exercising and going swimming and trying to be a part of life. I was always going back and forth on some level.
We know that we need to explore desire in fiction – many say that the only way a story exists is that a character feels a strong desire – and nature is the place where creatures act on their desires in the most pure way imaginable, so maybe nature also works as a metaphor for whatever emotional troubles my characters have to negotiate. I’m interested in my characters as survivors, and maybe that works best when the old-fashioned notion of humans surviving in wilderness is not too far away.