Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Role of Authority and Charisma - with Thoughts about the Penn State Scandal

As I have worked with character development, the personalities of the characters have changed little; but in thinking about how they look through the lens of a child - they have.

As children, our parents are infallible. This likely accounts for why it takes so long for severely abused children to be recognized, and removed from their dismal environment. If you add charm and charisma to the mix, the child sees the abuser through the lens of how he interacts with others as well as how they view him. Unfortunately, the end result in the mind of a child is the belief that there must something wrong with them.

If I take this out of the family circle, and broaden this hypothesis to other important figures in a child's life, the same rule applies. I'm thinking of all the victims at Penn State. It must have been confusing to see a renowned and charismatic figure in the realm of heightened authority, and wonder why this well-respected person picked him to abuse.

The abuser is not always the boogie man waiting in the bushes. If he was, "telling" would be so much easier. When the abuser is an elevated figure, a person in authority and an admired person - it compounds the confusion and the damage digs deeper into the child's psyche. This is the situation in Pages in the Wind. Emily's father is a dynamic figure, admired and respected by many, and his attributes are outwardly apparent. Emily is always in the audience, seeing his charismatic behavior in action.

Growing up in that house, no one told Emily that her father was anything but righteous. He was a tall, handsome man with hazel eyes, dark wavy hair, and an infectious grin. His hazel eyes were set off by his tanned skin, which he never allowed to fade. His features were masculine and rugged with high cheekbones, an angular nose, and a square and prominent jaw. He had a style that attracted both men and women. Men were drawn to him, for he enjoyed the camaraderie of other men, and he sought a large audience of men as much as women. Men made him feel important and envied, while women made him feel desirable and sexual. He was comfortable in both large and small gatherings, and moved around the room with an ease and demeanor that would catch the eye of everyone in the room.

He was gregarious and always the first one invited to a party, for his quick wit and engaging presence. An officer in the navy, Captain Jacob Taylor was often called to serve as master of ceremonies at naval functions. Captain Taylor was never hindered by inhibitions, and reveled at being the center of attention without looking foolish or self-serving. His co-workers admired him for his intelligence and imposing demeanor, and his friends gravitated to him for his outgoing personality. It was readily apparent that women found him wildly attractive. He filled up every room that he walked into. His stride was confident, and in his presence you knew that you were with a man that could accomplish whatever he set his mind to do. He had that certain charisma that is hard to explain, but you know it when you see it. It was the way he laughed with his eyes, the way he exuded confidence in every step he took, the way he seasoned his conversation with interesting anecdotes.

I wonder if you have known people in similar environments, or if you relate to the "pull" that charismatic people have in dragging in their prey. Does it, in fact, even reach beyond our childhood and follow us into adulthood? If we witnessed a child being abused by a nameless person, wouldn't we drag them to the nearest cop, after we did our own damage? Would we even have to think about it? Would we wait and go through the proper chain of command, and consider damage control in terms of the abuser?

What are your feelings about it?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Author's Notes

As the book progresses, I have to pause when I think of how each character "looks" as opposed to how they "are." In other words, we so often think that we know people but unless we dig down and really try to understand them - we probably don't know them at all. So much of their life experiences are not shared with us, they are buried deep or saved for a choice few. Unfortunately, some people never chose to share their fears or horrific experiences, they bury them and unfortunately manifest themselves in unhealthy ways.

You won't be able to find Emily unless you look beneath her sweet exterior. There are clues, some subtle and some not-so-subtle. If suffering breeds character, it probably will with Emily. Some characters in the book chose to take a deviant path to the maladies of their lives; their mind goes in that direction for reasons that are not easily understood. Unfortunately, their sociopathic behavior  crashes into innocent lives and changes the course of the innocent - forever.

As an interesting side-note, I recently had the opportunity to confront someone that I know about their bullying. I sat down and really took the time to understand this person, and where this bully-behavior comes from. Among other questions, I asked this person to name five times that someone said something that hurt his feelings. After some thought, he couldn't think of one time. If there really is a "Rockwell Childhood," this person probably scored one. We talked for hours, and as hard as I looked, I found no trauma that would cause him to bully and judge others. The only sure-thing that I was left with was a "lack of empathy." He lacked empathy because somehow he skated his way through life without the emotional pain that would lend itself to understanding the pain of others. This was a surprise to me, as someone that always looks for "cause and effect." In this case, there was no obvious cause, but the result was a lack of empathy toward others - which probably accounted for the bully-behavior. I haven't let go of the belief that there is something deeper hiding there, I just haven't been able to find it. Maybe it really isn't there.

At any rate, this is Emily's journey and how she responds to the horrors that befall her. I wonder how many Emilys are out there - and whether their response to the horrors of life is rooted in DNA or if it something much more mysterious? Are some of the people that enter her life simply lacking in empathy because they have not experienced pain? I still struggle with that possibility. What do you think?