Saturday, December 4, 2010


Beth, one of the main characters in Salvation, has a tendency to be right. A lot.

She and I have been discussing the concept of inadequacy this week. Actually she’s been trying to discuss it with me, and I’ve been ignoring her until now, but here’s the gist.

She feels quite inadequate quite a lot, and I don’t want that particular trait to get in the way of anyone’s appreciation of her so I edited out one of her lines (thoughts really) in my last draft of Salvation before I sent it off to my editor.

Beth says this isn’t OK.

“All right,” I say. “I can put it back in (It’s only one line. I seriously doubt my editor will mind), but are you sure you want your readers to know exactly how inadequate you feel in that scene? They might misunderstand and view you as weak.”

She rolls her eyes. And then she points out to me that I’m totally underestimating the beauty of inadequacy.

“What?” I say.

“Don’t play dumb with me,” she replies. “You know there’s something wonderful about feeling inadequate.”

And she’s right.

I’ve been studying art today. Great art. Ladder to the Moon by Georgia O’Keefe, The Railroad by Edouard Manet, The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai, and on and on and on.

Don’t worry if you don’t recognize any of these. I wouldn’t have when I started my current art history class.

But here’s the thing.

They’re all amazing. In completely different ways. In ways I couldn’t even really see when I first looked at them. Which makes me feel inadequate.

The same as the scene in the Hunger Games in which District 11 sends Katniss the bread. Until that point in the story, I was still a little uncertain about the book. Because it was hugely popular, and I don’t usually love hugely popular books. But that scene (frankly any scene that makes me cry) just blew me out of the water. This small, tiny moment in the midst of rushing intensity.
As a reader, I felt moved. As an author, totally inadequate.

And two weeks ago I saw the movie, In the Time of the Butterflies, about the Mirabal Sisters and their fight against corruption in the Dominican Republic. Based on the book by Julia Alvarez. I’ve read two novels by Alvarez, both about exile, but the immediacy of this story and the joy—the constant depiction of joy within a film so deeply embedded in tragedy—was breathtaking. I . . . am . . . in awe.

And I LOVE this feeling.

Because really, it’s amazing that art can make us feel at all. That you can be sitting there on your couch, or reading by your lamp, or eating popcorn in a movie theater and react so powerfully to something that isn’t even “there.”

So yes, I have to admit, Beth is right.

There’s something truly wonderful about feeling inadequate.

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