Embracing the Darkness

People who know me were surprised that my books were so dark. But those who know me really really well were not surprised. They knew I not only spent a good part of my life learning to dance with my demons, they also knew some of the events in my life that took me to places much darker than the world depicted in my books.

I tended to err on the side of kindness with my characters because I wanted models for good. We have enough models for bad. I spent over six intense years dealing with the dark evil that festered inside humanity. But the evil we dealt with on a daily basis was counteracted by those who went out of their way to be better, kinder human beings to neutralize the evil. That’s why I focused so much on the healing power of love in my books. I know its strength because for every horrendous evil we encountered, we also witnessed astonishing good.

I am an optimist who prefers to look at the positive things in life. I see solutions instead of problems. But I also understand everything seeks balance with something else, so I don’t shut out the evil. I don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. I take away its cover and shine the light on it. I consider that my responsibility as a human being. It’s my job as a writer who creates dystopian universes, to expose evil so it doesn’t hide in the shadows.

The dystopian universe I created is not all that imaginary. Global Warming is a threat I wanted those reading my book to take seriously, so I showed them what a world looked like when it wasn’t. There’s a lot of the now in my books that can lead to the events I depicted if we continue to look away.

We still have time to wake up. The glaciers are disappearing in our time and they are gone in my book’s time. We still have butterflies but we’re killing off the bees. Greed is not an imaginary problem but one of the most destructive forces in existence. It takes and takes and gives nothing back. If allowed to continue like an unsupervised toddler that grabs everything in its path, the world I created becomes a lot more real.

My optimism reveals itself most clearly in the characters I created. They believe in love. They believe in music, art, and in the majesty of nature. Their search for self is not for riches but to become better human beings. They understand, as I hope to make others understand, that who and what we are is rarely shaped with our own hands.

We are shaped by events, people, lovers, desires, and dreams. My characters were puzzles to themselves, but they saw the pieces. They knew who cut and shaped them, and who tried to make them fit inside a place that was all wrong. I wanted people to understand that before we healed the planet, we had to heal ourselves. It’s all part of the same string of beads.

And to heal ourselves we must understand how we became ill, how things became more important than people, how hate became more prevalent than love, how spirituality became a multibillion dollar manipulation of human consciousness.

All that required more than a surface swim in our own pools. I knew once those waters were stirred, the demons would want their say. No matter how much we try to block them from our lives, their voices penetrate our consciousness. They always want their say, no matter how much we try to pretend they don’t exist. We can turn away from the darkness, but that won’t make it light.

My books recognized the demons. They laid out the damage done by indifference, by misplaced blame, by feeling too powerless to change anything. I showed how the demons lived in a dystopian world created by those who were too unaware, too weak, too afraid to change themselves, much less step in and stop the damage to the planet. But I also showed many ways out. I showed how change began with us. I showed a better world began inside ourselves.

If that is dark, then maybe a little darkness is needed to make the necessary changes to heal ourselves and the planet, because it works together or not at all. No matter if we call it being one with everything, or say that god is everywhere, or believe we are are all stardust, it all ends at the same path, the one that leads to self-awareness, because without it, we are just empty buckets waiting to be filled with someone else’s agenda.

Kate Taylor’s Books and Art Ursine Logic

The Demons Will Have Their Say

Today as I plotted out a design, I found myself thinking about my fellow creatives. It often happens when I’m intently focused on something. There’s a gate that opens and in walk the demons to have their say. It’s not anything like letting my guard down. It’s more like leaving the door ajar knowing they’re out there.

Today the demons told me those I allowed to get the closest to me, those who managed the difficult, mined trek to my heart all shared one thing with me and with each other. We have more than a passing acquaintance with demons. It’s a more artistic way of saying we’re more than a little bit crazy.

But as one of my more possessed fellow creatives told me, we’re friends because our demons play well together. At first I thought he meant us, the me and him, together, outside himself. But then I understood he meant our individual demons, the ones inside us. We come with our own population.

We can’t tame them, he told me, because then we couldn’t create. The demons also must remain semi-feral or they become a detriment instead of a benefit. He was absolutely right. The moments when you’re deep into your art is very much a fugue state. It’s just you and the demons having their say.

There were times in my life when I was so focused on writing or drawing that I didn’t hear anything around me. People, music, phones, the everyday activity of life. None of it was there anymore. But what was inside me wanting to come out was startling and demanding in its clarity. It shouted above everything else. It took over.

I suspect such states are why creatives are often labeled bipolar, schizophrenic, or any other convenient excuses to explain why society forces creative people to split in two in order to live and to create.

I’m not saying these labels were inaccurate for some. I knew at least two, maybe three creatives whose need to create was driven by really dark forces inside themselves. It was either let them out on the canvas or get devoured by them a piece at a time until there was nothing left to sustain that resembled a whole person.

The thing about art is that it’s about as close to truth you can get. What you see on that canvas, on that wall, in that music, in those words, that’s a truth most people never experience. They don’t know what it’s like to come out of that fugue state and see yourself nakedly exposed. It’s bound to make anyone a little bit crazy.

"The demons backed down at the honesty that came from him, because it meant they could no longer torment him with the truth." from When The Last Ocean Dies

Kate Taylor's Books and Art Ursine Logic

Blood On The Canvas

The character who draws the most questions is Artemis. I get asked if I based him on someone I knew, and while writing about real people is never a good idea, this is a yes and no answer.

Artemis is the type of man I was often drawn to in my younger days. Moody, highly creative, immensely talented, and possessed of an intelligence far beyond that of the herd. Like Artemis, many were social misfits who never really fit in anywhere. Their only salvation was their art, their music, their ability to write about the traumas in their souls.

So yes, there are some points of truth in my creation of the character. Artemis is not anyone in particular. He is not one man I knew, but many. But he is also my most archetypal character. He is the moody, dark prince haunted by demons from horrific events in his past. He is the withdrawn, alienated child who found a voice through music, art, and literature. He is every man who drew me to him by living with his shadows exposed.

And that’s what I suspect drew readers to him, especially the creatives.They knew his demons personally. They played music with them. They painted them. They wrote them. And they knew deep down inside every one of them were all self-portraits. That was their blood on the canvas, their tears that fell with the notes, their agony on the page.

But for those who knew what it was like to support an art, the duality of self became second nature. There was the artist, and then there was the person who was someone else to support that art. They lived this double self and they saw this duality in Artemis.

But the creatives also understood the double bind he caught himself in with his art. He could not leave himself out of it. He could not set aside what he felt when his fingers touched those strings. On the surface he was the talented harpist who drew his listeners to him so completely, he was like a hungry spider stocking his web. But what was also revealed was the inner world that caused his blood to mingle with the music. It exposed him, as their art exposed them. They knew what it was like to be stripped bare of all protective covers.

The blood he spilled of himself and others made him the man who brought his audiences to tears with his music. Creatives understood without the demons, without the darkness of the past, without the inner trauma, anything that came from them and from Artemis would be one dimensional. So they bled as Artemis bled and by doing so they shined a light on themselves for others to see. His honesty became his only real protection against the demons, just as their art served the same purpose for them.

Artemis looked at her with something between a warning and indifference, and she sensed he no longer was Artemis the harpist, but someone different, someone more feral, more lethal. He reminded her of the panther in a painting she rescued from a burned out building. He seemed even more lean, hard and wiry, more wild than tamed. His long black hair pulled back from his face and tied in a tail gave him the look of a mythical creature.”

from WHEN THE LAST OCEAN DIES

Kate Taylor’s Books and Art Ursine Logic