The universal is in the specific

Exploring and writing about large, meaningful themes by focusing on one individual’s story allows for the universal to become clear in the specific. Drifting off in the distance, behind the horizon is the lifeboat for which one searches as he treads water in order to survive. Yearnings for an escape from racism, poverty ,prejudice, betrayal, guilt, shame, or the pursuit for freedom, assimilation, peace, healing, forgiveness, happiness or the American Dream hide inside us, or float outside- somewhere amongst the waves if only we could recognize them so that we can find a path toward redemption or resolution. Those themes of life resonate through out our experiences, our histories, our memories and our stories.
Jennifer Deleon, Editor of Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education, & the 2015-16 Writer-in-Residence recipient named by the Associates of Boston Public Library, describes this idea as “drilling down” to the character and his desire or struggle to “tell a story so specific that it becomes universal.” The characters in these stories are vulnerable, brave, persevering, ashamed, deeply wounded, or hopeful, daring, afraid, and real. Whether it be a woman trapped by her struggles with family, and identity, or a man who can’t separate his horrific childhood memories from his present, it becomes the writer’s task to coax the story into the light. The writer must compel the audience to feel the pain or the joy that comes with each of the character’s memories by transforming those struggles and desires into hope or a lesson, through words. The borders that separate memory, experiences, those themes haunting our lives, from our true self fall away as words reshape them into something magnificent- suddenly so present and clear.
Through stories we learn about what it means to be human and to be flawed, to want things we are convinced we can’t ever have. The universal stories of tragedy, grief or forgiveness, and so on, that go along with what it means to be human, that belong to many -become one person’s story, in hope of creating greater awareness and ultimately resulting in change. What does it mean to be broken? What struggle has been the lens through which an individual understands life; to what lengths will a broken individual go to find the freedom, happiness or sadly, revenge, that he seeks. How far will desperation push him? Is the world truly closed off or does it just seem that way?
When the specific story conveys the universal struggles and desires of the world it becomes a sort of raft we cling to in the midst of a turbulent sea. We are no longer alone with our struggle; we recognize that others have come before us, are with us now, and will follow us in our search for the tonic that will heal us.
In this present time, as our world is falling apart through division, hatred, anger and violence, individuals must look for those among us who hide scars of shame, guilt, anger, sadness or fear, who are at risk of drowning from the overwhelming burdens they carry. We may find that it could be someone we’ve known a long time, or it could be a stranger, or it could be one’s own self. When the writer tells the individual’s story, sharing one person’s experience at a time, it brings clarity and hope. After all,  if the character can brave the overwhelming current that continuously threatens to pull him under, then perhaps there is hope for the reader- who is the protagonist in his own  life. Through the magic and power of words and drilling down the universal into the specific, the raft can finally take us home.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s