Clarissa Johal: Abusive Boyfriends, Prostitutes and Dead Bodies...Write What You Know

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Abusive Boyfriends, Prostitutes and Dead Bodies...Write What You Know

I think it's funny when people say, "I've always wanted to be an author, but I don't know what to write about." My answer to that is this; everyone has experiences. Write about those, and you have a story. I'll bet you can pull some interesting characters out of those experiences too. Use them. It's okay, I won't tell.

Last night, I was chatting with a friend of mine, reminiscing about an apartment I used to live in many years ago while attending university. Anybody that's been a student knows that sometimes, in order to pay tuition, you end up living in the most...interesting places. And this particular building was interesting, to say the least.
One tenant I became friends with had a boyfriend I wasn't too fond of. He was abusive and used to hit her. I tried repeatedly to help, but sometimes, nothing you say or do will fix these situations. One day, her boyfriend went ballistic and threatened her with a gun, telling her he was going to blow her head off. She took refuge in my apartment and when he came to the door looking for her, I lied and told him she had moved back to San Francisco.
Another tenant would kick out her six-year-old child so she could be free to "entertain" guests. And yes, by that, I mean mom was a prostitute. The child would wander the halls, entertaining herself in god knows how many different ways, until I got home from class. I would ask her if she wanted to hang out with me while I did my homework, and she always did. We'd watch cartoons until her mother was finished with business and come to fetch her. There was never an exchange of many words between us, and I have no idea what her mother thought of me, but I always felt sad when the little girl left. Knowing what I know now, I probably would have called Child Protective Services, but at 23-years-old, I hadn't a clue about that stuff. It's one of those things that will always haunt me.
And then, there was the tenant who died. I used to see him every morning as I would leave for class. He'd be ducking out his door to grab his morning paper and always wore a straw hat. I thought this was odd since most people don't wear hats inside, but hey, different strokes. We'd exchange some sort of greeting, he didn't speak English, and then go about our respective days. One morning, I didn't see him. I didn't think much about it until his newspapers began to pile up. You know that little voice inside that tells you something is very wrong? It spoke up then.  I alerted the manager of the building and we both went to check up on newspaper guy. After a few knocks and my assertion that, seriously, something was wrong, the manager decided to use his key. As soon as the door was opened, we saw that the man had been dead for days. He was still wearing his hat, and it's an image I won't ever forget. The smell too...I won't ever forget it. Ever. Unfortunately, that was the third dead body I'd seen in my lifetime. It's no wonder I write what I do.

And these are the experiences that you draw from, as a writer. I know you have them. Everyone does. So...start writing. You have no excuse.

6 comments:

Sloane Taylor said...

Wonderful post, Clarissa. You're absolutely correct and encouraging.

Clarissa Johal said...

Thank you much, Sloane :)

girlseeksplace said...

I can't think of a better way to get experience than on the job. Some things can be taught, while others can only be learned through doing.

Heather Holden said...

Whoa! You weren't kidding about that apartment building being interesting. Easy to see how you can thieve some of these experiences for writing!

James Garcia Jr. said...

That's quite a lot of experiences in one small post, Clarissa. Although I'm sure it has really helped your writing, I'm sorry you've had to see all of that ugliness in life...
As to people who claim they want to write, I'd suggest if they really felt that strongly, they would already be doing it. Maybe it's just me.
I hope you're having a great weekend.

-Jimmy

Clarissa Johal said...

You too, James. Thanks for stopping by :)