The Shipwreck by W.M. Turner
I almost didn’t write this.
I went to see the Turner and the Sea exhibition at the Royal Maritime Museum Greenwich. I walked through the door, and came face to face with the Shipwreck painting. It stopped me in my tracks. I stood there, unable to go further. A ship lay on its side in the background. The ship was partly obscured by three small boats, full of panic-stricken people rescued or rescuing others from the sea. The thunderous waters churned milky-white against the charcoal sky. I felt the passionate swell and heave as my breath caught, trapped in my throat. And when I could finally release the air it came out as an audible sigh. I had never seen a painting like it. I tried walking away, but I kept returning to it, gazing from different angles, trying to ignore the reflected glare of the lightbulbs in the gallery. I wondered if the shapes in the rear of the painting were mountains or towering waves.
I looked up and to the right. In the midst of such movement and pain, above the desperate souls thrashing about for those lost in the water, I saw the barest smudge of bright blue. There was hope that the storm would clear; that fair skies and calm weather would return. I felt able to move after that. I had seen hope in the tempest.
I thought of all the times I had watched the morning sky brighten on my way to work, and how relieved I’d felt. When depression closed around me at night, and during the short winter days, the thought of blue skies seem like a hollow joke. It feels like things will never get better. But I could identify that sliver of hope in the painting. It made me remember the hope I try to weave into every story I write, no matter how bleak the subject. The world I live in often feels like an unfriendly place for someone like me: a black, fat, queer survivor with a disability. When I write, I place my characters in a world that is just like this one, but better. In the fictional world, people give things a chance; they tell others how they feel. They risk a lot, but the rewards are more than a “Happily ever after,” can provide. Nobody gets magically rich, or made suddenly straight. My characters can be just like me, or have elements of me, and they still have a blast.
I want my stories to generate hope. I realise how vain that sounds. I want people to read about folks like them, or maybe completely unlike them, and still care about what happens. I just need to remember that hope for myself more often.