Mr. Monk and the Writer

I’ve always been fascinated with detective shows. I used to watch “Columbo” whenever it was on. the other day I was reminded of another of my favorite detective shows: “Monk.” For those who might be unfamiliar with the show, Adrian Monk is a former police officer with an Obsessive/Compulsive disorder who solves high profile murder cases. Monk’s wife, Trudy, was killed by a car bomb that was meant for him. The incident destroyed him emotionally caused his disorder to take on an extreme form. And although Monk is no longer able to function as a police officer, he now consults for the police, where his compulsive attention to detail actually helps him to notice things the police miss and in the end, to catch the killer every time.

Now what does this television character have to do with being a writer? It’s all about the reasons why I became so caught up in the show. Monk’s constant hand sanitizing and picture straightening and sidewalk crack sidestepping, make for some good laughs, but, to be honest, when I started watching, I made a decision not to look at the show from a comedic standpoint. I truly enjoy the show’s more serious side, which many people may miss.

Monk is a man who, in many ways, is trapped by who he is. The death of his wife has left him so fearful of life, so filled with self-doubt and so focused on his pain, that he can’t function in “normal” society. It seems as though he blames himself for his wife’s death and has become so obsessed with having every detail of his life perfect in order to either avoid facing that reality or simply to hold onto his sanity. And yet, he is able to use that struggle to his advantage when solving crimes. He can see what the others miss and hold details in a sort of mental storage bank until that part of his mind, always churning away in the background, is able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together and solve the case.

I believe many writers find themselves living a “Monk” kind of existence. They have the ability to notice details that others miss and to view those details from a unique frame of mind. They are wired in such a way that everything they notice has a deeper meaning in connection to their own paths. They are able to store the little insights that present themselves each day and to work out their story unconsciously in the background in order to give life meaning and order. It can be a very lonely existence, one that many will not understand, and one that the writers themselves may not fully grasp.

As a Christian writer, I’ve often found myself doubting my call. After all, not too many people have the same passion or appreciate what they see in me. I’ve also found myself a bit out of place when it comes to working in the “real world” – the world of the “real paying job.” There have been times when I’ve been talking to other people who expect me to respond to their questions a certain way (much like Monk at his police review board hearings) and yet, I sit there thinking about the little details of thoughts or feelings or little writing projects floating around in my mind and long intently to share my deeper sense of what is going on in my head and heart. But, alas, I have often been misunderstood, even by family or friends or people at church.

One of the elements of the “Monk” show that many people miss is the fact that the other main characters (Captain Stottlemeyer, Lieutenant Disher, and Monk’s assistants (He had two at different times…) Sharona and Natilie. In a very curious way, they were are very much like Monk in one certain way. They each have their own obsessions: Stottlemeyer wants to look good, Disher wants his boss and Sharona to notice him, and Sharona and Natalie want to be perceived as more than just assistants. At times, the show makes them appear almost as neurotic as Monk himself. However, Monk and all his friends have one thing in common: they shine when they are doing the thing that they have been gifted to do, whether it is doing police work, taking care of Monk’s needs or solving unsolvable crimes. When these people are “right on” – doing what they do best – there is no comedy, no shakiness, and no faltering whatsoever. And Monk is the one who shines the brightest! It’s actually a pleasure to watch those times when Monk confronts and exposes the killer’s motive and actions. It is heroism at its best – to see someone who, though struggling with deep pain and dysfunction, is able to turn that pain to the good when it counts.

That is what keeps me going as a writer: the knowledge that my own struggles and that inner madness unique to me (Monk refers to his own uniqueness as a gift and a curse) is something God can turn to the good in order that I may take on the world and share the message that burns in my heart until I let it out. All the strange perceptions that I let percolate on the back burner of my brain do have meaning and there are times when I truly have that sense of being “right on” and in tune with God’s will. That’s when I’m able to pull it all together and produce something of worth, something I know comes from God’s Grace within me.

This is my encouragement to you, my fellow writers: the quirky, misunderstood, struggling writers who want so desperately to find their niche in this world and let loose the precious story within that only they can tell. Remember the example of Mr. Adrian Monk and keep that hope that all things will indeed work out to the good! Take care!