“I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought, You belong to me…”
A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
This theme of writers using others–those with a kind of power or rank using those without it–is prevalent in my work in progress, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL. It was inspired by Hemingway’s relentless use of his friends, enemies, and acquaintances in his fiction. He didn’t even always go to the trouble of disguising their names, and when confronted by them, passed it off as satire. “Can’t you take a joke?”
I’m careful in my own fiction about using others. To say that I’ve never done so would be a lie. After all, what am I but the blend of words I’ve read, songs I’ve heard, a million conversations with thousands of people, an application of trend, time, civilization, geography, and religion. I’m the mathematical sum of all of my literal and figurative experience, so my fiction is naturally a product of it. It has to be.
But I’m not just a transmitter. I don’t record in the same manner a camera takes pictures, moving or otherwise. I have choices. I can create the myth I want to create, manipulate the facts, produce the evidence I want to convince others of what I’m trying to say. There’s power in that, but there’s also responsibility.
If you’re given a camera at a wedding, where do you point the lens? Do you take pictures of the best man groping a married woman, an underage cousin drunk and sick in the potted plants, the father of the bride arguing with the hotel manager over the bill? Or do you turn the lens to the newly wedded couple, forehead to forehead, while they dance to their song? The old woman seemingly watching her granddaughter, but seeing the ghost of her young self as a new bride? The nieces and nephews in undone buttons and untied ribbons, glorying in eating cake for dinner and the freedom of up-past-bedtime?
Writers, artists, musicians, everyone, the choice is yours. It’s all there before you. The question is where do you put your focus and why do you put it there? We could debate the merits of optimism versus pessimism, but I think the bottom line is that the artist, the writer, the transmitter must render her subjects true-ly without diminishing or exploiting them.
What about you? Where do you point your lens? Do you prefer to tell the tales from the shadows or the dance floor? Do you represent specific people or kinds of people in your work?
(This blog post was inspired by Dani Shapiro’s post On Being an Outsider.)
*Photo courtesy of Altingfest at Deviantart.com*