22 October 2008

Therapy Session

. . . How can a novelist achieve atonement, when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God?
Atonement, Ian McEwan

Recently I've decided that I should feel no shame in calling myself a writer. I used to think that the term only applied to people who were known for their writing. People who made money off of it. people who were bound between covers and sold to the public for consumption and critique. But, as it happens, I've got two of those three down. I have been published. Once, mind you, but my name was printed in a magazine and the magazine is read world wide. I am now archived online. A short little essay but, there it is. And I've been paid for my writing. Nearly $2000 total. Not bad.

As a result of this re-adjustment of myself, I've been thinking more and more about a writer's role, and, consequently, the trouble I have in being an essayist. Because you do play God, really. You make solid something imaginary - and when that solidification comes from real events - you can run into some trouble. This constant attacking of a subject from different angles in an attempt to try and find "truth" - whatever that is. The past is plastic. By organizing it and putting words into the mouths of the people I write into my narratives, I play God. I give them emotions and opinions they may not have. I structure events to make them more aesthetically pleasing. I leave out what doesn't "fit" or goes too far or is, perhaps, too revealing.

This becomes especially tricky when you are writing for therapy - when you're writing to come to terms with something you either don't understand or don't really like. If you aren't careful you box up something complex and label it to make it simple. You categorize to eliminate the gray matter that doesn't make sense. Writing about life - trying to find truth through words - it's not an easy thing to do.

The quote that this post comes from is a book called Atonement. I found it completely fascinating. It stole my life away, really. The story - the prose - everything about it drove me mad with wishes that usually went along the lines of "why can't I write like that?!!" It's an interesting concept really - what happens when we zero in on one moment of our lives - just one - probably a big one - something we did that changed other people - and break it apart? Look at how - for good or for evil - we've influenced generations of people? And if it was wrong. . . if what you did is now past repair and you can't go back - how do you find atonement in that?

1 comment:

Evelyn said...

Joni, I totally agree--you are a first class writer and I adore you.

I've also learned to write with caution, as everything I write about my personal life is solidified in my memory as factual--even if it has been skewed or manipulated on purpose or accident. I just think, crap, what if all this silly nonsense I write about my past isn't the way it happened at all and, consequently, I am creating false memories, characteristics, etc.?