" SpiritofSaltSpring:BC:Canada:GulfIslands:SaltSpring:Salt Spring:

June 21, 2012

Non fiction writer or sociopathic voyeur? Depends!

My participation in The Writer's Studio is progressing along nicely  (which is why the Blog is so lacking) and now we are undergoing the exhilarating and nerve-wracking experience of standing up and reading our work in public. First, in front of the class, but also at local cafes. I'm thankful that I'm not a poet. Poetry just seems so over the top baring your soul intimate and courageous to me.  I've written poetry and it just seems too close to the flesh to share, out loud, with others regardless of its focus.

So far, I have given three readings. One in front of the Writer's Studio co-hort and mentors. One at the Montmartre on Main Street and the third at Rhizome Cafe on E. Broadway.

Standing up and reading in front of people, especially when you are in the non fiction group, can be a little bit tricky. You may be writing about things that have happened in your life, which, typically also include other people. Your story can be their story. Sure, you can change their names and make up locations  but is that enough? You have to decide as a non fiction writer, especially if you tread into memoir writing, just how far you are willing to go in revealing the truth. Some people won't like that your truth happens to include them.They might not like the way you describe them or the kind of insights you have about yourself or them, in the writing.  Wisely, the SFU Writer's Studio program includes sessions with lawyers as workshop guests who speak about libel, slander and defamation.

I've always felt pretty strongly that what I write is my story. If you don't like what I write, you're more than welcome to write your own story, from your own perspective.  If you happen to be in  my story, as in my life, then depending on what went down, it's either "lucky you", or "oops". I don't spend a lot of time worrying about what other people will think about what I've written because for me it's more about how to tell the story, although I do admit that when you tread into memoir, it is easy to wonder if you're becoming become a sociopathic voyeur who's crazy enough to take a closer look at aspects of your life you wished you'd never seen up close and personal the first time.

An artist once said to me that when she goes to life drawing classes, she doesn't notice the whole naked body up there as attached to a person, she is focused on the shapes and the forms and how to interpret and get those down on paper. At first I didn't believe her. You have a naked guy right there in front of you and you're telling me you don't notice whether he has a nice round butt or a kind of oblong, weirdly shaped one? I didn't believe her. Now I do. Or, at least her perspective is more plausible to me.

To date, I've read two pretty innocuous pieces. One was what it was like to join a beginner band on Salt Spring and it had a lot of humour in it, the other was about a chef there, and the third, not so innocuous, was about the last time I visited Mac, the week before he committed suicide a long time ago now.

What I discovered is that when you go back and write about something that happened a long time ago and it took an emotional toll on you, you are able to objectify the experience in a way that almost makes it seem like you're telling a scene from a movie that has nothing to do with you. That's a bit of an exaggeration but it's so much easier to write about things once time has passed.  You don't forget that you were there, but it's much easier to feel like you are just sitting on a train, watching the events unfold and are able to tell them in a way that can draw a reader/listener into the experience. That's what happened, it would seem from the feedback, when I read that piece about my last visit.

I could feel the silence even as I read and when you can feel the silence, not just hear it, you know that your writing is doing something to capture the audience.

It is such an incredible privilege to stand up in front of a room even if just for 5 or 10 minutes with your creative work being the center of attention and you being the conduit. Most people will never be able to have that experience and it is transformative in ways that I can feel brewing. I can feel it and it has something to do with confidence in what I'm doing, a sense that it's exactly what I have always been meant to be doing and that, even though it makes me no money, it matters more than anything else I could be doing.

Reading your work to others suddenly makes your creativity a communal experience, instills value and has the ability to impact others' thoughts and feelings,  not just something you do alone in front of your computer having to deal with everyone wondering what the hell you're doing anyway.

I like it! Smile. Smile.