There was something that nagged at me quite a lot recently when I read a piece about the late Nora Ephron. She was a wonderful woman and I’m enjoying her writings and movies, but here I was, watching an interview from YouTube, and listening to her say that her mother never actually listened to them (the four Ephron sisters, which all became writers) when they had something bad happen, essentially telling them that they could use the mishap as story, and only as story. I found that unsettling to the point of disturbing. And here’s why.
Life is beautiful and grand and so much bigger than how we could put it in story. We may live through various events and retell them, and these retellings, whether in a family setting, or among friends, or between the pages of books, may have their charm, but they can never replace the actual thing, or the sharing of the actual thing, if one needs to share a certain incident.
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Okay, I understand that you can use the emotions engendered by a particular situation. That I’m all for: let your imagination loose as you expand on the emotions in the actual story and garb them in any specifics you see fit. This is more like the kind of writers I am trying to emulate these days, most of the time. Which is not to say that I don’t appreciate Nora Ephron’s work, because I do, immensely. But it feels sad to me to restrict yourself only to the power and glory and sadness of specific events—even as I recognize that life beats film anytime.
But because life beats film, we should appreciate life first and foremost aside and away from writing and reading. Okay, we come to life with our minds shaped by what we read and the stories told among family and friends and strangers, along with the accounts we (used to) read in newspapers, but life is so much bigger and important that any of the tales we can lay down, which is why some of our most powerful narratives, the ones that best capture the essence(s) and grandeur of life, such as myths, are told and retold with each generation. We can try to encapsulate life in a story, but in the world of writing, life is a fugitive that will always escape.
Consider, though, that it should also be a prisoner in the world of real life if you share especially sad life events with someone who spoke to you in very dire times, for instance, as I do now with a close friend, and do, in a bigger or smaller measure, with other friends as well. Or if you lived through experiences that touched you deeply and you feel will be diminished and cheapened if you shared them with others in their entirety.
So anyway, after more than three decades of writing various kinds of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, I’d say put your emotions in writing, but consider keeping the specifics of some of your best stories inside your heart, and sharing some other very personal stories—sweet, sour, or sweet-and-sour—only with your best, bosom buddies.
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To a happier, healthier life,