Wednesday, February 6, 2013
When I first saw the scene in the movie Schindler’s List where the concentration camp inmates are forced to strip down and then herded into the “showers,” I was transported to the horrific moment and caught up in the story. The second time I saw the movie, and that scene, I thought about the courage it must have taken for all those people, of every age and shape, to be naked with the cameras rolling.
Being naked is scary stuff – for most of us at least. I imagined the way those people drummed up the courage to take all their clothes off was to say, “This is how I honor those who died in Dachau and Mauthausen and Auschwitz and all the rest – by bringing the story to life for the viewer.”
We writers have to psyche ourselves up to get naked too. Naked on the page. We have to strip away the lace and tummy-tightening lingerie and let our ideas be seen in their most natural form. We have to put our truth on display, even when we cringe at the exposure.
It helps me to remember that in two viewings of the naked people in Schindler’s List, I never once had thoughts like… hey – that lady has sagging breasts, or – that man has spindly arms. Of course not, and if we do our jobs as writers, and get naked in service to the story, our readers won’t either.
But it’s not easy. I think that, like those actors I mentioned, it might help to be aware of the person, place or thing we intend to honor through our writing.
For example, I’m currently revising (for the umpteenth time) a creative nonfiction piece I wrote about the time I picked my alcoholic sister up from a run-down motel after she’d run away from the treatment center. I go deep into the experience and damn – it’s raw stuff, but I keep in mind that by telling the story in the best way I can, I honor my sister’s struggle to crawl out of the vodka hell-hole she was in (she’s nine years sober now, hallelujah!). Also, by showing my own thrashing attempts to fix/save my sister, I honor all those family members trying to make sense of the insanity of addiction.
Who or what do you honor in your writing today?