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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Imagine yourself someone else


I've thought recently about people who write books with characters. How they can live in the lives of all those people, start to finish, until done with them. Or actors, moving from character to character, not letting go of the persona until “it’s a wrap,” or however a film ends.

This isn't like walking a mile in someone’s shoes. I can do that, mentally. I've lost loved ones, some so young. I know gut wrenching, mindless wailing grief. I've stood at the finish line, cheering a marathon runner on to the end. I've listened to old folks relive their lives. Slipping into a character isn't walking a mile in their shoes. A mile or so and I can leave.

I cannot imagine a soldier. I've never been terrified. I cannot imagine myself a refugee; I've never been hungry enough, or seen my children in want of life’s necessities. I cannot imagine living in a patriarchal society. I cannot imagine accomplishing heroic feats of strength or daring. I cannot even imagine myself accomplishing a feat.

I cannot imagine having a screaming fit, or throwing things. I cannot imagine assembling or preparing a gourmet meal; setting a table for eighteen; having a dining room big enough. I can imagine cleaning up afterwards.

I am too literal. I am more corner German greengrocer than shape shifter. I cannot imagine how a writer moves through a piece of fiction, hanging all the facts in their precise places, characters saying the right things, arriving in the proper place, at their time.

When I was very young I wrote stories in my head. Once I had such a complex bit of conversation forging on in my head I began reciting it out loud, to keep everything straight. “Who the hell are you talking to,” my cousin asked me, from up in his apple tree. That was so daring, to hear my three year older cousin swear, I made up a story about that, too. In my head, of course.

I am so literal, my stories all are about me, and the characters in my life. I can write about them, but only as I see them.  My world of flat Stanley’s. Take my cousin Bob, there in the apple tree. I loved his mother, my Aunt Laura, but never understood Bob. I once met a man who knew Bob for years. He mused a moment and said “Strange couple, Bob and his wife.” I nodded. “Live like the lilies of the field,” he added.


Lilies of the field, a lovely image. Living that close to the moment, not. So, Bob hasn't been in my stories. Because when all is said, I’m of the corner German greengrocer stock; he got all the Irish dreams to live on. I cannot imagine that.


1943, the greengrocer's son and me
My Grandfather Rolf

25 comments:

  1. From following your posts, I think you've done some pretty great things with your grandchildren.

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  2. Years ago I talked to Ursula Le Guin, the excellent writer who's characters are so compelling. I asked her why she had a major character die in "Left Hand of Darkness".....she replied that that's just what happened, she simply recorded what the person did.

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  3. "cleaning up afterwards" - that's the problem with big complex meals.
    I also think about ethic backgrounds producing distinct personalities but then that just seems too simple of an answer to the variety of characters we meet in our lives.

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  4. You just defined my own writing dilemma.... while I've always thought I had a pretty decent imagination, I am so literal... so "realistic"... that I could never write fantasy or science fiction. I love reading your blogs about your life... you may be drawing totally on your own experiences, but then... who would be better qualified?

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  5. To continue The Odd Essay above, aren't the books that you can't put down the ones that are filled with people so real you think you must already know them? I fear I have little patience for fantasy or science fiction. I guess there's some greengrocer in all of us.
    And there's so much to be said about that picture. It evokes a time and place that I bet many of us wish we could return to.

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  6. Poking about in an author's mind would be fascinating...or terrifying.
    Jane x

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  7. “Live like the lilies of the field,” What a wonderful phrase to describe how a couple live their lives.
    I think poking around in your brain would be great entertainment, or..

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  8. Your posts have a wonderful ring of authenticity, that's why I love them so much.

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  9. Hari OM
    It's the not trying that makes it happen. Exactly what happened right here right now. Fiction/non-fiction...story telling is story telling and you do it oh so well, you little greengrocer would-be you. ;~) YAM xx

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  10. I appreciate whimsy and magic - and recognise and resemble the green-grocers concerns. And love each and every one of your stories.

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  11. I think you've accomplished some amazing feats of patience and endurance and your trophies are right there living with you in your home.
    As to the story chatter in the head....that is a writers head....even if you never write down the chatter. I know, because my head is full of chatter I never write down. It amuses me. We are secret authors.

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  12. I agree with Delores, you have a writer's head. You are an author whether you jot your imagined worlds down or not. You are the author of your own life, and it's just a twist and a tweak to give the same emotions to a character in a different situation, but would feel the love the same, or the fear the same, etc. You are a gifted writer, because I doubt anyone skimmed your post. You hold interest. There are many writers out there praying to do that. I am your newest blog follower, and I really am glad to "meet" you. Love your writing.
    Deb@ http://debioneille.blogspot.com

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  13. Actually, I get what you are saying. Your writing is very blunt. You aren't a showy writer or a fanciful one. But, you know...the dreamer in you comes out in your photos.

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  14. I've often wondered what I was like to completely get inside someones else head and spend 24 hours there would it be better than in my own, would the body feel different and would I want to go back to my own body, a bit scary.
    Merle..............

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  15. I can't create character unless they're based on real people I know very well.

    Love,
    Janie

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  16. I think all stories are interesting. I did watch a movie, the Magic of Belle Isle that starred actor Morgan Freeman. He was someone who'd lost use of his legs.
    He became a writer because his main character could do the things the writer could no longer do. It's a beautiful little independent film.
    Good post.

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  17. There are all kinds of writers just like there are all kinds of readers. Seeing all the above comments and guessing you have many more readers who don't comment I'd say your style of greengrocer writing is entertaining and yet down to earth enough to intrigue.

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  18. I don't need to see myself as other characters, just need to imagine how it feels. Like playing pretend. Loved the photo!

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  19. Loved the picture at the end of your post. I think you write real from your heart. You share what you want to share and I don't think you care if it might bother people, and you put a disclaimer on a post if you think it might.

    betty

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  20. I can't imagine conflict and resolution, which I'm told every good story needs, because I haven't had conflict in my life. So my fiction writing always gets stuck at some point. Even reading doesn't help as I don't want to base my characters on someone else's.
    Even without fictional characters, your writing is very good, you write the truth as you live it.

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  21. When I read your stories Joanne, I try to imagine your voice. Perhaps we are sitting on a couple of rocking chairs and you are gently speaking.
    I do wonder how writers can get into the character of real evil.

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  22. Yup, I am literal, too, which is why I have not started my novel yet and probably never will. Memoirs I can write, but not a novel.

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  23. Dear Joanne, I am friend with some very famous living German authors. They are very disciplined, very orderly, very down-to-earth (though always scribbling into their little notebooks). They do a lot of research, they plan a lot. I would say: 20% imagination - 80% very hard work. And of course eyes to see and ears to listen. And courage - to describe other people that they match into your novel is not everyone's cup of tea.

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  24. I understand exactly what you mean... I am so cull of admiration for novelist who can not only imagine characters, but get inside their heads. Especially those who can get inside the head of the opposite sex! You have the talent of being able to make real the characters and events in your own life. My own strength is more that of a jounalist and commentator. If I ever wrote a book it would have to be about something factual.

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  25. I think the two kinds of writing are different talents, and because I can't do either very well, I read - because there has to be an audience, right? :) I enjoy your writing, Joanne; I wouldn't keep coming back if I didn't.

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