Writers are Vampires

Share this Post....
Email this to someoneShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Pin on PinterestTweet about this on Twitter

Last night I read Jim Murdoch’s wonderful blog post about our ‘better halves’. In it he lists a number of writers and the women who are, to use that old expression, ‘the wind beneath their wings’.

Life as the spouse of a writer is a tricky one, especially when both are writers. Jim capped his post off by telling us about his wife of fourteen years, also a writer, Carrie Berry.

Jim and I have communicated long and hard about the nature of the blogosphere and the autobiographical. Jim describes himself as a private man and suddenly there it is: he is telling us something more personal – which he does from time to time – and again, I am enthralled by the vagaries of this space, the blogosphere, in which we reveal so much about ourselves, even as we conceal so much as well.

I met a writer, Lucy Sussex, at LaTrobe last week and we talked about the business of fictionalising people from our lives in order to protect them and us from the sorts of upsets that occur when someone is seen to be portrayed unfairly,when we are forced through the written word to look at ourselves through someone else’s eyes, and we do not like what we see there.

Lucy Sussex describes writers as ‘vampires’. We suck the lifeblood out of people. We feed off others. I shudder to think this may be true.

In an essay ‘On hurting People’s Feelings’ Carolyn Wells Kraus writes about the nature of biography as an act of autobiography. She argues that ‘reducing a person’s story on a page, robs it of complexity’. Non-fiction, she argues ‘sucks the life of a person onto the page’ and distorts that life to the author’s own ends. Characters are slanted in the direction of the author’s obsessions.

‘The real problem,’ Kraus writes ‘is that you’re borrowing the peoples’ identities to tell your own story.’ Kraus quotes at length from her own writing and others to demonstrate the ways in which a writer’s bias influences the description of other characters. And so in telling the stories of others we inevitably tell our own stories.

‘There is no script,’ Kraus argues, ‘only improvisation. We fill in the outlines from the details. All we know of the world as writers is what we see – images, words, scenes. We supply the meaning, and we alter that meaning with every sleight of hand.’

I say of myself as an autobiographer – and I’ve heard this said of other writers, like Helen Garner – to some extent we get away with it because we write about ourselves with ‘unflinching honesty’. Certainly Garner writes the most embarrassing things about herself that some might consider highly self-critical. But I know all too well that we are selective about our self-criticisms when we write.

I will not write in my blog about the things that ‘really’ trouble me, the things of which I feel most ashamed. I might write about things that once caused me to feel shame but over time and often times through the writing itself I have overcome that shame. I will not pass on other shameful secrets that resonate for me here now.

I think of WikiLeaks and the great kafuffle in the world about all this ‘indecent exposure’. We are a puritanical lot, by and large, and full of contradictions. The things we will tolerate as opposed to the things that unsettle us.

I gather here in Australia, Julian Assange is considered something of a hero, a man in search of freedom of speech, a whistle blower extraordinaire; whereas in the US he is considered a dangerous force. Noam Chomsky who spoke on the radio here during the week does not see Assange negatively, but Chomsky reckons a good proportion of Americans do. And yet America is home to freedom of speech.

I doubt that there is such a thing as free speech. We might have the right to speak as we please in certain ‘democratic’ countries, but there are always consequences to whatever we say, and on top of that there are also the necessary restrictions on freedom of speech when the speaking out hurts others, such as in situations of racial vilification and the like. And then, how is there freedom for the writer who uses another person’s experience to colour their story, sometimes unwittingly?

I am working on a chapter in my thesis on shame. Shame links to the desire for revenge, through what Helen Block Lewis has described as ‘humiliation fury’, the fury we feel after we have had our noses rubbed into our vulnerability and are left reeling from the abuse, assaulted, belittled, and shamed.

The anonymity of the Internet might allow us to hide our shame and to hide from our shame, but oftentimes it reinforces the shame for me. The number of times I sit at the keyboard reading back over something I have posted and cringe at what I have put there is equaled only by the shame I feel on behalf of others whom I consider have written too explicitly, and yet I persist in taking off my psychological clothes, revealing these inner thoughts on line, even as I know that there are experiences that look one way to me, but will be read in a different way by others.

Others will critique my perspective in ways I had not anticipated. Again, I cringe at my own willingness to expose myself in this way and yet without the autobiographical how can we learn about ourselves through other people’s internal worlds, however constructed they may be.

Share this Post....
Email this to someoneShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Pin on PinterestTweet about this on Twitter

49 Comments on Writers are Vampires

  1. Ocean Girl
    December 11, 2010 at 12:33 am (6 years ago)

    You are an excellent writer Elisabeth. And this post probes questions on all our minds.

    I have often wondered, especially during my absence from the blogworld, that why can't I share the same things I share on the blog at facebook with my friends who know me. My conclusion is, in the blogworld, we have the desire to share and tell the world who we think we really are not as what our friends already know who we are.

    However, I have my limits in my blogging because my first son reads my blog. I have to be careful of what I say. When I told him I was going to blog again, the first thing he told me was, don't be dramatic.

    Reply
  2. steven
    December 11, 2010 at 12:47 am (6 years ago)

    elisabeth – i imagine some discussion could come out of thinking about the distinction between a person and their "identity". in the same way that the unveiled truths of wikileaks point to the idea that there are layers to our understanding of the big machines that rumble along the surface of our experiencing.

    i believe that writers record an idea about the idea of a person, a filtered understanding of the events that take place in those person's lives, the connections between those events and other people and use that as a symbolic cloak to posit questions about themselves.
    the wilileaks piece is about pulling back one layer of the subterfuge of what we nominally know as "reality". there are deeper realities that the wikileaks people couldn't hope to expose. what it does though is point to the fact that there are deeper layers and more importantly, that they point directly at us! steven

    Reply
  3. lakeviewer
    December 11, 2010 at 1:14 am (6 years ago)

    Absolutely! I champion your assumptions about the writer's special lens, even when he/she is telling someone else's story.

    Now, about Americans' reactions to Wikileaks:
    Americans are still smarting from the slew of attacks that are occurring against us, against unintended victims by rebels and terrorists. We are very concerned about security issues even more than most, because we hate/hate/hate to see our freedoms restricted, our travels twarted, our personal liberties stripped at each stop-point, at each stage of security leak.

    Europe, U.K. have had a long history of rebels and terrorists. Each country has anticipated and has taken security measures accepted by the majority of their population. We are conflicted big time on this subject.

    Reply
  4. Two Tigers
    December 11, 2010 at 1:36 am (6 years ago)

    E, the key here, I think, is what you mention at the end – the element of learning. Certainly no autobiographical writing, in blog or book, occurs without some sort of filtering process, conscious or unconscious, with aesthetics and psychological barriers and the basic impediment of a language that will never be able to capture thought perfectly all conspiring to put out something not quite true. All we can do as writers is write, as best we can, and in that process learn better what we think we knew about ourselves, and thereby, ideally, give our readers the opportunity to do the same, even if it's a less than noble sentiment or occurrence we relate. I guess the cringe factor only happens for me, as reader and writer, when the truth is revealed in a blurt, with little sense of its potential application or meaning, simply as a venting session, or worse, with intent to provoke a reaction, not make a connection… which happens in blogland too often. I agree that I too will hold back on uncomfortable truths until I've made sense of them and think they are worth showing, but sometimes I figure out the meaning in the showing, which is one of the things I love about writing, that magic of ending up somewhere you hadn't intended, and surprising yourself! It does require fearlessness, but it should also demand a sensitivity to how one's words may affect others…Just some random thoughts…

    Many thanks for such a well written, honest and thought-provoking post!! I need more of these. Keep em coming!

    Reply
  5. Kass
    December 11, 2010 at 1:44 am (6 years ago)

    I think we will always muse over our impulses to reveal ourselves in the blogosphere. I have had moments of embarrassment over things I have posted, but I like to think I have grown from dealing with my need to rub my own nose in my vulnerability.

    In many ways I think we get closer to the truth when we fictionalize ourselves and others. It's just too bad we can't trust all readers to see through our constructs and sense what we are trying to reveal (to ourselves through exposure to others).

    Reply
  6. Ms. Moon
    December 11, 2010 at 1:54 am (6 years ago)

    Guilt and shame
    Guilt and shame
    These two words are my middle name.
    Come on, come on and dance with me.
    I'll share my guilt and shame for free.

    I always said that if I wrote the story of my life, these would be the words that would start my story.

    Reply
  7. Windsmoke.
    December 11, 2010 at 4:40 am (6 years ago)

    Free speech is ok as long as you don't upset somebody it's just a myth otherwise. What i've read about Wikileaks cables or whatever they are called in my opinion they are just people with nothing else better to do with there time but gossip at the taxpayers expense with no proof to back up any of there claims, it's just a load of bollocks.

    Reply
  8. Harry Kent
    December 11, 2010 at 5:55 am (6 years ago)

    What a timely post, E. All the issues you canvas beset me too – on canvas.

    I paint an emotive portrait of my brother and write some lines of recalled moments round the kitchen table and i'm asked, "Do you care for your brother?".

    I paint an image which i entitle 'Regets' and i'm counselled on mental hygiene by a well-intentioned Euro-Buddhist about the futility of living in the past.

    I paint what it feels like to have Meniere's and i'm advised to cheer up by someone possessed of, or by, invincible cheeriness.

    I can only agree with your conclusion. We paint (and write) how we want and sometimes disclose more in the images than we either knew or intended – and there are consequences.

    But then, i never expected it to be otherwise.

    Or should i just stick to painting cute duckies and moo cows?

    Reply
  9. Jim Murdoch
    December 11, 2010 at 8:15 am (6 years ago)

    Privacy is a concept I struggle with. Though we live in each other’s pockets there’s still stuff I don’t share with Carrie. She knows little about my latest book and hasn’t read a single word of it; she respects my privacy and I hers. I wasn’t always like that. I used to badger my girlfriends into revealing things about their pasts, something that I’m quite ashamed about now. I equated complete honesty with love. Love was a thing that needed to be tested before it could be trusted. My understanding of who a person is has changed: the you-that-someone-was isn’t the same as the you-that-someone-is and, as you can see from the last poem I sent you, youness is something that still interests me.

    What you have in my blog is something of an official statement. It’s all true but carefully worded. The photo of Carrie is one that she doesn’t mind the world seeing but even in the couple of years since it was taken she has aged but it’s a more accurate photo than the one I carry in my wallet. I did toy with only giving her a brief nod but decided, with her agreement, to open up a little. That said Carrie spent more time editing this blog than any other she has done for me; these are as much her words as they are mine. Her declining health is mentioned but not discussed. The fact is that her poor health dominates her life but she didn’t want to be portrayed as a sickly individual even though that is what she has become, as I said in the poem, “a holdall for aches and painful memories”. The way she put it is: “Fiercely independent, she would do more if she was physically able.” What I’d written originally wasn’t strong enough for her and she changed it.

    I agree with Lucy Sussex up to a point. In one of my novels I write, “Writers don’t have real lives, they have ongoing research,” and I still believe that to be true; everyone is fodder. As I said I used to be worse. I used to milk situations to get my creative juices going. I was like a medical student who gets excited over hearing that an accident has happened so that they can perfect their craft. I remember when my father’s friend Walter died thinking: Oh good, now I get to experience a funeral. No one should never be happy that another human being has been injured or died but you can’t help yourself. I wrote this poem looking back on the writer I used to be:

    Vampires Anonymous

    My name does not matter anymore.
    Who I was and what I am have become one and the same:
    I am hungry and I have been hungry for so long now.

    I eat, of course, after a fashion,
    what has for now become my fashion,
    still I am always empty.

    People share with me, they sense my need,
    people who do not know who I am,
    yet their gifts are always cold.

    I have forgotten what it is like to take what I want.
    I have forgotten what it was ever like to be warm,
    but I can't forget the taste of blood.

    It would be wrong to.

    Thursday, 11 March 1999

    As soon as you reduce anything to words you strip away its complexity. That is the whole point. Complexity is clutter, nothing more, and most of what we do and who we are can be expressed in fairly bland ways. That was what the climax of Living with the Truth was all about, his ‘Rosebud’ moment if you like. I am not “unflinchingly honest” in my writing though: I flinch. The book I am writing just now is not the book I planned to write because I found I wasn’t capable of writing that book. I flinched.

    Privacy is there was a reason. It is a place to keep shame because it has a very long half-life. I have plenty of things I am ashamed about. I mentioned one above. Only I know the details. Only I get to see my shame in Technicolor. So, again, this is an ‘official’ statement, what I’m willing to share. This is where fictionalising the truth works for me because it cuts through the clutter and gets to the bullet points. I can understand Helen Block Lewis has describing shame as ‘humiliation fury’ but I’m not sure I completely agree with her definition at least not where we are the perpetrator of the act of shame.

    Reply
  10. Zuzana
    December 11, 2010 at 8:27 am (6 years ago)

    Dear Elisabeth,
    I absolutely love this post. I enjoyed the eloquence with which it flowed, yet you tied many subjects together so perfectly and I nodded in recognition at it all.
    I agree with you on the sentiments of free speech in our societies and the fact there are always consequences to anything we say or write (Denmark got to feel this so very strongly a few years back with the cartoon row).
    I do not cringe re-reading anything I write, but I do find writing to be a creative outlet. I have been contemplating of having an additional anonymous blog, to use as an outlet for that which truly troubles me. I have found that writing it down provides a certain kind of release that is very therapeutic – right now I only write it in letters that are un-send…
    I think most great writers are actually very private people and they hide behind their beautiful and captivating words and the images they create provide them with an additional existence.
    And there is some true to the fact that they are "Vampires".;)
    Have a lovely weekend,
    xoxo

    Reply
  11. Kath Lockett
    December 11, 2010 at 10:00 am (6 years ago)

    I probably *should* cringe at some of the things I write but blogging has helped me through more things that I can reveal here.

    Just making the decision to write something down – no matter how poorly phrased or nutted out – can be a cathartic and revealing process and, despite being egocentric enough to compare myself to Helen Garner, I'm discovering more and more than it's the harsh and shameful stuff that gets the bigger responses.

    If people recognise themselves could it be because they're actively looking? There are many characters that are blends of people or, in my own writing, changed in gender, age, job etc. I figure that if someone is easily identifiable in my writing, then so be it. I can only write how I write.

    Reply
  12. jabblog
    December 11, 2010 at 10:32 am (6 years ago)

    If writers did not use the experiences they have had, which frequently involve other people, their writing would be entirely fictional and rather unreal. I think the description of writers as vampires is harsh. The simplest advice to writers has always been 'write what you know'. Naturally, there will be filtering, often unconscious, for memory is fallible. Self-censorship, for whatever reason, is also normal.
    Academic writing is a different discipline altogether.

    Reply
  13. Kossiwa Logan
    December 11, 2010 at 1:38 pm (6 years ago)

    I work in retail and I'm always people-watching for story ideas, trying to figure out how I can use the idea of this person or action in a short story while trying to fictionalize pieces of myself. We have our experiences as source material and those experiences always involve other people, their lives intertwined somehow with your own life. Unconsciously, I'm aware of borrowing other people because I try to be cautious when writing about the store I work in, particular on my blog. There are consequences to what we say and once you say it, those words become fingerprints you can't erase.

    Reply
  14. Art Durkee
    December 11, 2010 at 5:18 pm (6 years ago)

    It's funny. I certainly appreciate the question and thoughts presented here, and I'm sure they mean a great deal. And at the moment, at least, I feel removed from such questions. Are they settled in my mind already? Are they questions that don't affect me as an artist? Whatever, I feel disconnected from the concerns and shames and fears discussed here.

    I can't speak for anyone else, and I sort of feel like I solved these questions for myself awhile ago. Others seem more important to me. I submit that this change in attitude reflects a shift in general attitude from being other-directed (being my parents' live-in caregiver while they were dying, for example) to needing to take care of my own needs first (the illness and other things I've had to deal with in the wake of my parents' dying), and as a result being less concerned what others think of my writing, and also less concerned about how my writing affects others.

    Of course writers are vampires. All artists take life-experiences are turn them into their own, take in the life-forces of others and make them their own. It's called responding to life by making art. It's called inspiration. We call it by lots of positive names, and only a few negative ones. But it's all about feeding the art with everything else. The art demands to be fed, and artists are ruthless about their sources, about grabbing what they need to feed their art, and about dredging the muck at the bottom of the pond to harvest pearls.

    And that's no bad thing. It's supposed to be that way. What I don't feel about that anymore is guilt. Just acceptance.

    Guilt is wasted. It serves no purpose in art, except as another vein to mine for gold. Guilt doesn't serve me, especially, perhaps, because I shedding the past means shedding guilt ABOUT the past. Nothing I can do about it. Nothing to be done. Nothing I NEED to do about it. Need all my energy for today.

    Reply
  15. Kirk Jusko
    December 11, 2010 at 8:24 pm (6 years ago)

    Say you want to write about something that really happened, with the intent of the illuminating some aspect of the human condition. Label it NONFICTION, and the reader may care less about whatever point you were trying to make, and instead want details and more details, details that you left out because they only get in the way of that aspect of the human condition you wanted to illuminate. However, label something FICTION, and your reader will care less about such details, because if it's "made up" such details don't exist anyway, and you're free to make your point.

    All writers are vampires. Except for Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, and Stephanie Meyer. They write pure balderdash.

    Reply
  16. Anthony Duce
    December 12, 2010 at 3:05 am (6 years ago)

    I love your writing and the detail… I think the written word, images free speech with all the noted limitations, is what we have to communicate, to interact with others good or bad. It’s all we got. What we choose to include or withhold both have consequences. Thank you for taking on the subject to contemplate.

    Reply
  17. Elisabeth
    December 12, 2010 at 6:18 am (6 years ago)

    I used to connect my blog to my Face Book page, Ocean Girl, until one day one of my daughters said she did not think it appropriate.

    Blog posts tend to be deep and meaningful, whereas Face Book is more chatty.

    I understand your reservations about your son reading your blog, my concern is more that my siblings might read mine.

    I'm not too fussed about my children. They're older now, but even they can sometimes baulk at what they consider occasionally my writerly excesses. I suppose that's not unlike your son asking you not to be too dramatic. They feel embarrassed on our behalf, I suppose, not that they need to, but they do.

    My mother used to embarrass me too when I was young, but not so now.
    Thanks Ocean Girl.

    Reply
  18. Elisabeth
    December 12, 2010 at 6:23 am (6 years ago)

    elsewhere I have explored this issue, Steven, the business of identity, which as you say is multi-layered.

    We like to think of ourselves as a unified whole, but we are not.

    Your expression, 'a symbolic cloak', employed by writers to get to some deeper understanding of themselves and through them selves of others and vice versa, is apt here.

    The layering and the complexity of our writing refuse to allow us too glib a comment on the meaning of anything. Witness the diversity of opinions we see on line.

    Thanks, Steven.

    Reply
  19. Elisabeth
    December 12, 2010 at 6:30 am (6 years ago)

    The trouble with terrorism, Lakeviewer, is that it induces anxiety that is often proportionally greater than the actual threat.

    To some extent this results from the notion that when we imagine that something dreadful might happen our fantasies are boundless.

    So by planting a seed of fear and doubt, terrorists can control whole populations.

    That's why it is important to consider the reality of our fears and not give way to too much paranoia. At least that's my take on it.

    I don't think anyone is exempt from the fears that have arisen world wide through the proliferation of little bits of knowledge via the Internet.

    We tend therefore to imagine the worst.

    Thanks Lakeviewer.

    Reply
  20. Elisabeth
    December 12, 2010 at 6:38 am (6 years ago)

    Two Tigers, you've written such a thoughtful response and one to which I tip my hat. Great stuff.

    I agree that the cringe factor tends to arise more when we 'blurt' out things or read others who've done likewise. But sitting on something for too long can sometimes ossify it.

    I'm currently participating in an online colloquium with a prfessionsl group exploring the nature of trauma.

    I Wish I could write as freely as I do on my blog, but I dare not.

    I imagine this 'professional' audience as much more thin skinned and censorious than those who peruse blogland.

    Still even in my blog, as you say, I am careful about what I write. I proof read everything and think about it for some time before I commit it into cyberspace.

    Thanks, Two Tigers.

    Reply
  21. Elisabeth
    December 12, 2010 at 6:43 am (6 years ago)

    The difficulty for me in fictionalising stuff, Kass at least the type of fictionalising I enjoy in novels and short stories, is simply that I am no good at it.

    Even so given if we take the view that to some extent all writing is constructed and therefore has an element of fiction in it, then maybe I am not as bad as I think.

    I'm inclined to agree with the Australian writer, Helen Garner who says that some of us write fiction that's close to our lives, while others write fiction that's further removed. And of course the further removed, the less the need to cringe, about self exposure, though even fiction writers suffer at criticisms of what they reveal about themselves, however well concealed.

    Thanks, Kass.

    Reply
  22. Elisabeth
    December 12, 2010 at 6:47 am (6 years ago)

    Guilt and shame, Ms moon. Thanks for the great verse.

    From my reading they are two very different emotions. The one- guilt- involves our feelings about actions, and behaviour, the other – shame – involves a sense of badness about our entire selves. Which feels worse do you reckon? For me it's the shame.

    Thanks, Ms Moon. I look forward to reading your book, if and when you write it. What an opening.

    Reply
  23. Elisabeth
    December 12, 2010 at 6:53 am (6 years ago)

    I think you're right, Windsmoke. The stuff reported through WikiLeaks is just gossip. But, if someone told us we must never ever gossip or speak about someone behind their backs again and certainly that what someone says in this way must not be circulated , and that should it be ciculated the act is punishable in a court of law, we'd get worried and perhaps protest, human nature being as it is.

    Thanks, Windsmoke.

    Reply
  24. Elisabeth
    December 12, 2010 at 6:57 am (6 years ago)

    Please, no moo cows or cute duckies, Harry. What a terrible waste of your talents.

    I commiserate.

    The number of times I find myself in trouble for something I've written is on the increase, but it will not stop me.

    I've written elsewhere that I think if I cannot write I shall up and die.

    Thanks, Harry

    Reply
  25. Elisabeth
    December 12, 2010 at 7:36 am (6 years ago)

    It's not for the first time, Jim that I've likened you in my mind to Gerald Murnane. His wife was not a writer as such, though she wrote a memoir for their children, part of which Gerald read at her funeral and it was very beautiful.

    Gerald often talks of his view that he and I have a more open and honest relationship on paper than we would enjoy were we to befriend one another in real life. I think this is true.

    These sorts of 'honest' relationships abound in the blogosphere.

    I have some wonderful quotes about letter writing, which I think I can readily apply to blog comments.

    Kafka for one wrote letters and about letter writing:

    It is ‘an intercourse with ghosts’, not only he argues, 'with the recipient, but with oneself.'

    I write letters to cross boundaries, to reach out and connect, to place my hand into that of my reader. I write letters to recreate reality. I write letters – and I blog – to write.

    My writing research is my life, but I hope I do not put life before my craft. They co-exist in an uneasy alliance, I suppose, but never in such opposition as to cause too much pain – either for me or others – only a little, and then from time to time.

    Whenever such painful conflictual moments arise, namely when someone takes me to ask for the non-ethical nature of my writing, then usually I write about that too.

    Still, as it is for you, there are things I will not write about, not yet at least.

    Maybe when I am 'very' old and grey, if I live that long, or maybe I will be like Gerald Murnane and seal off my writing in filing cabinets that are not to be opened till fifty years after my death.

    Reply
  26. Elisabeth
    December 12, 2010 at 7:57 am (6 years ago)

    I've thought about a completely anonymous blog, Zuzana. But I wonder, are they ever really completely anonymous?

    I remember reading one blog in which the blogger wrote about a need to conceal her real identity but over time more and more identifying elements found their way in and before she knew it someone found her out.

    I think it may be better to struggle on as we do.

    We travel in some disguise, though our disguises are thin. The way things are with the Internet, if someone is intent on unmasking you they can, but then what good does it do.

    In the end, we are all private islands unto ourselves.

    Thanks Zuzana.

    Reply
  27. Elisabeth
    December 12, 2010 at 8:09 am (6 years ago)

    I agree, Kath, with you and Helen Garner. It's the shameful and harsh stuff that gets the strongest response. Perhaps because it frees our readers up to speak their minds without always having to watch their own proverbial ps and qs.

    I once wrote to Drusilla Modjeska about the business of writing about real people and whether it's 'ethical' to do it do it. She wrote back about getting on with it but needing to have a strong chin for afterwards.

    In her series of essays, Time Pieces, Modjeska describes her experience in writing the biography of her mother, Poppy. She writes about the difficulties of exploring another person’s life, when that person is close to you, and whether close or distant, she considers the difficulties of collecting evidence, gathering ‘the facts’.

    She goes on about her decision to ‘make things up’ afer her mother had refused to cooperate and talk about the history of the time and her life.

    Towards the end of the writing when the book was all but finished, Modjeska couldn't find a way of concluding.

    ‘As so often happens in life,' she writes,'there wasn’t a climactic moment but the book needed one…Narrative makes structural demands that life doesn’t make – or give – and the intellectual puzzle of marrying these incommensurable forces is one of life’s labours.’

    Modjeska was sharing a house with Helen Garner at the time. They talked over lunch. Garner suggested ‘Why don’t you have a sleep. That sometimes shifts things.’

    Before Modjeska put her head on the pillow, she wrote down her memory/imagining of her mother’s words ‘you were right to be jealous of May’. When Modjeska woke the story’s ending was there before her. The simple clack clack clack of the computer keys ‘and Poppy was finished’ .

    Real life and fiction blend.

    Thanks, Kath.

    Reply
  28. Elisabeth
    December 12, 2010 at 8:16 am (6 years ago)

    I agree, Janice, the expression 'writers are vampires' is a bit harsh, but then that's a writer for you – blithely taking advantage of literary license to make a point.

    I also take the view that writers of 'serious' nonfiction have one basic responsibility, and that is to write as best they can how it was for them. This might include the use of fictional techniques as the only means of capturing the emotional essence of that experience.

    Thanks, Janice.

    Reply
  29. Elisabeth
    December 12, 2010 at 8:22 am (6 years ago)

    It's good to meet you here, Kossiwa.

    I think as writers we all tend to collect impressions from real life people in our lives, those we know and those we don't.

    The idea of our words as fingerprints, is terrific. Prints on the page that can be traced back to us. I have quoted Paul John Eakin elsewhere, Kossiwa. He writes that 'autobiographers lead perilous lives.

    I think perhaps all writers court danger to some extent, as do most people who try to create something controversial and new, not just writers, artists of all kinds.

    When we disrupt the status quo, we unsettle people as much as they might also value the disruption.

    Thanks, Kossiwa.

    Reply
  30. Elisabeth
    December 12, 2010 at 8:53 am (6 years ago)

    You're right of course, Art, guilt is wasted when it comes to creativity, but I can't get away from it entirely.

    I can talk myself into believing that it doesn't matter too much if my writing offends people, but when it comes to my writing hurting people I care about – which I have had occasion to do, inadvertently – then I feel differently.

    Not just guilty but often times sad because of the conflict between my own need to write something and my loved one's experience of it.

    I'm not so fussed about how strangers react or distant acquaintances.

    You're lucky to be free of this burden, Art. Most of us still struggle. That said, I know about the ruthlessness you describe, the degree to which we must go on regardless, otherwise we would not produce a thing. A strange paradox between creativity and a certain kind of aggressiveness- ruthlessness if you will.

    Thanks, Art.

    Reply
  31. Elisabeth
    December 12, 2010 at 10:37 am (6 years ago)

    I'd agree Kirk, up to a point. I hear tell that people who write fiction are often asked the question how much of their writing is autobiographical, as if people still want to believe there is so-called 'truth' ie factual information, included, however fanciful. I suspect this might even apply to the Bram Stokers and Anne Rices of this world.

    Thanks, Kirk.

    Reply
  32. Elisabeth
    December 12, 2010 at 10:40 am (6 years ago)

    We put ourselves out there in our writing, Anthony and in your case in your art as well.

    In so doing we take on the risk of attracting both approval and disapproval in equal measures, but that's, as you say what we do.

    And it's most likely the best we can do.

    Thanks, Anthony.

    Reply
  33. jozien
    December 12, 2010 at 5:11 pm (6 years ago)

    🙂 so much to say to all that..
    I recognize what you say in the first paragraph. I myself have always been an open book, also on blog. But sometimes withholding small things, makes me feel like a fake.
    After my recent experience, i like what you say on fiction and fact in your profile, i want to weave in more fiction, because we can never say the real truth anyway even if we try there is always something that is not said.

    I do want to say; whatever we hear on the media about America, as i just traveled in the States, i found its people truely beautiful!
    I hope to express that in my current writings, true facts! 🙂

    Reply
  34. Elizabeth
    December 13, 2010 at 7:07 am (6 years ago)

    There's so much to think about here — as always, your prose is thoughtful, careful, provocative and surprising.

    I think I trust fiction more than non-fiction to explain the vagaries of human experience. While I love reading memoir, I believe I love it for the language and not for what it reveals. I love it for story, pure and simple. But novels and poetry make me fly — or hold up a mirror for my observance.

    Reply
  35. Rachel Cotterill
    December 13, 2010 at 9:52 am (6 years ago)

    I think this is why I find it easier to write in the fantasy genre – I can explore the issues I'm interested in, without worrying about involving any specific, real-life individuals.

    Reply
  36. Christine
    December 14, 2010 at 5:06 am (6 years ago)

    Elisabeth,

    Thanks so much for your kind comments on my blog. I'm really enjoying yours! I'm intrigued with your idea of writers being like emotional vampires– my brother and I are both poets and it's really strange to see how we both feed off the same memories.

    Reply
  37. Elisabeth
    December 14, 2010 at 10:58 am (6 years ago)

    Jozien, I know how hard it can be to write the so-called truth on our blogs and how easy it is to generalise about all sorts of things and people.

    I think we can only do our best to be 'true' to ourselves, as you are on your blog. Thanks, Jozien.

    Reply
  38. Elisabeth
    December 14, 2010 at 11:00 am (6 years ago)

    I've heard it said that fiction is the best means of conveying emotional truth, Elizabeth. I'm inclined to agree with this.

    I enjoy storytelling in all forms whether memoir or fiction for the sheer pleasure of the narrative drive, but all this depends, as you suggest, on the quality of the writing.

    Thanks, Elizabeth

    Reply
  39. Elisabeth
    December 14, 2010 at 11:03 am (6 years ago)

    You're fortunate, Rachel. It must be easier to write away from real life individuals when you have the sort of imagination that lends itself to fantasy writing.

    I'm afraid I lack it. I'm too earth bound.

    Thanks, Rachel.

    Reply
  40. Elisabeth
    December 14, 2010 at 11:05 am (6 years ago)

    I can't imagine having a sibling who writes and shares his memories with me, Christine.

    I wonder whether you and your brother conflict over whose version is more 'valid', or is there room for both perspectives in your poetry?

    Thanks, Christine.

    Reply
  41. Pearl
    December 15, 2010 at 1:40 pm (6 years ago)

    Intriguing!

    There is free speech in the U.S., generally speaking, as long as what you are saying mirrors what everyone else says. We are at a troubling time, and I can only hope we come through it in a fashion we can be proud of…

    Pearl

    Reply
  42. Art Durkee
    December 15, 2010 at 6:42 pm (6 years ago)

    Do writers HAVE to be vampires? Perhaps not. It's not necessary, perhaps, except that as we all said, mining experience for one's art requires one to be always aware of one's experience, and make notes.

    But it doesn't have to be framed as vampirism, or some other negatively judgmental way. Framing your art as vampirism is pretty self-judgmental, and that's where I see guilt and shame coming in.

    How about we framed our art-making, instead, as many great poets such as Rilke have said, as praise, as celebration, as preserving the best of us which needs to be preserved and remembered and savored for future times. How about instead of getting ties up in knots about "using" people and experience, we admit that we write about what we most love, what we most wish to preserve, to pay homage to, to praise.

    Glass half-empty, or glass half-full?

    Reply
  43. Elisabeth
    December 16, 2010 at 9:51 pm (6 years ago)

    It's good to hear from you, Pearl. The popularism trend exists here in Australia, too, and can be mind numbing.

    It's sad that there is not much room for individuality, despite all the rhetoric. It seems as a group we prefer the status quo – mob rule.

    Thanks, Pearl.

    Reply
  44. Elisabeth
    December 16, 2010 at 9:54 pm (6 years ago)

    Excellent idea here, Art, to focus on the positive aspects of art making, not as negative exploitation but as celebration.

    Thanks again, Art. It's always good to read your perspective.

    Reply
  45. Mary
    December 18, 2010 at 7:49 am (6 years ago)

    Thanks for stopping by my blog — I'm so happy to find yours. I was so caught by this post. I know that I have a hard time writing about something troubling before I've resolved it somehow. I can't leave an uncomfortable truth out there without some sort of frame or resolution. And I wonder if my need to "package" like that makes it all somehow less authentic, or, worse if I've inadvertently changed the story by only letting the reader see one side of something larger. So much to ponder, thank you!

    Reply
  46. Elisabeth
    December 19, 2010 at 12:08 am (6 years ago)

    I agree Mary, the degree to which we 'select' in terms of what we choose to write about, affects the outcome for the reader.

    But omission and inclusion in some senses are the most important aspects of our writing and maybe of all our communications. And whatever we decide, we can never tell the 'whole' story.

    It's lovely to see you here. Thanks, Mary.

    Reply
  47. Ruth
    December 19, 2010 at 10:10 am (6 years ago)

    It's a fascinating topic, Elisabeth, and one I've been thinking about along with you because of Assange, and Liu Xiaobo too. The freedom we have to speak and write what we want, within limits to not abuse, is tremendous and I am grateful.

    I am so interested that you cringe at what you write sometimes. Yes, you are bold and open. I find your openness beautiful and helpful. For a while I followed a woman who wrote (anonymously, with a pseudonym) about the horrible sexual abuse she suffered from her father growing up. It was terribly painful to read, but I and her readers kept reading and commenting because we felt she needed our support. Online therapy through blogging is an odd thing, and not one I admire much. And I often asked myself if she was for real. But what you do here is the best, and I admire your ability to do it, both with courage and skill.

    Reply
  48. KleinsteMotte
    December 21, 2010 at 9:48 pm (6 years ago)

    As we change so does everything in us and around us. Even our memories alter what facts seem like facts. Scary is how can we be sure of anything we perceive as real. Privacy is a notion we adopt Is it for personal well being ?? As for writing that seems so off why that is very natural. Wisdom is developed over a long life time.

    Reply
  49. Elisabeth
    December 22, 2010 at 2:51 am (6 years ago)

    I agree, Kleinstemotte. Change is the one certainty in our lives and it's one of the greatest sources of anxiety, the fact that can't be certain about anything, however much we like to convince ourselves that we can. What is it they say? The two absolute certainties in life are death and taxes.

    Thanks, Kleinstemotte.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comment *