Who to write about?

by Andrea Elizabeth

I’ve heard descriptions of writers being mainly observers. As if they are removed from the dynamic in the room. There is also the idea that being observed changes things. I may have that wrong as I think it may have to do with point of view rather than adding an extra dynamic to what is taking place. But in my sensitive state, I can’t think of a writer as someone removed from the action. Maybe less self-conscious ones are able to disappear and strictly observe something removed from them. There are also the comic situations where an observer thinks they’re invisible, but they are really painfully obvious. The hopping bush in the cartoons, for example.

One of the sideshows in the streets of San Francisco was a guy with a bush right on the sidewalk who would jump out at unsuspecting passers-by. It was amazing how many people were startled even though a bush is very out of place there, and that there was a crowd all around with eyes pointed right at it. I guess knowing how to hide is how writers get by with it. But the conspicuous-feeling writer, even if successful in hiding, is worried about the Candid Camera moment when the observed realizes the gag. It’s not nice to embarrass people. So this writer can only safely write about him or herself, but life is too complicated with connecting variables to make this a safe venture either.

There is probably a loving way to expose people, but you see the difficulty in one who would choose the word, expose. Solzhenitsyn was lucky in having a bonefied villain, the impersonal Soviet Union, to expose. Naming the names of the victims is a bit less clean-cut. There is a certain embarrassment to being a victim. It is a position of weakness. Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago describes how he, and I assume others, spent much of their prison time second-guessing themselves and identifying their own mistakes. ‘If only I…, I wouldn’t have been arrested.’ Even if it was totally unjustified, the human mind wonders if God is punishing him or her for something else. I think many victims feel guilty. And I think this can be preyed upon. There is so much emphasis on forgiveness, but isn’t there room for a bit of justice? I wish more was said instead about how people in a position of strength should treat those weaker than themselves, or in a lower position, rather than how those in the lower position should forgive and love abusers.

People don’t like hard feelings though. Maybe they want so badly to get rid of them that they’ll sweep reality under the rug and let bygones be bygones. It is true that one can be consumed by bitterness and resentment, but maybe there’s a better way to deal with it than blind forgetfulness and blame assuming. Solzhenitsyn felt it noble to not sign the imposed confessions of false guilt. Neither did he like the idea of the abusive soviets having nice retirements. I don’t either. But like I said in another post, I don’t know about forgiveness.

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