I don’t take pictures of myself often. If I do, it’s a selfie, and I do it while no one is watching, like this one:
I mostly take pictures of my kids, my husband, and sometimes my Corgi-huahua. Their pictures help me feel connected. Their images help me make sense of the world I encounter.
Writing is similar to taking a picture.
A while back, I posted some photos on social media from a vacation. I shared pictures of mountains, sky, water, kids, dog, and hubs, but I didn’t post any pictures of myself. Mostly because I wasn’t feeling it. I didn’t feel like a part of this story, only the storyteller. Also, my hair was messy.
A friend told me I should take more pictures of myself. But I disagree. I wasn’t a part of the story I wanted to tell that day. As a Creative Nonfiction writer, the biggest paradox that I grapple with is that my stories cannot ultimately be about myself, even if technically I am the protagonist. I try to remove myself from events, or at least remove my ego, so that what pulls a reader into an essay are those universal ideas, themes that apply to every person, ideas that let us feel human.
Sometimes I think being a writer-artist is similar to creating a nonfiction protagonist. When I write an essay, I interpret events through tone, diction, and other craft elements; it’s a reflection of the way I see the world for an outside audience. And what is telling a story? You formulate an outline, develop a plot, create motivation, and interpret events. When I write a piece of #CNF, if you are the reader, the persona is not just me, it is you. The whole essay is you.
When I write about the human experience, I am taking a picture of a time and place; it’s a photographic perspective developed through images and desire.
I used to wonder if my stories ever mattered. I submitted my work to literary magazines, and I would get rejected, but those rejections show me how much my story matters because eventually, they’ve made it into the world. It has only taken a few years and a lot of work. My stories didn’t have to change as much as I had to change in order to tell them. Thank goodness for my change in perspective.