The reason to write about something is to disturb the essence of an encounter and then protect it.
The thing that the piece of writing will need protection from is the writing itself.
What I am writing about will need to be protected from me. A small story that is shared with me here at the shop is not necessarily small. It just has a small entry point. Then, later it comes to me that it was actually a vast story.
When I write I do not want these stories to be viewed through mere glass.
Barbara came to the shop and I wrote about her. The writing is the lens through which I understood her; but her small story was not small although my understanding and ability to share it is small. Instead of looking at Barbara through glass, which is too clear and hot, I ought to be gazing through something like a polished coin of opal, through the shadows and complications. If I see her too easily I might understand her too easily and thus wrongly. There ought to be a courtesy of space and shadow so that her real story can survive.
I should not just paste these stories on glass. But if I run them through opal, they will be preserved. This means writing less.
I should not be able to see a frozen clarity because there is no such thing. A proper and courteous view is melted and distorted. And while it is grazed and cracked and furious it is also beautiful and awful. I must write responsibly to be fair.
It is important that I clear away the ropes and strings of words that the essence of my subject does not need so that the essence of my subject is not bruised.
Barbara came in and asked me to help her wrap some Christmas gifts for her grandchildren. She carries her purse between both wrists as her hands are too swollen and painful to grasp things. Her hands today are shaking. She said that her son and his family have told her that she must move into an aged care facility.
Her hands continued to shake in disbelief. I helped her wrap the small things she had, but it was her fading dignity that we were really wrapping.
(Artwork by Bing Wright)