No Surprises

Once a month I perform an interesting task: I must select a single frame from a 20-minute interview to serve as that author’s image on the Interviews Page. To do this, I scroll through a portion of the interview frame-by-frame looking for a shot that is both flattering to the author and compelling visually. In so doing, I have made this discovery: people look funny when they talk. You must trust me on this. You would not want to watch yourself talking in slow motion, especially if you are being interviewed and are trying to be expressive and interesting. The face contorts, compresses, and elongates as our lips shape words and our eyes and eyebrows drive the point home. We look cartoonish and strangely uncomfortable.

Yet it is an illusion, isn’t it? Played at normal speed, there is nothing quite so appealing as watching a face animated in conversation. Even the most self-conscious among us cannot keep the mask intact at all times, as the truth of what we feel from moment to moment blooms and submerges, blooms and submerges.

The lie of the camera is the captured moment. It doesn’t actually exist. We are incapable of stasis, and so what is funny in isolation becomes beautiful in context. It is why I tend to avoid the news. Life out of context means nothing—it is shocking and absurd. In the news, things seem to just happen. But nothing ever just happens; everything evolves from something else, and even lightening requires an accumulation of energy to be released.

So much of storytelling is about context. Though for marketing purposes a story might be billed as shocking or bizarre, the writer’s true job is to remove the shock, to show the connection. It doesn’t matter what kind of story you tell, one thing must flow naturally into another, and what is called shocking is merely a result of the author withholding details for dramatic purposes. True beauty is in connection, not isolation, and we weep or cheer at the end of a story, from understanding, not surprise.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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