What We Are Not

On Tuesday’s Author2Author David Rocklin and I discussed the proper relationship of the author to his or her work. David explained that he is not a man who seeks the spotlight, and so writing is in this way a perfect art form, placing as it does the artist physically far apart from his creation. As Yan Martel said of the success of Life of Pi during our interview, “The book was famous. I wasn’t famous. I could still go to the grocery store unnoticed.” David felt this natural anonymity should extend to the page itself. That is, as a reader he did not want to be aware of the author. This can be more of a challenge for literary writers who are often culturally celebrated for their writing wizardry, sometimes to the exclusion of the stories they tell. This skill, which is merely a tool to translate the story wanting to be told, becomes the focus for the writer’s ego, which lives in a constant search for praise or criticism – the only communication it understands.

What then of the memoirist? Is not he necessarily a part of the story being told? As someone who has written one and is planning another, and who writes about his own life, more or less, every day in this space, I must say that the answer is the same. The character Bill Kenower that appears in my writing is not the same as the person Bill Kenower. I must live everyday with my ego, and I can easily become lost in the ego’s warped and bottomless appetite for attention and approval. In such moments I mistake myself for the ego’s hollow insecurity, mistake victory for peace, and despair for truth.

The character Bill Kenower is equally endowed with a voracious ego. In fact, any story I tell about my life is really a story of Bill and the trouble his ego gets him into. But in telling such stories I attempt to present the character Bill as separate from, yet unwittingly tethered to, this ego, granting the reader a continuous perspective I often lack myself. Finally, at the story’s conclusion I aim to present Bill, and therefore life as a whole, in a moment absent the ego: the happy ending.

By offering the readers Bill stripped of his ego, I am offering the most universal part of me, the part least like me – little, egoic, manic, unfriendly me – and most like the readers. If I have done my job well, the reader is really reading about him or herself, not about Bill. As it should be. Bill is a handy vessel to get about in the world, but I will be done with him someday, and when I am, the world will get along perfectly well without him. And if something I have written is still kicking around, it will be doing so precisely as it is today – entirely independent of me, one of many, many reminders of what we are and what we are not.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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