The Rest Of Life

My videographer recently explained to me the advantages of shooting in a location like Elliott Bay Book Company, which is the site for this month’s interview with memoirist Meghan O’Rourke. Because of the size of the room, we were better able to achieve a compelling “depth of field,” which is when objects behind the subject are far enough away to be out of focus, thereby sharpening the delineation between the subject and the background. The best way to achieve this depth of field, he told me, is with a high-quality lens, which enables the cameraman to position himself further from the subject. At such distances he must tighten his focus on the subject; in so doing, all objects not on that subject’s plane naturally fade into blur.

We do not have this luxury at Third Place Books, the site for most of our interviews. The author and I are sitting in a tight corner of the bookstore surrounded in books. For most of the interview, the author and the books behind him or her are equally in focus – it is only because the author is talking and is in the center of the frame that we know he or she is the subject and not the books. However, when we zoom in for the final question close-up, the books begin to blur. The author has begun to emerge from the background.

The job of the artist is to create depth of field. All the world begins equally in focus. When we write, we stand with the lens of our imagination at a great distance from our subject. As we focus this lens, that which has drawn our attention begins to emerge from the details of the world around it. The artist, the writer, must embrace a necessary dishonesty – that this detail is more important than that detail. Without this trick of focusing, there could be no stories, there would only be the ocean of equal details that would drown the human mind.

We require such limitations to get about in the world. We ourselves are a limitation, a focusing of energy into that which we call “I”. I have bristled against this limitation in my life, railing against its dull confines one moment, preening over my uniquely fortunate form the next. I forget in such moments that, like my stories, I am intended to be transparent, a narrow aperture through which can be glimpsed the rest of life.

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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