Editing the World

Friday, April 8, 2011

Frequent readers of this blog may have noticed a few layout changes made during the past week.  In particular, I changed the banner picture from this...

...to the current picture that I took a few weeks ago at Ruby Beach in Washington's Olympic Peninsula. Ruby Beach was the last place I visited on my week-long tour of the Pacific Northwest, and I couldn't have picked a more magical place to end my vacation.  After a day of hiking to waterfalls and through rain forests in Olympic National Park, we timed our arrival at Ruby Beach perfectly, getting there just before sunset.

The tide was receding as we arrived, and the sand had this lovely silver sheen, reflecting the pastel-colored sky.  The beach was divided in half by a stream of icy water racing to join the ocean, with rock formations towering on one side and piles of driftwood on the other.

When we arrived there were only four other people on the beach: a backpacking couple who were obviously planning to camp on the beach for the night, and a father and daughter who were there to photograph the sunset, tripods and all.  It was so nice to have the beach almost to ourselves, and the view was so overwhelming beautiful, the sound of the waves so calming, the landscape so varied and aesthetically interesting, that I could have happily stayed there for days.  Unfortunately, we had less than an hour before the rains came. (You can see the approaching storm in the photograph above.)  Although we'd intended to eat our snack of cheese and crackers (Beecher's homemade Flagship cheese, purchased the previous day at Pike Market Place--amazing stuff) on the beach, we ended up eating in the car at the top of the beach, the rain beating against the glass.  Despite our time at Ruby Beach being cut short, it was truly a perfect way to end the day and the vacation.  Ruby Beach will always be a special place to me, a place that I instantly felt connected to, and it is for that reason I chose to turn one of my pictures from that day into my blog header.

My old photograph was also of a place I felt connected to, but from that picture you couldn't tell it.  While my Ruby Beach pictures are presented almost exactly as I took them (minus a little cropping) and accurately depict the place they represent, the tree header has been edited to the point that it is unrecognizable.  The black and white tree looks (I think) eerie and haunting, but in truth the original picture looks nothing like the above image:

Quite a difference, don't you think?  This is a photograph I took of the famous 370-year-old saman tree at Romney Manor in St. Kitts.  The original, unedited photograph shows how colorful and sunny St. Kitts is, while the edited photo is dark and dramatic.  

So why does this even matter?  Why am I finally revealing the original photograph, after I've removed the edited banner?

To show you the importance of editing, how editing can change everything--perspective, tone, mood. Right now I'm working on a creative nonfiction essay about my visit to the village of Portobelo, Panama.  I'm pretty sure that it's the most beautiful thing I've ever written, but it's also been the most difficult.  It's hard to edit your own life, to edit moments and memories to share them with an audience. We do it all the time, but to put those memories on paper takes a kind of courage I've never had. I've always hidden behind fiction because non-fiction feels dangerous, as if I'm exposing myself to the world and I'm afraid the world isn't going to like what it sees.  

That's why I have to be careful I don't over-edit, that I don't completely change the perspective, tone, and mood of my memories the way that I did in the above photograph.  Non-fiction is supposed to be true, right? I  might take liberties with the truth occasionally (Was the fisherman's shirt really red?), and truth is always going to be subjective, but for the most part, the story is supposed to be real.  And that's what I'm struggling with right now--telling the story as it really happened, and not editing it to the point that someone on that trip with me would no longer recognize it.  

To those of you who write creative nonfiction, I have to ask--How do you keep from over-editing your life, your memories, to fit the story you want to tell?  How do you overcome the fear of exposing yourself to ensure that you are honest about your experiences and not overly worried about how you will be judged for them?


American Puzzle April 8, 2011 at 7:06 PM  

How. That's a good question. Being honest can be difficult, but it becomes easier with time and practice. Hold the line at honesty and truth. If the tale you tell is a truthful representation, even if embellished a bit with classic storytelling tools, then stop editing. Aside from things like word choice and improving clarity, for instance. If you edit too heavily, you might lose than initial passion and spark that comes through in the early drafts. I'm also a fan of less editing, though, and having a lighter touch. You have to do what makes you comfortable as a writer. :)

American Puzzle April 8, 2011 at 7:07 PM  

One more thing. LOVE the photos! ;)

Lacy Marschalk April 10, 2011 at 4:04 PM  

Glad you liked the pictures, Amanda!

Representing myself is always so difficult for me to do on the page, but right now what I'm struggling with the most is my representation of OTHER people, especially people of other cultures or ethnicities. I know a huge part of my conflict comes from the fact I'm building a career critiquing travel writing and colonial literature, and I don't want to be guilty of doing the same thing I'm critiquing in those texts. It's a difficult line to walk.

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