But at some point I had to wonder: where is the moment of betrayal? When the words hit the page? When that page is published, or produced? Or earlier, when it's in the mind of the writer? In the moment the writer thinks, regarding her brother's fury at vivid childhood slights, a sister's anguish over losing weight, a friend's dysfunctional relationship with the boyfriend who hits on everyone in sight, Hey, I can use that? Is it the moment when the fabric of another person's life, at the seam where it meets the writer's own, becomes material?
You can't participate in a relationship you're mining; you're observing from the shoreline, crouched, watching for the bits of gold, careful not to let your feet get too wet. You test dialogue by inserting provocative bits into real conversation, you transcribe real conversation back into a fictitious character's rambles--either way, honest communication between people ceases to exist.
Perhaps writers who draw from their lives simply pay the price of an emotional distance in their relationships. Because we're too busy taking notes.
--Tara Ison, "The Names Have Been Changed to Protect the Innocent," Kenyon Review, Fall 2001
Coming Monday--an interview with Tara Ison. In the meantime, read her review of Jane Smiley's latest, Ten Days in the Hills.
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