There was once a clever guy called Shakepeare who wrote about a lean and hungry Roman who asked his friend, “Tell me, good Brutus, can you see your face?” After giving it a good try, his mate Brutus says, “No Cassius, for the eye sees not itself but by reflection, by some other thing.” Cassius goes on to be Brutus’ mirror, laying it on a bit thick if you ask me, but the point is made that we have a hard time seeing ourselves, in knowing who we are.
As is their prerogative, readers like to make inferences, personal ones, about authors based on what they’ve written. And how writers write about people, no matter how real or made-up they are, will be used against them. Verisimilitude will only increase a reader’s predisposition to make such leaps.
He MUST be an axe-murderer because he writes about them so well!
I was giving this more thought after having written a book about the interwar period, a time when there were a lot of lefties wandering about questioning why so many men had died in the war and then why the survivors and their families had to suffer through the Depression. One of my characters is one of those lefties, so the novel has a flavour of that time. I offered the book to a publisher who immediately rejected it but directed me to a press which is very left-of-centre and exists for social purposes as much as business ones.
But I just wanted to write an entertaining, convincing book. Does it come across that I’m selling something, specifically lefty-ism? Do I come across that way, like I’m on a mission from Marx?
Everybody says that writing is a solitary occupation. We sit all alone in our respective garrets and live in our heads and some of what we think about spills out onto a paper or is punched out onto a keyboard. Now, the landlady won’t let us put up mirrors on the walls and ceilings, so we have no idea ourselves of even our appearances let alone the cumulative impressions we convey with thousands of words of plot, character, and place, the inescapable conclusions readers make about us given how we begin, the method of our middling, and the nature of our ends.
My way of beginning the novel was a relatively sympathetic, blow by blow portrayal of Bloody Saturday during the Winnipeg General Strike. Does that make me a Bolshevik in people’s eyes today? Most people haven’t a clue about that time (all the more reason to write it) or its dramatic climax (there it is again – reason to write). Does just writing sympathetically about the strikers brand me somehow?
Maybe, maybe not. I guess I need a mirror.
Where’s a Cassius skulking around when I really need one?
The thing is – it’s easy writing stuff, but getting anyone to read it all the way through? Almost impossible. If Cassius were gonna fill my head with how terrific I am, he’d probably have to do it on the basis of a synopsis. Who has time for much else?
So, he’ll get it all wrong, too.
I might have to just go with the flow. Or, in this case, the revolution.
Too bad khaki brings out the green bags under my eyes.