Writing about Myself§

There’s a Zen tenet that says, One cannot observe and participate at the same time. I’ve given this tenet much thought over the past twenty years since I first heard it. I can say much about it and what I learned. However, I’m now starting to apply it to my understanding of writing.

As I write a story, I become part of the story. This is natural. However, it’s difficult to participate in a story, to become one with the characters, while at the same time playing the role of a narrator who is observing the characters. It’s much easier to write a story in which the main character is the narrator because in that format, the narrator is only recounting his participation after the fact. The action is not happening so much in the midst of the narration. However, when the narrator is fairly lifeless or without personality, he is only observing. The action for the main character is occurring in my mind, I’m living the experiences and constantly stepping aside to observe it, to describe it. It’s not an easy juxtaposition. The narration sometimes throws me out of the feeling of the protagonist. I have difficulty expressing fully the main character’s feelings, actions, when I’m constantly having to add text describing the moment or the main character.

I want to let go. I want to lose myself in my main character. I want to become him. I am him in many ways. I can be him, be myself, when I’m not having also to explain myself. When we are observed and aware of that observation, we act differently. Having to explain myself as I do things, as I act, changes what I do — what I write, how the story progresses.

I have always been a person under scrutiny. I’ve always lived my life under criticism. First and for many years, decades, I was scrutinized and criticized by parents, relatives, a wife, bosses, coworkers, supposed friends, and many others. I eventually learned to get free of those people, but found that I was still subjected to my own inner criticisms. I have taken over for those who used to have influence over me and criticized me. Sometimes it frustrates me and I just blurt out, “Shut up!” I’m speaking to myself in a way, but mostly I’m speaking to those critics of my life who have left a residue pattern in my mind. Some day I’ll be able to live without observing myself. For now I’m hoping and struggling to be able to write a character for whom I can observe without criticism and without disturbing him.