Friday, November 25, 2005

A Thought on the Word "Cinematic"

at my writing group last week i read from a story i am working on, currently titled "Thunderbird Refugee". one woman said how cinematic my description was. this was a compliment, of course, so i was surprised that i felt a little uncomfortable. it took a couple of days for the reason to rise into my consciousness.

when i wrote the piece, i was doing what i normally do, which is to envision the place and characters i was describing. much of that draws on memory, times when i have walked along a forest trail, or seen spaceships crash in the wilderness. (okay, maybe not that.) it had nothing to do with movies--although i can also remember times when i have been writing that i absolutely was envisioning a scene from a film--real or created at that moment in my mind. i suppose to a reader there might not be a difference, but when i am writing, there is--a difference in what i am seeing in my mind's eye, and also a difference in how i am relating to the story and it's characters. it is generally a more remote relationship, more interested in outward form than inward reality.

a film is something i watch and respond to, which, however wonderful, is artificial and intentional. as i watch it, i know that i'm seeing the scene before me for a reason. it is meant to tell me something, to set up a particular reaction, to drive the tale forward in some way.

when i am walking in the woods, sitting with a friend, or otherwise just going through life, i am seeing and observing (more or less attentively) but there is no particular "reason" for all that unfolds before me, and to me, it's meaningful in a very different way. it is simply the life i live and the world i respond to.

what disturbed me when she used the word "cinematic" was that it gave me the distressing image of us only really seeing vividly what is before us when it's put up on a screen and we know it's our job now to look. that otherwise we are wandering through the much richer world of actual life without really looking at it. that, in a way, we need movies to remind us to open our eyes--but what we are opening them onto isn't what is real, and necessary for our lives. a frightening thing.

it surprises me, actually, how much i remember of what i've seen, for all the days i have spent with my attention more firmly fixed on the inside of my head or the thing i am intending to do than on what is around me. it's a real gift to have the chance in writing, or in some other pursuit, to cast my mind back over a situation, no matter how mundane, and see any of the details of it in absolute clarity. it has taught me to keep my eyes peeled much more carefully, much more of the time, to see what there is right now and respond to it--or him or her--rather than only to the plan i have roiling in my head. (i've learned to do this more of the time, but far from all of it.)

i suppose the discomfort is simply loyalty to that gift of goal-lessness, of seeing whatever is, without purpose or intent. later, we can make stories of it if we like. but now, the joy is simply in getting to look. and the greater joy is in getting to learn from all that is offered, rather than having it neatly packaged before we open our eyes.

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