October 21st, 2007

Snapshot of a Portrait

As I ran through the jewel-toned ravine this morning, a lot of people were out being idyllic (well, me too, I guess, except sweatier). Dogs fetched, couples clung, children raced and shrieked. From a distance, as spotted a toddler half-buried in a pile of ruby leaves, his parents crouching near, his older brother dumping more orange and red on his head. Perfect. As I approached, though, I saw the camera, the zoom lens, the waiting tripod. The brother was not goofing around with the leaves, he was *arranging* them, at the directives of his squinting, head-tilted mother.

Was this an “oh dear” moment? Well, it would’ve been, except that the younger boy, the one in the leaves, was having a ball. He’s 18 months old, he didn’t know he was participating in the manufacture of an idyllic moment to show the neighbours. He was cawing and flapping his arms and attempting chuck leaves back at his bro, who also seemed to be having a pretty good time stage-managing the event. I bet they were getting some great shots.

But were they real or weren’t they?

This was a very thematic run, as I have been reading and thinking and writing very much lately about the trifurcation lines of truth, fiction and lies. I know these are not exactly discrete categories, but they fall along generally accepted lines: If I tell you an anecdote from my life, like the one above, you accept that it is more or less what actually was, through my own unique rose-coloured vision. If you’d been there, you might have noticed different details or had a different take, but the same events would be universally acknowledged. If I tell you a story made up out of my head, you enjoy it or not based on its aesthetic qualities, moral qualities, entertainment value, whatever–but you know you can’t check the facts, you don’t attempt to go there.

The third is the second masquerading as the first. You think I have told you a participatory anecedote, but when you try to get inside it the tent collapses: when you invite me running I have no wind after half a km, when you go to the ravine it is barren of trees. If you’d just known it was fiction, you would’ve read it entirely differently, learned something entirely else.

But exactly is the line? That family might never have played in the tree-fall if they hadn’t wanted the shot, or maybe they’d been about to set off to play when it occured to someone to bring the camera. The picture will show a smile that will be genunine, so that picture will be true, the one in the frame. Maybe the picture I’m arguing with is not the one they took but the one I saw, jogging nearer, thinking the parents were playing with their kids, which they weren’t doing. But who told me to look, who invited me into the frame (to totally destroy my own metaphor)? This story wasn’t being told to me.

Clearly I think too much, and the stories I’m actually supposed to be writing aren’t going too well. I think I’ll take a shower and walk around in the sunshine go see the Free Biscuit-eers–there’s always inspiration around here somewhere.

I took a shadow and I looked inside

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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