Microcosms in Nonfiction
I’ve been trying to keep up with all the big stories in the news lately. Election news. Gun control issues. Women’s rights. Often I feel overwhelmed with the magnitude of the news stories. Do the problems have solutions? Can we see the trees for the forest? As a memoirist and essayist, I find myself grateful for the intimate stories – the slices of life.
We writers of true stories cannot always compete for attention with big news stories, the big boys (girls), the big money, the blockbuster movie in terms of scope. We wrestle with the famous folks and the furiously ambitious for responses. Maybe we can’t grapple with the whole political issue, the larger social dilemma or the giant religious expose. What we can do is tell the individual story, present the single portrait, hum the simple tune. We can move the camera in and, in so doing, make microsense of events.
There's truth in the close up.
For instance, I was blown away by the movie Spotlight. In every way, that piece of work had influence. I could barely walk out of theatre, having taken in the power of the message. I asked myself, what could I do that could even come close to having that kind of impact.
I had wanted to write a story about a monk I knew about who lived in a Franciscan monastery who is called to reconsider his orthodox Catholic doctrine and consider moving out of the labyrinth of problems within the church. With miracles, signs and witnesses, the Lord tries to encourage him to revisit his beliefs, to reconsider condoning wrong life choices within the monastery. The message is love and reconciliation – the message that God does not give up on His own – even when they go astray. I believe a story like this has a different, deeper impact than an expose. The reader can enter into that one man’s life and see, not so much condemnation of a large group of clergy, as wrong as they have been, but a tale of compassion and second chances.
We need to tell our close up stories to make deeper sense of the big drama.