Nonfic: Editing to Remove Context

A lot of stories begin and end.

This has bothered me for a while. The reality I live in tends to be pretty continuous, so that after one experience ends, another begins — in fact, it may even be hard to tell when an experience began and ended until long after the experience, when I start to tell stories about it.

So part of what I like about writing my journals has been that I wrote them every day and while I did tell some stories, I told them as a part of other things that were ongoing, etc. My journals were continuous in that they were not split into distinct stories.

This presented problems for my editing of them (as I’ve written about in a previous post). I’ve often thought of editing a work as choosing the best things from an earlier draft and combining them into a final draft. But Friday it occurred to me that maybe what editing could be is the stripping away of context from a particular story to make that story stand out, alone and complete in itself. Maybe taking things out of context is part of what makes artworks interesting. Some of my photos look way more interesting once I’ve forgotten both when I took the picture and where. A picture of a tree in a meadow could be of some distant, lovely land — maybe it’s in the Swiss Alps! — when I’ve forgotten that the tree was just in my backyard in Illinois.

And maybe that’s a way to look at a text, too. Maybe instead of taking the best moments out of the larger text, I could look at taking out the duller moments. Both approaches might result in similar texts, but both are different process approaches.

Further, maybe instead of looking at my life, my conscious experience, as continuous and seeing time-fragmented texts as being false, maybe I could see my experience as interesting moments surrounded by (encased by?) dull moments. Well, that doesn’t sound appetizing, exactly. But it reminds me that in some ways, forgetting context makes certain moments stand out more. It’s tough to tell what is important in life as I live it, but afterwards (in memory, and also in my journal texts written years ago), certain moments stand out as being more momentous because they were pulled out of context. In fact, I used to write my journals in the evening so I could record the days events before I forgot them, but now I write the following morning, and I find that what I tend to remember isn’t everything but is the more interesting stuff. I don’t want to have moment-my-moment transcripts of my life — there’d be no meaning there. Perhaps meaning is given to an experience, to a story (or other artwork), as context is pulled away.

We experience a world that is continuous, in that we have to pass through (or above) all the territory from Denver to Chicago in order to move from Denver to Chicago, and also, we have to live the entire travel time of the trip, whether the travel time is determined by slow driving or fast flying. There’s no skipping Kansas. We might sleep through parts of the trip, parts of our lives, I suppose, but then we’re not doing anything else, mentally, either (unless we’re having a dream that then affects us after we wake up).  That art (edited movies, stories we intuitively edit as we tell them, etc.) allows us to skip over places and times can be easy to forget. Taking photos, stories, and statements out of context can alter how we and others understand them, of course, but then perhaps taking these things out of context can also give us new perspectives from which to view our surroundings and our lives. If I forget that my backyard is “just my backyard” and start to think that it is as pretty as the photos I’ve seen of the Swiss Alps, then I may start to appreciate the beauty of my own backyard.

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