Notes on Finding Stories in Treeless Jungles
“The truths that we travel so far to seek are of value
only when we have scraped them clean of all this fungus.”
—Claude Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques (1961)
When writing from experience, it takes more than just courage to retell a story. You face the empty page and are presented with the illusion that you can just write everything down in an essay. The temptation to give all the details—the fungus as Levi-Strauss calls them—each gesture, each sigh, how people dress, their mannerisms, and the looks on their faces. However, when the task of recreating is staring back at you, you remember that not everything should be written, not every detail deserves to be mentioned. Each page is a sacred space reserved for the most significant elements that make a piece of writing work. Hence, the importance of having a notebook.
For a project in the field, anthropologists and social scientists often use field notes to chronicle their experiences for future reference and study. These raw and unrefined notes are a source of both material and inspiration. For writers, the field is not just the distant community, or the subject of a study, it can be the empty room, the cluttered desk, the smoke-filled bar, and the crowded school halls. The field that we take stories from is the world, life itself.
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