“But what does it feel like?”
Questions like this make my stomach churn. Every writing student is taught that age-old maxim, “show, don’t tell”, so it seems simple that one should broach the delicate subject of their inner emotions by describing their outward human behavior and dialogue – a creative challenge frought with difficulty and danger at every turn. Yet, as my friend Andrew Bisharat recently wrote, the general public rarely wants stories told with this kind of subtlety and nuance. “Trite, dumb cliche is really what resonates with most people today,” Bisharat stated in his hilarious piece, “Freelance Life: The Invaluable iPhone”.
Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to non-fiction writing: I wonder if the written word is a medium inherently aimed at the analytic side of our brains, not our hearts. In fact, despite the internet, DSLR cameras, and sixty-hour narrative TV shows, nothing comes close to the efficiecy of the written word to accurately communicate detailed stories, big bodies of knowledge, or complex issues – i.e., the messy material world we call “reality”. But on the simple truths, on the level of basic human motivation and understanding, writing and words are often strangely ineffective. (Maybe that’s why the market for nonfiction writing is far bigger than the fiction market is.) Indeed, what did Antarctica feel like? Thankfully, for this type of inquiry there are other modes of expression and communication – particularly the visual arts.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Check out this great video, and the amazing photography herein by National Geographic shooters Cory Richards and Keith Ladzinski of Three Strings Productions, and then I must ask: does my voice (snippits taken from interview footage shot during the expedition, not a written script) add anything to the piece that Cory and Keith’s images don’t communicate more effectively?