A famous quote from William Faulkner is “in writing, you must kill all your darlings”, which I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.
Part of the reason is that I’m neck-deep in rewrite territory of my screenplay and I’ve cut out more than I’ve put back in, including a couple of scenes which (naturally) I thought were bloody brilliant and broke my heart to kiss goodbye too.
But as Faulkner continues to teach us, if a scene, a character or a “darling” doesn’t progress or add to the fictional story, then it or he or she must be “killed” in a literature, not a literal, sense.
Editing out the crap or superfluous pieces of a story, of course, makes it more seamless, coherent and exciting, which is why it’s called a story. It’s not real nor is it true. At best, stories that are based “on real events” can only ever be thus, because more exciting bits and pieces are usually added to pep up the story-line in places or to make the characters more interesting or “alive” – but perhaps not entirely real-life.
I’ve come to realise that some people practice this creative art-form in everyday life, too, but I’ve decided I have no desire to do so, even if it could helpfully vanquish some memories and experiences from my brain forever.
One of the many modern quandaries I struggle with daily, including using my television and my mobile phone, is how one should deal with Facebook after a breakup. I’ve had my personal profile for more than eight years now – which also means it has been around to witness two relationship ups and downs.
In the beginning I was probably guilty of over-sharing on it – although in the very early days not many of my friends were on Facebook as well so it was like I was transmitting my cougar joy and smugness to a relatively empty void.
After the relationship ended on mutually respectful terms, both of us left any shared posts or photos on our respective pages because it was our history. Many years on, we’re no longer friends on Facebook. I can’t remember why, but it was most probably me who unfriended him in a fit of temporary passive-aggressive ridiculousness when I no doubt struggled to see him moving on with his life with a new, much-younger-than-me love.
But I never deleted anything of our time together online and nor do I believe did he. I never kissed goodbye to my virtual ex-darling just because it might make my past seem more linear or neat.
The ragged course of my other relationship also still remains in my online and real-life history, even though I often wish I could white-wash a lot of it away to save myself the anguish.
But, again, while I might practice the art of story-telling for a living, it’s not in my psyche to try to misrepresent my past as more pleasant than it actually was or, in fact, pretend a relationship or a person didn’t exist in my days gone by.
But I know that not everyone thinks this way and some hit the delete button on every shared online memory that ever there was. Perhaps it’s their way of wiping the slate clean to start again but personally I think it’s borders on the creation of a fairy-tale – just like the stories we read in a fiction book or the movies we watch on a cinema screen.
But real life rarely has such Hollywood happy endings or smooth trajectories.
You see, a few days ago, I crossed paths with one of these two lovers but I don’t think he saw me. It had been five years since I’d seen his face and after so long rumbling around the same city without ever bumping into each other, seeing him so unexpectedly did temporarily knock me off my sanity axis.
He was with workmates, while I was meeting a couple of friends. As soon as I saw him, I rushed to the other side of the bar with my head spinning but stupidly ended up sitting right outside the men’s toilet. Good plan.
Over the course of the next hour or so, I tried to decide whether to say hello, while simultaneously quizzing my mates on whether they thought he’d seen me. In the end, however, I never did do anything about the two of us being at the same place at the very same time.
Since then, I’ve pondered why I acted that way. It’s not because I wasn’t happy to see him or that I’d deleted him from my memory (online or otherwise). Far from it. Perhaps it was because he still looked very good to me (which is not a bad thing I guess) but ultimately I hope it’s because he’s moved on with his life and so have I.
It is still strange to me, though, that you can spend a proportion of your life with someone and love them with everything you had, but still not feel comfortable saying hello when you bump into them down the pub. If there is a next time I hope that I’ll be more brave.
So, instead, I stared at his broad, powerful and loyal back – which six years ago he’d turned away from me at the same time as I’d turned away from him – and later that night I smiled at the memory of us, of what we gave each other, and of the many reminders of our history together that I can revisit and learn from whenever I want too.
I might have to kiss goodbye to my darlings on the pages that I create as a writer, but I’ll never do it in real life. I’ll take the light and shade of life experience any day – no matter how much it might sometimes confuse me.