Chipping Toward the Center: The Art of Brevity
September 7, 2009 § 6 Comments
From Amanda Fields, whose essay appears in Brevity 30:
In “Cairo Tunnel,” I wrote about a positive experience on the Metro. Other things happened in the space of that event, so I had to make thematic decisions, removing details that still seem poignant. I had to whittle the piece even more when I decided to submit it to Brevity. This exercise helped me pinpoint what was most essential about the piece, and it is this sensation of chipping away toward the center of the piece that I enjoy most about writing nonfiction. For instance, I removed a man who harassed me that day. He had followed me to the Metro with polite, proprietary creepiness; when the doors slid shut and I looked out the window, I saw the man standing just outside. He blew me a tender kiss, as if we were sweethearts, and I got a hard feeling in my gut, and it slid up to my head, where I conjured a satisfying vision of knocking out that man’s teeth. This sort of behavior is something that women in Egypt endure daily. In the end, though, that man represented an element of Cairo beneath which the reality of women, and discussions about women, too often disappear. He had little to do with the warmth and the curiosity of those women on the Metro. The women on the Metro were what mattered in the end, and the details about sexual harassment would have overshadowed that moment. Brevity forced me to make this choice.