Monday, June 14, 2010

As If Each Word Is My Last

Imagine having your writing censored. Imagine not being allowed to write what you want without fear of imprisonment. Imagine living underground, off the grid, just because you write what you need to say. I can't imagine that. I can write whatever I want, whenever I feel like it. But the above scenario was the all-too real life expereince of Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas under the brutal thumb of Castro in 1960's and 70's Cuba.

Javier Bardem portrayed Arenas in Julian Schnabel's masterful Before Night Falls. Watching this movie made me realize just how fortunate I am that I can think and do (relatively) anything I want as a writer. I am not a journalist imprisoned in Iran or North Korea for writing the truth. I am not a Russian novelist who had to flee to another country to have my full manuscripts published.

At one point in Before Night Falls, Arenas is imprisoned on trumped up charges of molesting two teenage boys, among other outrageous lies (Arenas was also gay at a time in Cuba when sexual freedom was cracked down upon as hard as freedom of thought). When the other inmates learn that Arenas is an infamous writer, they enlist him to help them with any writing tasks they might have, including composing love letters, paying him in the riches of soap and cigarettes. In this way Arenas becomes emboldened to continue his own writing, finding a fellow inmate who can smuggle his new manuscript, in rolled, plastic-covered page-by-page increments, out of the prison to a publisher in France. In sending this beautiful heart to prison, the Cuban government inadvertantly allowed Arenas to continue writing.

Before Night Falls is a standard bio pic, but one that brings you uniquely and vividly into a time, place, and personality that is hard to forget.

And I keep thinking, what if I lived in a country where I was threatened by its government for the simple act of writing what was in my head? What would I write in this Orwellian situation? Would I be working on my little novels? My little stories? Would I stop writing entirely? Or would I write in secret, smuggling out my blood words to other countries? Self censorship is the only kind I've been exposed to. I've had nothing but encouragement from friends, family, and other writers. I've got nothing to complain about. Nothing. Regardless, I try to appreciate my situation and write like my life depends on it; as if each word is my last. 


Liz's Mom said...

Your writing is thoughtful, inspiring and touching. This review is one of your best.

Dell Smith said...

Thanks Liz's Mom!