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these words I write – (*spoiler alert*)

published: 2012-10-17

His voice is thinner than it ever was when he asks, “what does he die of?”
He uses my hesitation to add, “not of cancer I hope?” He laughs and coughs at the same time, then continues, “although cancer might not be such a bad idea. If you’d like to know more about how chemo feels and …”
“Oh no! No, no. He doesn’t die of cancer don’t worry, he dies of a heart-attack.”
I feel immense relief that I am able to tell him this, the man on who’s story I loosely based The Consul General’s Wife. The relief is telling: I am afraid of how he is going to react to my novel once it’s out in print. And so I tell him, once again, that as much as I wanted the main character to look like him, I have created a fictional character, a man who does not gain insight.
“Remind me again why not?” he asks.
After I explain it to him, he says it’s ok. He says he understands the novel is not going to be what he hoped: his revenge for the way his employer treated him.
Three days later my father calls me to say this man has died. Of a heart-attack.
I am stupefied. I was just about to send him the final draft of my manuscript. I go to a local chapel and light a candle for him. Do I question whether I should publish my novel? No, I do not.
A few days later, I walk down the street. A gust of wind pushes me. It is so hard that I almost fall. I instantly know: it is him. He’s not giving me a nudge of support, he’s really angry. He just kicked me.
And a few months later I receive an email from an angry friend of his. He rants and raves at how what I have written is a shameful misinterpretation and how relieved he is that the man’s widow – a woman I also know – does not read Dutch, my novel would kill her.
It is now in English. She can read it if she’d like to. Am I prepared for her anger? Should I even be giving that a thought?
I recently asked a few colleague writers whether they ever censor themselves, in order to spare the feelings of people around them. It is impossible to know what the truth is behind the answer any writer gives to this.
I have been hurting people over the years, sometimes shocking them or surprising them, with some of my pieces. There can have been embarrassment too and discomfort. I don’t have a desire to evoke a specific reaction, this is not the purpose of the things I write. So then why do I do it? I can hardly answer that question. Do I argue that for me, the initial point of inspiration turns into a tool while I write? Simply a vehicle that carries a certain message? But as a matter of principle, I shall conclude with this: If I cannot be myself within my own writing, then where can I be?

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