The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

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By Forrest Hershberger
View from the Handlebars 

Represent Yourself Right, and Well


September 22, 2022 | View PDF

A few years ago, my wife and I saw a movie called “Words.”

It is labeled as a romance story, but it goes much deeper. Yes, there are two primary characters in a relationship. After that, there is a moral dilemma brewing.

He is an aspiring writer, as the reviews call him. I sort of take issue with the phrase since attending a writing workshop years before. A speaker and published author made it clear that many people overthink the process, or better said the identity. Who is a writer, or artist, or any creative mind? It is the person who gets up in the morning and can’t wait to see his soul come alive with what makes him happy, be it his version of a classic painting, a novel or short story, or a rat-rod version of a bicycle.

In the case of being a writer, getting published is the gravy. Letting your soul sing is the real identity.

So what do you do when presented with an ethical dilemma as it is called? In the movies, it is the random teen walking home and finding a significant amount of money: unidentified, nothing to imply who lost it. It is lying in the street like a gift from heaven. The easy answer is no one watching, no way to identify the owner... too bad, so sad.

But is that morally right? Oops! I’m probably not being politically correct implying there are consistent and universal rules to living. If it was a bank envelope with a nice amount, but not a trip to the islands, would you turn it in? If the answer is yes to 2, but no to 1, where are your values?

Back to the movie. The struggling writer finds a manuscript, and as time goes on promotes it as his work. He enjoys the success and limelight, but has the looking-over-his-shoulder feeling, the guilt of knowing it isn’t his intellectually, morally or legally.

I’ve heard people joke about a “doppleganger,” a person who closely resembles someone from another part of the region. Some of these people say “everyone has a doppleganger.” I sometimes wonder if my alternative self would have made the same decisions. Would he have met the same people, followed the same opportunities? I also wonder what it would be like to have found the manuscript like happened in “Words.”

For me the answer would be easy. The catch about writing, and many forms of artistic expression, is the “color” of the story is a reflection of what the artist sees and feels. If someone gets possession of one of my works in progress and promotes as his own, he, or she, would be displaying significant creativity in explaining why the story was written as it was. The plagiarist would have to explain why the clouds were fall-afternoon gray instead of the sky rainy and dismal.

The thief of words would have to mentally write accounts of why the story reads as it does when signing books, interviewed by the local paper.

Borrowing someone’s work or title is like the basic explanation of a lie: the more you do, the more need to do — a person often has to lie to cover the first lie, which leads to more lies.

I’ve told readers and community members the community is our (any community newspaper) truest copy editing staff. There’s an expectation that regardless the media, as a paid journalist, we don’t make mistakes. If only that were the case. That level of perfection is possibly what resulted in editors keeping a bottle of brown liquid in the bottom desk drawer. It’s not fun, and we all strive to be better, but it happens. It’s part of being human. One thing we can do is maintain our integrity. True integrity is more than a professional jacket we wear for the office. It has consistency — on the golf course, in the office, at a restaurant, at church, on a bike ride... wherever life takes you. “Borrowing” someone else’s work doesn’t do that.


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