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Sharp (and dull) Objects

By Mike Ruffin

I realize how late to the party we are, but we finally got around to watching Sharp Objects, the 2018 mini-series much of which was filmed in Barnesville. I found the story and its cinematic telling to be mesmerizing. The pacing may have struck some viewers as slow, but I thought it contributed nicely to the tension of the story. The acting was superb. The conclusion was mind-blowing. Were I a reviewer, I’d give it three out of four stars.

So the title of this column isn’t a comment on the quality of the film. It is rather an observation about my experience of watching it.

Viewing the film as a someone who was born and raised in Barnesville was an interesting experience. The filmmakers did a good job creating the illusion that Barnesville, Georgia was Wind Gap, Missouri. But as a Barnesville native, I couldn’t help but notice that what I was seeing was in fact my hometown.

I saw Barnesville in three layers.

The first layer I saw was the fictional one created by the crew and cast of Sharp Objects. Their skillful creation of Wind Gap made it possible for me to buy into the fiction that was being created. The second layer I saw was the Barnesville that presently exists. I’ve spent enough time there recently to know what it looks like.

The third layer I saw was the Barnesville that used to be—the Barnesville of my growing up years. I saw Deraney’s and Wisebram’s department stores, Maxwell’s dime store, and Carter’s drug store. I saw the Barnesville of my memory.

There is a sense in which all three layers of Barnesville that I saw are fictional. That is clearly the case with the Wind Gap layer, but you might wonder why I would say that about the other two layers. Please allow me to try to explain.

Let’s start with the layer of the Barnesville that used to be. I remember it as I remember it. My memories are clear as a bell. But that doesn’t mean that I remember Barnesville as it actually was. Over the decades I have rehearsed and retold my memories so that they have come to take a shape that, while they have a basis in reality, reflect my interpretation of the way things were more than they reflect the way things actually were. The passing years have sharpened my memory of the ways I think Barnesville used to be, but they have dulled my memory of the way it actually was. On top of all that, every other person who grew up in Barnesville has gone through the same process I have described. As a result, we all have our specific memories of the Barnesville that was.

Now let’s think about the Barnesville that now is. It might seem odd that I would say that the Barnesville of today is fictional—and I admit that in saying so, I may be overstating my case. What I mean is that we each experience the present from our own perspective. There is a sense in which we each construct our own version of reality. We all see the same Barnesville, but we each see it from our own point of view. What seems obviously true from my perspective may seem obviously false from yours. That is because we each bring our own background and experiences to whatever we encounter in the present. There is a sense in which we form our own meaning and even construct our own reality. Our experience of the present is simultaneously sharpened and dulled by our personal perspective.

Still, the present is the most real reality we deal with. It is the only reality we can do anything about. That’s why it behooves us, even with all of our differing perspectives on and interpretations of what is going on around and among us, to come together as best we can to try to make things better here and now.

I don’t live in Barnesville anymore, but I do live in this state, in this nation, and in this world. And from my perspective, we still have the chance to bring our different experiences and points of view together to create a better story than the one we are presently building.

Perhaps the first step in working together is to recognize how differently we experience, interpret, and approach reality. Maybe the second step is to move, one small step at a time, toward seeking some common ground.

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