Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Why I Wish I Were a Fiction Writer

I have never been very talented at writing fiction. I took a seminar in it once at university and while I passed the class, I found it to be exceedingly difficult to weed out my life and my experiences and perceptions and use them to infuse a sense of reality into my fictional stories and still keep the stories fictional. I tried my hand at writing fiction again in graduate school and encountered the same problem. My stories that were best received by the professor and my peers were inevitably those in which my name and the name of others had been changed, the location modified and events fiddled with.

But now I find myself in a weird ethical bind. I want to continue writing creative non-fiction prose. And I know that creative non-fiction prose isn't necessarily the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth but . . . Why do I feel this insane urge to go public with all my deepest innermost thoughts and turmoils? Why do I feel like to write from any position but the one in which I find myself mired in is a lie?

Obviously when I write, now and in the past, I choose what to omit and what to include. Omission isn't lying, at least not outright lying and many times you have to decide what to omit to help strengthen the emotional or artistic impact of a piece of writing. Just as what you decide to include is important, to me what you leave out is of nearly equal importance.

I always think of Virginia Woolf and her struggle in her quest to write a true stream of consciousness. Trying to represent reality in all its complexity is beyond our reach. Even now, sitting here at the computer typing I am not aware of everything going on at this exact moment. Yes, I am listening to my ipod (to Gwen Stefani). Yes, I am drinking a Starbucks Ice Latte (venti size--I have young children so I need the caffeine). Yes, I am trying to decide what word to write next and what word should come after that word and mostly I am struggling to repress the urge to just delete it all. And I just left out at least 20 other things going on in my mind and in my environment and they have all changed or been modified in some way in a 100 different ways already so I have already lost the ability to transmit them exactly as they occurred to me.

I guess the gist of it is that not only did a profound life changing event happen to me but it has changed the ground from which I experience my life. When I walk down the street now, I have different impressions of people, different thoughts flit through my mind than previously. If I were a telescope either someone has swung me round and pointed me at a new star field or they have tampered with my lens and my whole outlook has changed.

And that leaves me puzzled about how to write. I always just wrote from here, from me. While I always had to consider what to omit, what to reveal, what to elaborate on, what to hint at. . . I never had to consider where to write from. I knew the center of myself and I knew which perspective I was writing from. My filters were established and fixed.

It's silly really. If I write, "I took off my youngest daughter's training wheels yesterday. It felt like releasing a hawk--off she sped down the street, pedalling frantically and triumphantly away from me, her mother." You still read it the same, don't you? But the person saying it has changed dramatically. The insecurities that watching my five-year-old speeding away from me stirred up in my maternal chest were augmented by the other insecurities incubating there.

I define myself as a mother. I define myself as a wife. I define myself as a foreigner. I define myself as a woman. I define myself as a teacher. I define myself through my experiences. I'm a big believer in life shaping and molding us. If we choose to react to an event or if we choose not to react to an event we have been changed by that event. It forced us to make a decision and that decision leads us along our individual path of life to the next event awaiting us.

So I used to be strolling along, narrating bits of my experiences and observations about what I saw along the way, when suddenly my path disappeared. I'm still finding my way, testing the ground at it were, looking for my footing, watching each step. And writing on this hill side of broken rock just seems foolish. I miss the solid ground. I miss the safety of knowing where I stood, knowing exactly where I was positioned in life.

Of course that was probably just an illusion. But like a night light left on in a child's bedroom it gave me the peace and the illusion of security. No monster dares enter a room where a night light is on.