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.


Vicky said...

I think you should just write. Even from your rocky hillside you write beatifully and movingly, and YOU are no less YOU than before this all happened.

You are maybe a different you, but not, never, ever, less.

Christelle said...

Actually, if anything, change and new perspectives make us grow and become more interesting. I have a feeling when you get across this rickety bridge and step foot on "solid" ground at the other side, that your writing will be even better. I put "solid" in quotes cause sometimes things appear solid, yet a mudslide or earthquake can take the solid right out from under you in a heartbeat. See, your philosophical post got me all philosophical too. And may I just say reading this new post was like getting a sunny day after a long rainy season :) Yay! The funny thing is that when I read your most recent comment on my blog, I had a feeling you might be writing again!! And to answer your question, yes, I think turtles can be affectionate, but in their own way (neck stretching being about the limit). Of course, the neck stretching is also a way to beg for food, but I do think our turtles like attention. And did you know they have amazing eyesight? Well, far sight, not so sure about their close up vision cause even as we feed them, they continue frantically neck stretching and don't notice the food in the water right away. But stand at the window and look out at them (through screens and reflections) and there they come, stretching their little necks out. They're cute, but not really cuddly. And that's all I have to say about that :) Glad to have you back!

Sarah@mommyinjapan said...

Sometimes you just have to start somewhere and go from there. I feel that life-changing events occur for a reason, even the tough ones. I may not be able to see the reason now but eventually it will come to light. It's just hard to go through the season where I don't know how things are going to turn out or how I'm feeling about life.

I've been praying and hoping that you would start writing again.

Nay said...

I'm not sure what to say exactly, but I'm glad to see you are back! Not knowing what has caused this life changing event, my advice may not be relevant at all, in that case, please take it like a grain of salt. All I know is, what ever life throws at you, you will get through it. It may be difficult, and you may want to give up, and you may feel that things will never be the way they were, but you will get through it. By taking simple steps, even it just being, putting one foot in front of the other to begin with, it does get easier, and you will become a stronger person because of it...

Midori said...

I know how you feel and the fact that you express it so much more beautifully than I could even imagine myself doing proves that you shouldn`t give up writing, even if you feel that you have lost your footing at the moment. Feeling like you have lost your identity is understandable but as the old cliche goes, what doesn`t kill us only makes us stronger and I firmly believe this is true. You will find a new voice, a new identity and a new way to express yourself from wherever you are in your life and we are all here cheering you on as you do.

kozoji said...

YAY! You're back!!

kaimacat said...

It is really good to see you back in the drivers seat even if you are not sure where the steering wheel is.

You should give yourself a huge pat on the back for getting yourself to where you are now. As Vicky said you are no less yourself than were before. We love you no matter how you define yourself.

As for writing, do you want to write? If you do then, well you know, do it. Those of us who know you are not critical but really enjoy what you have to say. Your sensitivity and ability to see things in a way the rest of us don't click on to makes your writing special to us.

It is your choice though. You could try throwing all those feelings out there...


Alex Case said...

If you can write like this wonderfully written post, I think you should carry on writing about whatever you like!