This may, or may not, be the serialized start of something or other.
Don’t believe the feel-good hype, or in the vernacular of the 21st century, the meme of the snowflake: That ubiquitous myth of uniqueness that no two snowflakes are alike.
True, the outward appearances of snowflakes have a wide range of variance, as our own human appearances vary widely from one another. But with both snowflakes and humans, we vary only within the physical parameters within which we can be called a snowflake or a human. In the end, for all our differences, we’re just human, subject to what Shakespeare called “the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”, until we shuffle off this mortal coil.
We are like snowflakes in that important way, of course: we’re temporary.
But we can still tell a good story.
I think all stories really begin at the end; or at least at the level or space you inhabit when you decide it’s time to start telling it. Not even that, maybe. Perhaps stories merely start when you’re able to start telling them.
I honestly don’t know right now, either, whether this is a memoir or a work of fiction. Maybe the retelling of any life story is a generous helping of both. While few periods in history seem as loose and easy with facts as the 21st century, an unyielding fact of the matter of “truth” is that writers and historians have timelessly blurred the line between what’s real and what may only be a close facsimile, or even just a kissing cousin, to truth or reality.
In criticisms of humorist David Sedaris a dozen or so years ago, the New Republic blasted him for “adulterating his nonfiction with many imagined settings, scenes, and dialogue,” An article in Slate , by Jack Shafer, presented some other views on the topic, quoting J. Peder Zane in the Raleigh News & Observer, “Exaggeration and embellishment are what allow humor to suggest larger truths “
This may be true, acknowledged Shafer, but he adds, “Sedaris has long insisted that his nonfiction stories are both true and exaggerated, which when you think about it is impossible. “
I can’t speak to your reality, Unknown Reader. But I can speak to mine, and I know that the facts of my life are reshaped and augmented in the fermentative brewing processes of memory. The nonfiction experiences of my life take on new dimensions, meaning and impact in their telling and retelling that blend the simple facts of that experience – the day of the week, the time, the season, the place – with what may well be exaggerated take-aways of the experience, that are nonetheless true in my life.
We have centuries of literature that speak to that blended reality of truth and exaggeration – from the Bible – which millions claim to be the unerring word of god despite the obvious exaggerations in it, to probably every biography and autobiography ever written. What is fiction but some dream version of nonfiction?
But I digress – as I will do constantly. My point is: Does it really matter? Will it matter here?
What we come to believe, true, false or somewhere in between, is how we ultimately come to define ourselves and how we understand the world we have to live in. Even what others see of us is likely equal parts fiction and nonfiction.
Perhaps it’s the intent that makes the difference. If I accurately record and honestly attempt to retell my story, with no intention to deceive or weave a false narrative for the sake of entertainment, even what may appear a falsehood to my traveling companions in this world, and in this life, can be the perceived truth by which I lay my course.
I once thought I wanted to write the Next Great American Novel – some spectacular work of precedent setting fiction that would not only be required reading in high school and college lit classes, but which students would be grateful to have read!
Now, 60 years in, I know there’s no new precedent setting story to tell. We’re telling the same stories today that Aesop told in 600 BC and Chaucer and Dante told 1000 years later, Dickens 500 years after that – a mere century or so ago. There’s no new groundbreaking way to arrange words that are any more or less compelling than the range of Hemmingway to Joyce, Rand to EE Cummings, Yeats to Michener to Twain to Tolkien.
But I do know that each of our stories can be compelling in its own way; that it’s something between the ability to identify with the experiences and emotions of others and know that you’re not alone in feeling and experiencing those things, and the surprise and curiosity about what another person does with those similar experiences and emotions that keeps people reading, journeying with a writer and their story.
Right now, I can’t promise you any grand adventure. But I can assure you there are some sweet modest ones. There are some poignant love stories, personal betrayals, a couple murders by a few degrees of separation, some substance misuse, a little sex, travel, adventure, children, fun , pets, sadness, death, happiness and joy.
The only thing that might be missing is an actual plot. Although when you think about it, unless you’re Truman Burbank (and that’s fiction – right?), you’re never born into a plot. Your life just unfolds, by guess and by gosh, by chance and by happenstance.
Plot requires an intentional choice of storyline; some linear narrative that takes the thread of a particular experience and chooses to assign meaning and directive winds to everything around it to steer it on its course from random beginning to some pre-destined end.
Spoiler alert: Choices will be the dominant theme here, as they play a leading role in the ultimate storyline we assign ourselves or our journey, and by which we steer our course to some degree. If you’re lucky enough to be born into the right circumstances, you may have a little more latitude on choice and calculation. But it’s basically a crap shoot from day one, and ultimately, the meaning it all has is the meaning we give it.
Right now, the resting spot I’m at may not be the end to which I’m headed, to which you may be traveling with me.
But what the hey. We need to start somewhere. So let’s start here and see where we go.