Saturday, June 4, 2011

Fancy That

After you have been telling stories over a long arc of time, it is natural for the individuals about you to call you into question when you relate an incident.  These kind folk are, of course, conflating the daily use You and the storyteller You.  They have good cause to question you.  Carrying that burden a step or two farther, you have good cause to question you.

At one point in your young life, a prescient editor suggested your better future lay not in journalism but in fiction, this advice prompted when you turned into this editor the coverage of a speech that, the editor reminded you, had been cancelled.  "My account is what the speaker would have said, had the speech been given,"  you said.  The editor, of course, said "Nevertheless."  As you recall it, he tacked the 'Nevertheless" onto a sentence reminiscent of one of those interminable freight trains that seem to take forever clearing a cross street, the culprit being the number of cars in the train rather than its speed.

Shortly thereafter, another editor sent you a note in which she'd added a check to cover payment for a story she was accepting.  The note was a polite wonderment of why you continued to consider this particular market--the so-called true confession--when a) she only bought perhaps one of every four stories you sent her b) she doubted you could sell the rejected stories anywhere else because they were not a fit for the market c) you were effectively slicing your price per word payment in fourths, and d) you would have more fun writing the kinds of stories she was passing on rather than accepting.  All true.  However the stories you wrote that she was not accepting were of the sort for which there was no commercial market.  The same editor was good enough to tell you later on that you were not a commercial writer, no matter what your then literary agent, Scott Meredith, said. You need, the editor said, to write the kinds of things you like to write, whether they are commercial or not.  If enough people like them, they will sell enough that they will seem commercial.  If not, you will at least have had the satisfaction of writing things you like.

You loved this advice but did not think you could afford to heed it.  Meanwhile, you continued to publish things that were, to say the least, "way out there in the fringes and margins," adding to muscle memory the sense of not knowing in retrospect where what you wrote was based on fact or imagination.  In some cases, such as the things you wrote for Western history magazines, you may well have muddied actual history by writing what you considered interpretive history.  In other cases, you were accountable to the standards of fiction because the persons and events you wrote about were true in your imagination, but had no other reality than your imagination.

You have read accounts of and talked with actual individuals who were on the cusp of trading in their take on reality for the idiosyncratic reality imposed by Alzheimer's Syndrome.  None of their symptoms approached yours; your reality is that some events in your memory hard drive may have been entirely invented, particularly because you on some occasion "get" a character by modeling her on some real person with whom you then commence a fictional dialogue. Thus is is always a joy as well as an embarrassment to have your memory validated by a witness.  "I couldn't believe it when you told Aunt Augusta to go fuck herself."  Such events mean you are acting on your thoughts as well as giving your thoughts a platform in your imagination.

Most of us write our own histories.  You, with great certainty, write yours and are attracted to those who do so in similar manner, perhaps in preparation for the great moments when, as you relate your history to a group of others, or someone relates her history to a group in which you are present, the voice comes booming forth, "I was there at the time and I find your account and interpretations to have no basis in fact.  None."

As a writer, editor, and teacher, you know too well the consequences of saying "But it really happened that way."

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