Monday, March 17, 2008

Ramming into Truth

The last month has drowned me in student work. It's a hazard of the job -- one I know is there, yet always find shocking, like that first step into a sunny 20 degree afternoon. I caught the crud for about ten days, and tried to keep myself healthy, keep a yoga practice going, keep up with the onslaught of student stories and novel chapters and essays, and yes, write. Or, to be more honest, think about writing. A lot.

I do love to teach, so one of my favorite distractions is looking through texts and planning how to use them in a classroom. I love finding new approaches. I love reading new exercises, and I love especially seeing how other writers have handled the writer's dilemma of teaching creative writing while trying to actually write creative writing. I'm on my way to about 1000 miles of driving in the next five days to pimp the book at different schools and bookstores. I take these trips with the illusion that I'll write in the hotel room, or when I stop for lunch, but I know better. It's a different part of my brain -- the teacher, promoter, schmoozer -- than the writer part. Both are necessary, but I haven't yet figured out how to comfortably combine them in a single body. So I spend a spring break that could be used writing, promoting. But ya gotta, or else you don't have another book. So you gas up at $3.25/gallon and hope you remember to keep track of the mileage for 2008 taxes.

I have, however, been ghost writing. Ghost wrestling. Realizing that to write about ghosts as a white girl -- and not even a European white girl, but a gen-yoo-ine American white girl, in a white girl's culture that dismisses ghosts outright -- is akin to standing in front of the National Geological Society and screaming, "The earth is flat!" Alas. Chinese literature contains ghosts-a-plenty. Native American literature. African American literature. Japanese, Korean, Thai, Hindu, Indian, Spanish, Mexican, Cuban -- the list goes on and on. What happened to the white people ghosts? I laugh, of course, because they're right here, in the same places as everyone else's ghosts. We pay a high spiritual price as a culture for poo-pooing them. Since I know that we white folks have our ghosts, I have decided to form a movement -- call it maybe White People See Freaky Shit Too -- or What's the Difference 'Tween Your Jesus and My Ghost -- but those don't fit well on bumper stickers or T-shirts.

So I press on into the ghosts, and as I do, I realize that I have to write a memoir in fiction. I just can't tell the truth in the way the world currently sees truth. My truth is a layer of lace. My truth is a discordant harmonium. My truth holds its eyes open without blinking long enough for the edges around "solid" objects to blur. So, my newest approach (and if you've been reading these all along, you know this may well not be the last one) to this ridiculous memoir project, is to turn it into a novel -- a "Based on Actual Events" event. The truth takes my voice. It hardens the edges of my paragraphs until they feel like they could be part of a composition text. The truth steals my magic. I have to show that I can write the truth and still create the world I live in convincingly enough for people who work in tall East Coast buildings (even buildings whose elevators don't stop on a 13th floor). I have to pretend I'm not me, so you'll believe I'm me. I have to create a character of myself and pull you in with her voice (yes, mine, but you'll think it's hers). You'll feel safer in her world of ghosts than mine. And when the ghosts speak through me (her), you'll hear the same words tickling the base of your own throat, holding open your eyes just a few blinks too long.


Anonymous said...

After reading the previous blog post about your experience in Thatcher I am confident that you will find much success in "writing a memoir in fiction". My favourite kind of real life stories are those that you almost have to question whether they are real or fictional. Your Thatcher story did that for me. I enjoyed it so much I had to read it again to make sure it was fact rather than fiction. It reads like a short story. I'm excited to find your fiction now.

Laraine Herring said...

Thanks, Tara! I appreciate your confidence! :-)

Carrie Anne AKA Mad Scientist said...

This entry caught my breath. The ghosts have a way of following me as well. They can be terrifying and comforting all at once.