I asked my students in class the other day: “True or False: We almost always draw from the truth in order to write fiction.” Both of my English classes were divided about half and half.
First of all, who’s responsible for teaching these kids test-taking skills? A question is almost always false when the statement has definitives like “always” and “never” in it. Aside from petty details, they weren’t sure about truth and how much of it belonged where. That’s fine. Posing the question was more of a litmus test than a quiz grade.
The answer is true; we can only create from what we know. We cannot create eh nihlio, which is altogether another discussion for another time. All we needed to understand was that fiction is, essentially, birthed from pieces and scraps of non-fiction, even though the very definition tells us that it’s imagined or made-up in the mind of the author. Tricky stuff.
But what about the inverse? The reverse, the backwards. If we flip it around, are we still so sure? Is there any way to create or even fabricate reality from the fictions we imagine? If we can bend over and steal handfuls here and tidbits there from what is real to create worlds we’ve never lived in and people we’ve never met, people who never were and can’t be met…then can we not just as easily bend back the other way with these double-dipping hands of ours?
If you say I can or that it might work out, I’m turning around. I’m changing my plan. I’m flipping my supposed truths, if there’s a chance. I’ll plant my feet firmly in green fiction grass. It’s morning, or dusk, it’s whatever I want it to be because it’s fiction and the rules are mine. I want it to be whatever I want it to be…so badly.
If this backwards borrowing works, I’ll spend my days stooped over the borders, fuzzy and gray, pulling the things I love and miss from the real into the new. I’ll take friends I can’t leave and foods that I like. I’ll take places I’ve been and ideas that I’ve had. Chicago will come, but only places that are mine: bakeries and cupcake shops, the whirlyball place on Damen. I’ll take the hockey rink on the beach, Lake Shore Drive at midnight, no traffic, thank you. I’ll take the walk home from work, waiting for my train, but none of the nights when I ran; I’ll take the nights we all closed down the Exchecker, Coronas and limes. I’ll take an order of sushi from Tank up in Irving Park where, in non-fiction, we don’t live anymore.
But nevermind the list of things I’ll take. This fiction is ours and we’ll remake all the things we’ve shared. What I’ll take are things to show you. I’ll fill my suitcase with things from when you were gone; things I can give like gifts. Like my summer in the Springs, every mountain, every time it rained,the dusks I pulled off the highway to watch the sunset jockey with the Rockies, or else I’d have crashed. With me, I’ll bring hockey lingo I learned and couldn’t share, this idea for a non-profit art campaign that you’d like but wouldn’t listen, new music, this job, fantasies of a first kiss that I’m happy and sad we never had. Bring something from the apple, even though I found it too big to take a bite. Bring all kinds of music, I love you like that. Bring my stick that you stole, I’m not mad, just don’t forget.
Anything I’m forgetting? Don’t pack light, this is it. We only dip once. One chance to snatch reality, before we’re trapped in our own story.
A story. Just a story. Time ticks on, creeping along a line that spells out P-L-O-T. You and me, the characters tied up in action, tied up in each other, to each other, hopelessly or perfectly, all tied up. And conflict, conflict, conflict. Every story has a resolution. It’s test question number twenty-three. I try to quit wondering what ours will be. What it will be when our feet are green from romping around in dew-soaked fiction grass, borrowing from the world, writing a story that they simply refuse to publish.