A note along the way: I realized that I may not have explained what I mean when I label a post “nonfic” (“nonfiction”). As I tell my creative writing students, I interpret “nonfiction” to mean a writer is writing honestly, truthfully, as himself/herself. Nonfiction can include all manner of things beyond mere reportage or argument; one is writing nonfiction when one is guessing, speculating, remembering, talking to oneself, documenting one’s life, making lists, etc. One of my students recently complained that nonfiction is not creative like fiction is. Well, in writing nonfiction, one cannot lie of course (when I ask students to write fiction, I sometimes repeat my instructions as “lie to me.” Yes, there’s the idea that fiction is “the lie that tells the truth,” but I appreciate fiction primarily as an exercise of the imagination, as an exercise in making impossibility possible (for instance, I assign my fiction-writers to create the interior monologue of a butterfly). But there’s all manner of creative expression in nonfiction within those limitations of 1. writing as oneself and 2. not lying.
I love reading fiction and poetry for the sensory experiences of image and sound. I also love fiction and poetry for showing me wild new ideas. I love reading nonfiction to see writers really struggling with ideas, attempting to make meaning of their experiences.
Recently, TAE commented on a post I wrote about efficient stories, by which stories I was mostly thinking of nonfiction anecdotes, the stories we tell our friends and families about our daily experiences. The comment:
I think another point with longer stories, novels and so on, is that you want to have some “noise”, because you don’t want the straight line, you want to confuse the reader to an extent. While I can produce suspense by using certain words, I can also get there by being somewhat “inefficient”.
I don’t often write longer fiction. My one attempt a few years ago, written in an attempt to follow, vaguely, the NaNoWriMo method, became an 80,000-word exercise in self-flagellation: Many chapters were dialogues where my characters excoriated me for my lack of plot for them to act out. So when I do write fiction, I write short stuff. I would speculate that I don’t write long fiction because I tend not to read long fiction, possibly because I am not eager to get fully absorbed into a story. I don’t mean this as a criticism of those who do read novels for this reason — I just don’t enjoy doing that. I read shorter things, in general, and I read longer things in short, out-of-order bursts. (Side-thought: If we can write creatively, why should we also not be able to read creatively? Jump around in a text, read every other word, read columns of words instead of reading across the page, etc.)
Maybe I’m just more interested in reading how others make sense of their lives — maybe I’m looking for ideas on how to live my own life. For instance, a question I asked my dad when I was in college was how he had gone to work at a series of jobs for, by that point in his life, almost every day for 25 years of his life. I don’t recall his answer as all that insightful, but to let him off the hook, my old man wasn’t all that insightful of a person. He wasn’t inclined to self-reflection, let’s say. But I wondered about that question — how are we supposed to keep going in our jobs, in our careers, day after day, year on year? I asked that question of myself (and wondered how others would answer it) much more in the early, more-challenging years of my professional life than I have lately. Now that I’m 16 years into my own full-time work life, I’m not sure I have a great answer to that question; I just know that I get up each day and go, and that by now I enjoy going. I like my vacations, of course, but I am glad for my job. It gives me routine and it keeps me from obsessing about myself and my life and my writing (a hazard when one is as self-reflective as I tend to be).
Not that I now expect there to be any one set of answers to questions of how to best live — I’m not even sure any more that such answers can come through rational thought. More and more, I think living, being alive, is less about abstractions, generalized answers, or even conscious ideas, and more about particular experiences, specific moments that aren’t comparable to other moments. It’s OK to do what I feel like doing — I don’t have to justify not living according to a plan or principles (as I for many years lived without eating meat. I still don’t eat much meat, but I no longer pride myself on my purity, my adherence to the no-meat principle.) My desires, drives, tastes, and joys just inexplicably are, and don’t need explaining, rationalizing, or inhibiting (I’m talking here about those desires that aren’t the hurtful type. By all means, I inhibit my stupid, risky impulses. That’s part of what being an adult is, no? And when I see a fictional or nonfictional character doing something that seems obviously stupid, I lose interest. I am interested mainly in characters who are at least as smart as I am.) My best creative ideas, I can’t explain where they come from. To be alive is to not-know (even as one wants to know), and to this point in my life, what I have learned is that it’s OK to not know. That learning took a few years, of course. Perhaps that’s typical of a middle-aged mindset. Perhaps the cocksure passion of one’s teens and twenties becomes a mildly skeptical acceptance in one’s late thirties. Or, of course, maybe that’s just me, and maybe that’s just what I’m saying right now, this minute. But that’s also part of the beauty of nonfiction: since the nonfiction writer is only writing as oneself, one necessarily must write as the person one is now, in the particular circumstances (context) one is in now. One may not even understand one’s current perspective or circumstances (until later, if ever), and yet, here we are. I write this today. I am as I wrote this; I was alive to write this. I may not be correct in what I said, but I said it. This authenticity of nonfiction I appreciate.
Regarding the title: A couple times in recent weeks, I’ve heard or read that “ye” as in “ye olde blogge” is not pronounced “yee” but the regular old “the,” as described here. It’s weird, but mostly likely meaningless, of course, how certain things repeat in my life at about the same time. Ah, my pattern-seeking human brain. I can’t always trust it, but we mostly get along.