I am addicted (as anyone I live with can tell you) to those Law & Order – type shows. I remain enthralled with the idea of a rough justice coming to those who are so deserving and exoneration to those misjudged. For me, this cinematic-decency triumphs and serves the need to understand the very foundation of the human condition. Like the writing life, most L & O shows begin with a story based on fact with fiction sprinkled in to protect the innocent – and often the writer. But what happens when the truth fails to set a writer free? When telling your story causes pain? After many years of wrestling letters into some type of meaningful story, I’ve come to believe that the biggest challenge for the writer is knowing where the truth lies – and when the truth lies.
I think a lot about what I want to write. Because of this I can say writing – in the mind – is faultless; the point is always well made and well received. The color of the kitchen is perfection. The bedroom, like the night is always warm and inviting. The boy is always in a state of want and the girl is always of long legs and sass. But good writers have to be out of their minds for real success – they have to write about the morning after with as much force and beauty as they did the ultimate consummation of the male, female dance.
For the last eight months I have been writing about my youth – an awesome task that forces me to stop periodically and fight with the demon on my shoulder telling me “you can’t write that.” Then I think of writer Anne Lamott’s quote, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.” But justice, especially in the service of fiction, is seldom that simple. The good thing about writing fiction, according to John Grisham, is “You can get back at people. I’ve gotten back at lawyers, prosecutors, judges, law professors, and politicians. I just line ‘em up and shoot ‘em.” But what happens when your fiction is truth and truth lies under the hot magnifying glass of emotional forensics? I often wonder what can be revealed about me from these letters that I’ve managed to build into words and from there into sentences that pay homage to the traveling-self; observations from behind and beyond? And should I care what is revealed about me or the swords held in each word that could maim or destroy others? Should this be a concern for the writer of fiction?
Today, I think the writer should be concerned with telling the story with whatever fiction available to tell it well. Tomorrow though, I know I will return to what appears to be my destiny; parsing and scattering harmless letters in some code which no one appears to understand, hoping they land on some desk owned by someone unafraid to give a positive I.D. and willing to tell me (and the demon on my shoulder) “shut up and let sleeping truths lie.”