Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Truth is Strange

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.”
Mark Twain

I never wanted to be a journalist. There was a lot of insistence that this would be my best route to writing professionally, but in my experience Fiction did tell me the truth in ways that a biography or an article never did. I am in awe of fiction more than of facts. I never wanted to write memoirs either. The simple reason for this is because I knew that my memory was already selective and that I could not write the facts, nor could anyone else without blithering mistakes. It could be nothing but a lie. Now, we are in the age of the blog and social media, and what am I writing? I’m writing a journal, an examination of my opinions and experiences as they unfold as if they are the whole truth. It’s not a new thing to write this way, but it is public for the first time, and are there layers of information that I keep to myself? Of course, there are! So is this fiction or facts, and where is the truth?

I’ve been thinking of this for a long time. That's a fact. Why don’t we see loads of fiction unfolding in the blogosphere? Tales that draw us into to imaginary worlds, exploring the interior of minds that were invented? What would Mark Twain do with this medium, this internet of no particular reason except to share facts and opinions? Lately, even the publishing industry has been taken aback from the success of fiction in books to the point where for the last decade people have tried turning their works of fiction into “memoirs” only to admit later that they lied (see Beth Hayden’s blog today on Copyblogger).

The more I learned about writing fiction in the medium that I chose - film - the less fun it became. There was little play for me in laying out the whole thing on notecards before I wrote the first line of dialogue. I understood the part of Twain’s quote that went, “...Fiction is obliged to stick with possibilities...” It meant that I had to decide what the possible outcome would be and build my story around it. Whereas in the realm of journalism and facts, well I watch the stories unfold often to my amazement, sometimes to my disdain and I'm never really committed by that observation to the truth. A great fiction writer has to have a sense of the “truth” before writing about it. A journalist finds out the “truth” as it unfolds, only making a conclusion, if making a conclusion, at the very end.  Bloggers freely state opinions and offer facts and tie it up, but only the best build a frame of context, and, if they do this much, it might be somewhat fictional. The essential thing with blogs is that they've determined a point of view about reality and they find facts to uphold it. Does this mean it is the truth? Does this make it journalism?

This must be very confusing to creative writing teachers. Classes I have had since my youth, laid out a false expectation that as I wrote fiction I would discover something I didn’t know while writing a piece of fiction. There is no discovery for a fiction writer, only for a fiction writer’s readers.

But what of the audience? Why has the audience lost respect for the amazing feat of the fiction writer to find the truth AND THEN tell it in a way that the audience can discover it? Why is it unacceptable, for instance, to posit that the Bible itself is only part fact, and mostly fiction taught by the greatest minds of its time through poetry and story? Why must we have the literal belief of everything in order to own its truth? Have we become a world obsessed by fact-finding because of the journalistic claim that that is what they are presenting?

Lately, I’ve become addicted to Aaron Sorkin’s new show on HBO, “The Newsroom,” and the obsession its characters have with sticking with the facts. They have created etiquette about what is wrong with America by pointing out that what is now presented on television as fact is actually fiction and fantasy. I love this show and I believe the point of view completely. Yet, I do not ever forget that it is imaginary, that there are NO news organizations pursuing the facts in this way today except maybe a comedian named Jon Stewart. If Aaron Sorkin had based the show on "The Daily Show" then it would be virtually a piece of journalism and we would watch it unfold, but then Aaron Sorkin could not be loyal to his possibilities about what would happen if journalists told the truth.

So, today, I have no answer to my question. This makes me a journalist more than a fiction writer. Sigh. I am in a state of discovery. I admit it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

What I Know That I Didn't Know Before

Is it really August? Six months out from my brain surgery and I sometimes have no idea how to look at my life. I have to say the overarching theme is acceptance, and the undertow is over-doing, but maybe those are just on the surface, maybe underneath those obvious things something else is happening. Am I really different than I was before I was diagnosed with a benign meningioma last October? Yes, I am. No, I am not.

If you’ve been reading this blog or following me on Facebook, you know that I’ve been very prolific in expressing myself through working with oil pastels since March. My interest in doing that goes back before the brain surgery, but then something blocked my ability to accept that my drawing was acceptable. Much of my pre-surgery work is muddied with a question mark about whether or not I’m good at it or whether I should spend so much time playing with it when there are other more important things to accomplish. I would say that after the brain surgery I misplaced the filter that didn’t allow experiment or even a development of concepts and practice time. That filter disappeared nearly completely, though now I am conscious that I must choose to ignore it when it returns, and it does, until hopefully someday it will just be an archived file of used-to-be.

Falling in love with visual art again has opened new doors for me about how I view my future, how my family sees my time and efforts and how I connect with my friends and acquaintances. This is something I’ve been seeking for years! The enjoyment I get from simply sharing my work and seeing how it strikes people’s fancy is immeasurable. Just fills my heart with joy.

Dare I be honest? Of course, honesty, as undoing as it is, is the mission of Kosmic Egg Projects, myself by a company name. Nearly a decade ago I had already reached the end of my love affair with being a “hack” as my father might define me -- a copywriter, a content provider, a writer-for-hire, a copy editor and yet I continued to pursue the work for the pure reason of supporting my family and having some “freedom” to raise my children. More recently, after 20 years as a word-based communicator, I was already having trouble keeping even an ember of interest lit for a business focused on selling things and ideas with words. Before I was diagnosed, I was deeply depressed about losing my way off the creative path that I *really wanted* to be upon even though I enjoyed teaching creative screenwriting more than just about anything else I made myself do for a living. Still, I felt it was fraudulent, since I could no longer make myself write three scenes myself. I could not appreciate that I had anything valuable to share except what I had failed to stick to myself and achieve even though I knew what needed to be done. This obsession leaked into every part of my life before I was diagnosed. Who knows? It may have fed the tumor to begin with, or, perhaps, the tumor was the crime.

Diagnosis of having a brain tumor just exactly on the part of my brain that should be getting things done, that should be writing well was a huge relief. It was like a “get-out-of-jail” card. It opened the possibility that I didn’t have to write anymore. Can you believe someone who has spent thirty years now studying, practicing, working, and teaching writing was so elated to even think, “I may never do it again,” as a good thing? It is true, as much as I wrung my hands over it here. It is true. There was a little elation.

So I have watched this part of my life and wondered, “Am I really allowed to stop?” I mean we have discovered, together, that I can still write. It has nothing to do with the brain or lack thereof, if I choose not to write anymore. Accepting this possibility into my thoughts throws me into a fit, an internal argument about who I am down to my core. I have been a writer. I may not have achieved what I expected to achieve, but that is what I have been for so long that I cannot think of myself without that definition attached like a talking bubble that follows me everywhere. To claim it as my own without disrespecting my effort was the argument before diagnosis, but the idea of stopping and cutting it free, is unbelievably shocking. Almost like the thought of losing a parent or child, it is that close to the heart. Do these things happen? I feel like I must go to the edge of this abyss and decide finally whether I’m going to walk back away from it, or finally jump in with all my heart.

What does that mean? Wait. I am an artist. I draw pictures. There is a future there that makes sense to begin. What is this writing thing? It’s just an old, beat up stone that’s hanging off a cliff now, and I could cut the chain.

Six months out from surgery, I’m recovering. The left side of my face is feeling heat now for the first time in that long. I am taking tango lessons again and re-learning how to walk in my body, to be flexible, to glide, to feel sexy again. I am drawing better and better, and learning about how a picture can be a thousand words. Still, those words...they keep on pulling me until I decide.

The great thing I know now, that I did not know before this brain adventure, is that there is no way to predict the outcome of my decision. I could do everything right and be exactly where I stand today. I could "catch the thread of luminescence" as Oriah Mountain Dreamer calls "The Call" and have a glorious adventure. I only have to decide whether I am curious about what might happen if...