Sunday, November 06, 2005

Telling Stories

"The point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking. That would be a different impulse entirely, an instinct for reality which I sometimes envy but do not possess. At no point have I ever been able successfully to keep a diary; my approach to daily life ranges from the grossly negligent to the merely absent, and on those few occasions when I have tried dutifully to record a day's events, boredom has so overcome me that the results are mysterious at best. What is this business about "shopping, typing piece, dinner with E, depressed"? Shopping for what? Typing what piece? Who is E? Was this "E" depressed, or was I depressed? Who cares?

In fact I have abandoned altogether that kind of pointless entry; instead I tell what some would call lies. "That's simply not true," the members of my family frequently tell me when they come up against my memory of a shared event. "The party was not for you, the spider was not a black widow, it wasn't that way at all." Very likely they are right, for not only have I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purpose, matters."

- Joan Didion, 'On keeping a Notebook'

There is fiction in the space between
The lines on your page of memories
Write it down but it doesn’t mean
You’re not just telling stories
There is fiction in the space between
You and me

There is fiction in the space between
You and reality
You will do and say anything
To make your everyday life
Seem less mundane
There is fiction in the space between
You and me

- Tracy Chapman, 'Telling Stories'

In the week just gone by, I have had occasion to post, on this blog, a number of musings that at least one reader described as 'personal'. This has not been deliberate. If I have seemed more introspective, more self-referential, it is merely a coincidence of timing, mood and opportunity. This is not a new direction, it is a straying from the path.

Be that as it may, these posts have prompted many of the people who read this blog to enquire, either through comments or through e-mail, whether I am "all right" (a question, by the way, I have never quite figured out how to answer) and to offer advice or support of some kind. While I am touched by the concern, let me say once and for all that everything on this blog is, to a lesser or greater degree, fiction; meant more to be enjoyed (at least I hope you enjoy it), than to be taken seriously. Or rather, to be taken seriously only to the extent that it aids in one's enjoyment.

I have no interest in sharing my self with the world. It's not just that I am, in most ways, an almost pathologically private person, it's also that I don't find my 'self' interesting enough to want to inflict it on other people (notice I say my self as opposed to myself - in other words, my life is boring, except as Berryman points out, I must not say so). I am not some neurotic Manhattan woman who thinks she's a fish. I have no desire to bare my soul to you or to involve you in the pettiness of my emotions. This is not, repeat NOT, a blog about me.

On the contrary, the whole point of this blog, of Falstaff, is the creation of an alternate self - a sort of spiritual cyber-cousin, a character [1]. Falstaff is, in Auden's terms, "a way of happening, a mouth", that is all. That many of his experiences bear a family likeness to my own life is incidental - no, wait, that is not quite true - his experiences bear a family likeness to my own life in direct proportion to however much of my life I believe is fiction-worthy. In writing about Falstaff's self, I am creating a version of my life as I would have written it if life were something we could write for ourselves. In projecting Falstaff, I am consciously and deliberately supressing some facts about myself, and embellishing or plain inventing others, and that is precisely what makes it, for me, worthwhile.

You could argue that this is an exercise in deception, in deceit. It is. But in some sense, all memory is a similar betrayal, because we choose what we want to remember and that selection is never unbiased. The very notion of personality is a dishonest one. No human being can ever share himself or herself completely with another, because to do so would require that the other person become you, and if that were to happen, even if it were possible, then there would no longer be a self left to share. We are all projections of ourselves, silheouttes on a screen of thought, shadow puppets cut into the light of recognition. This blog is merely a more self-conscious, more microcosmal means to explore that phenomenon.

Is this escapism? Am I insecure enough about myself that I feel the need to create an alternate persona to show the world? Perhaps. I am not going to bother to deny that. I am only going to point out that you could just as easily argue that I am so content with who I am that I no longer feel the need to ratify it in the public gaze. It seems to me (it has always seemed to me) that insecurity and confidence are both sides of the same coin (one asks the question, the other answers), and I will let you decide which side of that toss I come down on.

But this is all besides the point (or rather, it is to the point only in so far as the point is not to have one). Didion writes: "The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself." The true motivation for this blog is not some contorted speculation on the creative process, the true motivation for this blog is simply the unquenchable urge to write. Writing is more than a habit, it is an addiction - as obssessive as love, as desperate as nicotine or alchohol, as visceral as sex. It is a craving that overwhelms you, a restlessness under your skin that can only be calmed by the soft tapping of a keyboard and the appearance of words, resolute as ants, across a computer screen. Just as the point of a mirror is not the way you look but the possibility of seeing yourself from the outside, the desire, no, the need to write stems from the deeply physical sensation of wrestling words together rather than from anything one might have to say.

Bukowski writes:

I am not trying to raise a family
to send through Harvard
or buy hunting land,
I am not aiming high
I am only trying to keep myself alive
just a little longer,
so if you sometimes knock
and I don't answer
and there isn't a woman in here
maybe I have broken my jaw
and am looking for wire
or I am chasing the butterflies in
my wallpaper,
I mean if I don't answer
I don't answer, and the reason is
that I am not yet ready to kill you
or love you, or even accept you,
it means I don't want to talk
I am busy, I am mad, I am glad
or maybe I'm stringing up a rope;
so even if the lights are on
and you hear sound
like breathing or praying or singing
a radio or the roll of dice
or typing -
go away, it is not the day
the night, the hour;
it is not the ignorance of impoliteness,
I wish to hurt nothing, not even a bug
but sometimes I gather evidence of a kind
that takes some sorting,
and your blue eyes, be they blue
and your hair, if you have some
or your mind - they cannot enter
until the rope is cut or knotted
or until I have shaven into
new mirrors, until the world is
stopped or opened

- Charles Bukowski, 'don't come around, but if you do'

[1] Please, no jokes about how a) I have no character or b) this blog thing is character-building.


meditativerose said...

What ... you mean there really isn't a dead rat somewhere in your apartment?? hmm .. so what is that smell then?

know what you mean on the 'are you all right' question ... it's like when someone once asked me whether V was 'normal' ... heh

Falstaff said...

MR: Okay, that does it, next time around YOU are the one sleeping on the floor.

Would have thought the V question was fairly easy to answer btw - even for someone who has as much difficulty saying no as you do.

Mrudula said...

'You could argue that this is an exercise in deception, in deceit.' All fiction is.It can't be otherwise. My writing may be the lifeblood of my soul but it can't be my soul. If it is then I'll have nothing left to write.

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