Dita Parker

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Soundtrack of my life

The one and only creative writing class I have ever attended was a very revealing experience, literally. It was supposed to be strictly fiction, but what the vast majority of my classmates had bottled up and in store had roman à clef meets bildungsroman written all over it. That's what they wanted to write. That's what they wrote, regardless of the assignments. There was a course held for autobiographers, but I guess they all somehow missed it.

It was like going to confession, not that I have any experience from either side of the booth. I didn't mind getting to know them, but I didn't want to know everything there was to know about them. It was hard to suspend disbelief after they were done venting and it was hard to enjoy reading their texts knowing what I knew about them.

It made me look long and hard at my own writing. I've done it for so long and from such a young age I can't remember what possessed me to start doing it in the first place. It came naturally? I found pleasure in it? Pastime? Getting my thoughts in order and my life along with it? Did I vent? Was I confessing? What bothered me most in some of the writings of my classmates' texts made me take out a microscope to inspect my own: was I bitter or vindictive?

Maybe much of what gets written starts with the need to get our past in order; writing it down and getting it out of the way and out of our minds. Maybe then we can focus on something outside ourself, someone else's hurts and failures, or their most magical moments and sweetest victories.

Yet, they try to creep into and seep into everything. That defining, dividing moment that created the fault line between before and after. That day Fortuna frowned. They become the soundtrack of your life, a definitive playlist for the ages. You can add to it but you cannot delete it, not without leaving visible scar tissue. I embrace mine. I have to. I have to own it or I'll end up being owned by it.

I'm talking about the truth about our lives, the past, the memories, people long gone and yet ever present and the air and space we share with others. Rumors you suspect to be true, whispers you just know are true because of the hushed tones, things you intuitively sense are somehow awry, not quite right.

Writing is telling the truth about whatever troubles or compels or amazes us. I'm a great believer in owning your ghosts, your inner demons and your shadows. I will never know the truth about myself if I don't invite them in, inspect them calmly and then interview fearlessly. And if I don't acknowledge the truth, the whole truth and nothing but about myself, how will I be able to tell the truth about my characters?

But they need not be based on that bully from grade school, your first boss (the one who turned out to be a misanthrope) or your first lover, the sweetest thing ever to whirl through the revolving door that was your youth. Remember them? Of course you do. You may not want to, but you do. You taught them a lesson, or they taught you one or two.

Artistic detachment is a great tool if you want to nail down those life-altering moments and souls. It's indispensable if you just want to nail them, for whatever reason. Only don't expect to feel better afterwards. Writing might not be the best way to get revenge, if that is your motivation. (Writing well, on the other hand, is the best, as one infinitely more famous ms. Parker put it.) If it looks like payback and smacks of payback, you're not fooling anyone but yourself.

Maybe we are destined to play certain songs over and over again, repeat certain themes in our writing because they made us who we are and that is all we know. But there are variations to those themes. There are a million and one new and different themes out there, waiting to be found and explored.

So go seek them out, have some unadulterated fun with them. Use them. Go on, they won't mind. That's what they're there for. But no abusing, by either one of you.

No comments: