During a one-week conference at a beautiful place in California, I was up against the firing squad for the day, i.e., my story was up for workshop. The conference was the type that switched teachers every day, believing that the students should bond with each other, not be led in a Jim Jones fashion by one instructor. To my good fortune, I had a great writer as my teacher who has since passed to the next life. He said incredibly kind things about my story and writing, but he kept calling me Josette. Josette was the name of my incredibly fucked-up narrator -- a woman who had sex for drugs, who had possibly slept with her brother, and had most certainly been molested by her father, a woman who was having an affair with a married man, and had many, many substance abuse issues, the kind of gal who thought nothing of plopping a Vicodin into a margarita and watching it fizz like an Alka-Seltzer before downing it. Did this sound like me? The class laughed about it. They'd started calling me Snow White because of my deathly white skin, red lipstick, and black hair. I played the role to the hilt -- I have seen the seven dwarves, I said, surveying the menfolk, but Prince Charming has left the building. That's why I'm so fucked up! My friends laughed in memory of my story. Did you really sleep with your brother? one person asked. Yes, I said. All of them. Of course, I don't have any brothers.
People assume almost everything in my fiction has really happened. What can I say? I'm not even sure that everything in my nonfiction has really happened, memory being that faulty dog that it is. No James Frey, I try to play it straight when I say I am. I'm not one to turn a day in prison into a year. That shit can be found out! But fiction is a different matter. Of course, as the great St. Raymond Carver says, it does not come out of thin air. This much is true. But the confusion between my writing self and my normal self is one that never ceases to amuse me. When one of my friends read a story of mine, her response cracked me up. That's not my Michelle. You're not like that. You didn't write that. She'd never known me as a writer, only as myself. Can you separate the two? I'd like to believe so, but then again, at the end of the week, I saw my teacher. Have a good trip home, Josette, he said. I didn't bother correcting him. After all, I had to get back to my stories, real and imagined.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Stories don't come out of thin air." Raymond Carver
Drinking music suggestion: The Best of Leadbelly, Leadbelly
Benedictions and Maledictions
27 days until The Sopranos airs!