Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Have A Good Trip Home


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
Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: The Best of Leadbelly, Leadbelly
Benedictions and Maledictions
27 days until The Sopranos airs!

7 comments:

Truman Capote said...

I've always imagined writing workshops as a group of offensive people trying awfully hard not to be offensive. Writing workshops make me want to throw up.

Charles Gramlich said...

I made the mistake of letting my mom read one of my stories many, many years ago. It did feature an elderly woman who was mean in a passive aggressive way, but who did not, in my mind, have any relationship to my mother. After she read it she said, "Is this what you think of me?" I've never let her read anything since.

the walking man said...

No one workshops my pieces for me, they figure I am there to do that for them.

When I write fiction I rarely have anyone in mind, the characters are made up 100%. The situations are pretty much the same. When I write of experiences then there is no fiction.

That is the job of the audience to figure out what is me and what isn't because I sure as fuck don't know anymore if I am real or just a character in someone elses book.

Professor Irwin Corey said...

No self-contradicktorilyness, therefore, indubitibly....

JR's Thumbprints said...

I had to laugh about this post. My wife and mother-in-law asked me, "Can't you write a short story that doesn't have anything to do with prison?" I took this as a challenge and wrote "Bread & Water Revival." Both of them refused to read it, "the title," they'd said, "suggests prison." I couldn't see the sense in arguing, especially when I'm outnumbered.

Cheri said...

What you wrote is exactly what the Chuck Palahniuk book has done for me, recently. I have a great story about my first "professional" massage that I just can't let get away from paper. Putting yourself in your writing, your fiction or non-fiction, gives it that unique texture that brands it in such a recognizable way that it can be identified only to you.

Love the post Michelle, and you are lovely as always.

Susan Miller said...

Possibly your fiction writing is so good that it seems real. One of those, "Do you think I coulda made that shit up?" deals.