Lately I’ve been writing things that are a lot closer to my real life. My life, as in things that happened to me. Stories that dance just at the edges between fiction and nonfiction. I call them stories, but they could be essays. I find the only way I can really much sit down to write something called an essay is to first tell myself that I’m writing a story. I have to trick myself that way.
Like this story at Wyvern Lit, “Your Life in Other Places.” I submitted it twice as an essay. Then as a story. I guess it’s hard to say what’s true when you’re writing about how you imagine your life someplace else. But I did want to live in a little house right down the street from my parents in Kentucky. There was a house I had picked out in Jackson, Mississippi, down by the railroad tracks. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan really is too cold for me. I do love how my hair looks when I’m in Florida. That’s all true.
There’s another story I’m sending around and one of the editorial comments I got (along with a rejection–drat!) was that they loved the voice. Which is good and interesting, because it was pretty much my voice. It was me talking. Then there’s the story I’m working on now that’s based on a letter my sister wrote to me when I was in high school and a boy, I think his name was Jefferson, she met at summer camp. All true stuff dressed up a little bit, so that the character is not really my sister, but something of that letter remains.
It’s interesting to stick so closely to the path of my own life. You can tap into a whole reservoir of feelings, like hitting a gold mine of energy. You don’t have to ask yourself what this character was feeling. You know. You remember.
Then I wonder if it’s so easy, why didn’t I do it more in the past? There’s always a tiny grain of truth somewhere in the stories I write. A real person or situation lurking behind the words. But before, I didn’t usually sit down and think to myself, “I’m going to write this pretty much the way it happened.” Maybe I lacked the courage.
Maybe it’s something I had to sneak up on. I had to take a long, leisurely walk before I could come back to this particular place. I had to pretend disinterest. I had to get my footing before I could step onto this particular stone, slippery and unstable in the middle of the stream. Even now, it’s a little precarious, balancing here.