Reading his novel The Marriage Plot has been at once delightful and surprisingly odd, because parts of it are like a cipher key to that time, that place when I was twenty and the world was before me. It has been almost like reading someone’s journal that you’ve snuck from under their pillow, and coming across passages about you. No, of course it’s not me there wandering through the streets of Providence or along the edges of the creamy page (albeit digitized), but within this fictional work there are triggers which make the memories fire in my head of people, of places, of emotions, whether justifiably or not. It’s as if I were lying on the leather couch following the pocket watch swaying before my eyes, go back, go back.
Whether due to a dreadful memory (a curse as well as a blessing, and one I’ve had forever) or just a reticence to go backwards, I don’t often. Just today via a friend’s blog post I read yet another jewel by Dominique Browning on how she burned her old diaries. I basically did the same, although mine had a far less romantic end, my pages of angst and joys, loves and longings tossed out in the trash long ago. Ms. Browning is known for writing from the heart, and pretty much everything she writes (which is often achingly lovely and moving) is drawn from her life, yet as she so eloquently puts it…
I write memoirs. And I write about my life in a blog. But as I’m constantly saying to people who wonder how I can reveal so much about myself (especially as, at heart, I am a shy person), I’m not publishing my diaries. I’m not revealing so very much, when I write, that isn’t in all of us. It is kind of like the old saw about having it all. Readers never get it all. They get some of all of it. Everything I write is true. But I don’t write about everything true. I shape, I cut, I feint and dodge; I want to get to something that is uniquely mine, and at the same time ours, too.
Writers (and all of us, really) are shapers and cutters, robbers and miners. They chip away at their own experiences, polishing the rough rocks to find the elusive diamonds. They make pigments of their memories and dab them onto their palettes, blending the real with the imaginary in endless combinations to create their characters and their lives. If you have any friends who are writers, keep that in mind as you ramble on before them, spilling out the intimate and mundane details of your life, for you may well revisit these later on page 529. It has happened to me, three times, and in none of those cases was I consulted or forewarned, just coming across the passages in their fiction. Robbery of a benign sort.
We live, we speak, we act and all of that can affect others who can then take this and make it their own, expressing it in a myriad of ways (gossip is one of them, creative expression perhaps the preferable one.) This brings to mind David Shields’ “Reality Hunger,” in which he said “What actually happened is only raw material; what the writer makes of what happened is all that matters.”
Soon there will be a class reunion (I won’t be attending, despite the go back go back), and today someone on the class web page wrote, tired of the vague speculation on the roots of Eugenides book, “I’m naming names…” And he did. Two of them, one precisely the person I had in mind for one of the characters. But in doing so he violated some unspoken law of fiction (which maybe I’ve made up just now): he took a work of fiction and put it in the realm of mundanity, attempting to strip it from its magic. If anyone should name names (and I don’t think they should), it should be the author, and if he does I may well plug my ears.
Perhaps I fear that if I ever do publish I’ll have people speculating on my references, dredging up people and moments from my past as if they’ve resurrected my journals from the trash. Or maybe it’s just that I prefer to read the book before seeing the movie (literally as well as figuratively), to let the words and the characters exist on a plane elevated somehow, sacred.
But that’s just me...