So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

20 March, 2007

Tell Me A Story

Here's the big secret about me: I'm a storyteller by nature.

Some of my four and a half readers will say, "But wait, I knew that."

Dig into it, get at what it means.

Andrea Dworkin wrote (never thought you'd see me quote Dworkin, did you?): "But one's own life for the writer includes everything she can know, not just what happened to her in the ordinary sense. If I know about you--a gesture, an emotion, an event--I will use you if I need your gesture, your emotion, your event. What I take will seem to me to be mine, as if I know it from the inside, because my imagination will turn it over and tear it apart. Writers use themselves and they use other people." (I can't recall which book that's in; I'd give better cite if I had it.)

There's an illusion there -- that one knows how it is, how it was, the ability to construct scenario, take things apart, use the gesture, the emotion, the event. It is far too easy to get hubristic, to think that the experience of stolen pieces is the same as real experience. But to write, to tell story, is necessarily to do this.

Even if I tell you the story of me, of my life, I shape it. This piece here is too dull; it can be elided entirely, dismissed as irrelevant to the matter at hand. This bit is better with the details enhanced, lines drawn in bold colour, a tweak and a filter, and none of those were there in reality. I know that telling this part requires care with my audience, so I don't tell it at all, not unless I know that I have the right space for that story. All of these tools are things taken from somewhere other than the original space, making autobiography a matter of fiction.

I have had, for a while, a running joke about the Scriptwriters, the people who plot my life, out there somewhere. Because some things make no damn sense unless I see them as foreshadowing of something else, setting up some other event; until I find the connections, there is this strange lump in my sense of narrative, wondering what that was all about. Sometimes, finding the clarifying event later on is something of a relief; it lets me construct the narrative that bridges things together, makes them make sense.

Meaning is a strange, slippery thing, created entirely within the mind. The only narrative that connects these events is the one I compose, but finding the flow of the story matters nonetheless.

There are times I reach out from this internal solipsism and try to place myself in the context of other people's stories. One of my regular questions, regular searches in other people's eyes is "What am I to you?" "What do you see?" "Where am I in your story?" It bridges discontinuities, seeing the bit part that was a part of someone else's story, knowing that what I live is the part off the edge of the novel that makes the world real (have you ever noticed in some novels that nobody you meet exists outside the edge of the story? That drives me bonkers). It snugs in a sense of place, turning the isolation of autobiography into one of those shared-world anthologies, the way the stories weave together, braid through each other, make a thicker, richer narrative. It's something beyond feeding the cannibal mind of the storyteller, to hear someone else's story with the same characters; it's something about being real, about not warping the world to fit my story the way I want it, recognising the counterbalance of other stories out there, expanding out into the arching span of space. To live in a fanfic universe without becoming Mary Sue, I suppose.

Reaching to the God behind God, as Borges wrote, "De polvo y tiempo y sueño y agonía". (That I can cite; the poem is "Ajedrez", which translates to "Chess".)

1 comment:

Anonymous said... was my little attempt to try to tell my own story in my own way. I suppose I'm a storyteller too, except that my story kept revolving around loneliness and alienation, and I got sick of writing the same thing over and over again in different keys. So I stopped.

I should start again, I really should, if only to quell what feels like a scar now.