Friday, July 30, 2010

Old stories, new stories, real stories, made-up stories

This headings are valuable in thinking about my own writing, and in thinking about when I teach my course on literacy this fall, which includes doing writing workshops with K-2 students. For me, to read some of my old "fiction" and to write a new piece about my father's drinking made me think and feel deeply about my own history and the "meaning" of my life. Perhaps in some ways it is simple therapy of the self, done with words that could be private. But the stories, I think, are quite good enough to be published, which I'm assuming means that someone would be interested in reading them. The reason why I did not pursue publication is part of the story, though probably it would require some imagination to make it interesting to anyone else. But, of course, that goes for most everything I have written in these stories. One thing that comes across to me from this prose written quite a number of years ago is that I have always been able to write. That is something of a revelation.

On the other hand, I'm not that sure that this is the sort of thing I would want to read. Or the kind of thing I would like to focus now on writing. One partly unconscious reason, I think, not to pursue publication in the past was not to speak publicly of my father or my feeling towards him. But now he is gone and it would seem that I can say whatever I want. But maybe now I have little left to say, at least directly. I could write the fictional story of the man who yearned to share his writing with his father before he died, and the attempts to do so, and to not do so -- it could even be comedic -- and his eventual decision to let it go. There's a big lie there, naturally, but there's a lot to think about when it comes to the morality of lying and truth-telling. It's not always ethical and moral, let alone practical, to tell the truth. And one's own truth is not necessarily anyone else's. One reason not to tell the truth is the fear of finding out that you got it all wrong. I haven't ever written a story in which my father was the good guy, but truth would demand that story as well.

But while I appreciate the kind of writing in which I was engaged for many years, I don't read much of it anymore. Actually, I'd like to read more of it and now that I have foresworn academic reading there will be more opportunity. What does it mean to write and read fantasy, where there is so much real history and painful history? The answer is of course to obvious to state, but I better state it. Fantasy is the working out of conflicts and desire in relative safety. It is the dream-world, the world of magic, the world of childhood. All the best fantasies are brimful of pain, discomfort, tragedy and death, but in most cases the ending is hopeful. And that is what I would like to read and write, made-up stories that repair the world and save the self. One could return to Adorno's reflections on art after the Holocaust, and his pessimism about its possibilities. History has demonstrated that he was not entirely correct: art has flourished and not just as forgetfulness. What I will teach my students is that there is not so much difference between "real" stories and "made-up" stories, that each includes the other.

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