Fiction Excerpt: The Reasons Why

I rarely ever post any fiction, even though that’s primarily what I write. Posting fiction is far more terrifying to me than posting an essay or my thoughts on wealth disparity in the 21st century. Much like Steve Rogers, I’m always honest, but there’s the tactful honesty by which I live my life, and then there’s fiction writing, which is exposing my imagination–the only part of myself that no one can take away from me. But I promised myself I would do this, because I certainly don’t agonize over words and made-up people for my health, so here is an excerpt from an old version of a piece of forever unpublished fiction. I don’t think context is required, but it’s set in England, c. 2010.

~*~*~*~*~

I needed another perspective, so later that day, I called Caroline.

“Colin asked me if I had ever been in therapy.”

“That’s random.”

“Yeah, he said it was for a school project, and he assumed I had been in therapy. Is it weirder that he assumed I had, or weirder that I haven’t?”

“I think it’d be pretty normal to see a therapist after someone in your family tries to, you know.”

“I think we all sort of managed to cope on our own,” I said, the words ringing hollow. I didn’t want to say what I was really thinking, that even though dad had been devastated, and Rhi, Jack, and I had been some combination of bereft, angry, and guilty, none of us were ultimately surprised that mum tried to kill herself.

“Well, sometimes you don’t realize how much you were affected by something until years later. I’m just saying, even now, it wouldn’t be weird if you wanted to see a therapist.”

“And it’s not weird that I haven’t?”

“You’ve always seemed totally normal to me. Your family’s never seemed as weird as you make them out to be.”

Maybe we weren’t weird, or any weirder than any other family, but the idea didn’t leave me—the idea that maybe we all assumed mum would end her own life, a matter of when and not if. It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part, but I went for a walk after I hung up with Caroline and wound up near a bookshop just as the afternoon rain shower started. I ducked into the shop initially for cover from the rain, but I wound up leaving with another of mum’s books.

This one was about the history of polo, titled Riding Off. The cover of the book had a polo scene on it, but the players weren’t in normal polo costume. They were carrying polo sticks and the whole thing was in sepia tones to give off the impression of vintage. I bet mum hated the cover.

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Can I Still Be A Feminist and Like Fight Club?

My sentiments exactly, Molly. Credit: Chris Large/FX

My sentiments exactly, Molly. Credit: Chris Large/FX

This is a serious question I have been asking myself for a while now. Of course, I am a feminist and I do like Fight Club, so there’s an easy answer to the question. But have I been so brainwashed by the male gaze that I can’t see fiction through the critical lens it deserves? I was watching season 1 of Fargo on a trans-Atlantic flight a couple weeks ago, and I found myself thoroughly entertained. I also found myself feeling guilty for enjoying something so male, white, and heteronormative.[1] (Allison Tolman is great, but she doesn’t make up for it.)

Obviously this is the standard for fiction in all its forms, and anything else is given a special interest label—“chick” and “urban” among my favorites—and made into a “genre” (and thus deemed inferior). Such books are pushed into the corners of stores and such movies are advertised on Lifetime, BET and Logo, so hetero white men don’t have to know they exist.

Diversity in film recently has been addressed by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. There are a lot of reasons why diversity is important, but one of them is simply that having more variety makes for better quality of art overall. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I see the same movies and TV shows and books over and over again. I understand that for publishers and studios trying to fatten their pockets, doing something new is risky, but I’m bored with remakes and reboots and retellings.

Mostly.

My problem is that occasionally something will come along that I really like even if it’s reminiscent of the same old thing.

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Antiheroes, Self-Destruction, and the Ugly

There’s this point in Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk where the narrator beats the shit out of “Angel Face” and as an explanation for his act of near annihilation says, “I wanted to destroy something beautiful I’d never have.”

The full quote is this:

“What Tyler says about the crap and the slaves of history, that’s how I felt. I wanted to destroy something beautiful I’d never have. Burn the Amazon rain forests. Pump chlorofluorocarbons straight up to gobble the ozone. Open the dump valves on supertankers and uncap offshore oil wells. I wanted to kill all the fish I couldn’t afford to eat, and smother the French beaches I’d never see. I wanted the whole world to hit bottom. Pounding that kid, I really wanted to put a bullet between the eyes of every endangered panda that wouldn’t screw to save its species and every whale or dolphin that gave up and ran itself aground.”

I’ve had a nose ring for more than 12 years.

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Between “Fact” and “Fiction”

I’ve been cleaning and sorting through a lot of my possessions over the past few weeks. I’m trying to pare down, to get more organized, and to just be rid of so much STUFF. I have this tendency to write thoughts, ideas, and bits of stories down on scraps of paper. I usually don’t do anything with them; I just let the scraps accumulate and then eventually I sift through them years later as I am doing now.

I found this bit of prose that I thought I’d share here. I don’t know when I wrote it, though it was some time in the last six years since I’ve moved to Memphis. The interesting thing to me about this snippet is that I cannot for the life of me remember if this was meant to be fiction or if this is just me in some fit of insomnia giving a running commentary of my life.

“Untitled”

You wake up–terrified. Part of a subplot that runs so deep you can’t remotely fathom it. It’s dark and quiet. Almost too quiet. 3 a.m. quiet. Too late for people to be driving in and out of the apartment complex, but too early for them to be leaving for work. A street light shines through the Venetian blinds into your eyes as you turn your head to the right. You lie awake, blinking, expecting to hear a knock on your door at any moment. It never comes.

You get up in the morning, hoping the hot shower will shock you awake. Your toast is dry. Your coffee scalding. During your commute to work you listen to London Calling. This will be the highlight of your day. You look at all the other drivers when you sit at stoplights and wonder why they all look like zombies.

It’s funny how “fact” and “fiction” are sometimes indistinguishable, isn’t it?

Let’s Hope It’s A Good One Without Any Fear

[1] The thing is, no one knows. When it comes down to it, no one knows anything and everything that points to the contrary is all a ruse.

I read this fantasy series – The Wheel of Time – and ever since I started reading it as a teenager, I’ve found myself wanting to be in that world. It’s probably more a tribute to likable characters than anything else, but the fact that I would rather be in a situation where the end of the world is immanent than here surely says something about me. When faced with the fate of the world, none of the characters gives up. Sometimes they make stupid choices, but they never choose not to act.

They never really stagnate.

I think maybe this is why I read fiction. When you read a good story, you get absorbed in the world; more specifically, you get absorbed in a world already full of meaning. You don’t have to make it for yourself. Meaning is already included, told to you by the author, and in a good piece of fiction, you accept it.

I used to think that the appeal of fantasy to me was the character traits exhibited by people faced with a world gone mad – courage, honor, pride – things that seem to be lacking in the world today.

But it’s the meaning, I think, that I am lacking.

I don’t know if most people just accept the meaning they find in this world. I don’t know if they simply don’t see it as a burden or if everyone feels the pressure of carving out a life. One life. The only life you’re ever going to get. I’ve had conversations with my dad the past week about the limitations of human knowledge. Human beings are capable of knowing what they don’t know, and for some reason, I take this on as a heavy burden. It weighs on me. These limitations frustrate me more than I let on and there’s nothing I can do about it, nothing I can do about it at all, but let it go.

Let it all go.

The only things that make my life worth living, I think, are tears and laughter. I’m good at the tears. Tears come in solitude and solitude I have. It’s laughter that my life is lacking. Real laughter. The kind that comes from the absurdity of living in this place. The kind that comes from engaging in a world with others.

If you know me at all, you know I laugh a lot when I’m around other people, and I like making people laugh. My sense of humor is probably my most valuable possession, but I waste it by trying to navigate what can’t be navigated.

As another year ends and another begins, and many people make resolutions.

I only have two – to laugh and to let go.

Nothing else, really, is all that important.


[1]Title taken from “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon.