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agonize over words and made-up people for my health, so here is an excerpt from an old version of a piece of forever unpublished fiction.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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In Defense of Severus Snape

There are some fictional characters that end up being very divisive among fans: Holden Caulfield. Patrick Bateman. Humbert Humbert.

Severus Snape is one of these characters.

Critics remark that he was abusive to students, which is true, the way he treated Neville especially was abominable. They also claim that his “love” for Lily was an obsession, and he was angry and bitter for being “friendzoned.” But I recently came across this post which points out that the fact of the matter is Snape never told Lily how he felt. He never harassed her or forced himself on her.

He became a bad friend. He betrayed her. He regretted it. He tried to save her life. He failed. He tried to protect her child. He wanted to protect Harry for Lily’s sake. He wanted to at least partially make up for the way he treated Lily. That was his motivation, not ‘he was friendzoned.’”

Snape-Always

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like Snape as a person. He is an asshole, and he should never be in charge of teaching children. He very clearly hates himself, thinks of himself as a failure (for Lily’s death, for not having achieved the coveted DADA position, maybe even for never telling Lily how he felt), and he projects that onto students.

But the thing about Snape as a character is that his psychology makes sense (much the same way that Harry annoyed the hell out of me in Order of the Phoenix as a whiny adolescent). Snape is a thoroughly three-dimensional character, which isn’t an easy thing to do in any work of fiction and especially hard in a fantasy world written for a young adult audience.

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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?

Any Road Will Get You There

[1] I don’t really understand New Year’s, but I do understand that there’s something in the switching of the calendar year that gives people hope, and maybe that’s why I do this every year.

There’s a shading technique artists use called chiaroscuro. It’s a blending of light to dark that gives two dimensional objects a three dimensional appearance. The word “chiaroscuro” has been in my head lately, and I’ve been thinking about the way things blend into each other.

Sadness into joy. Fear into hope. Light into dark.

The longer I live, the more I understand that life, the world, our relationships—it’s all a blending. Of people and ideas and life and values and things. My goal has always been to understand everything in the entire universe, which is silly, I know, but sometimes I do understand everything in the entire universe, which is also silly. But I do.

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I know it’s crazy.

I don’t want to write a tribute to J.D. Salinger. I don’t care about his literary merits or his reclusive lifestyle. I’m not good at literary analysis anyway. I just know that I’m a lot like Holden Caulfield.

Even though I’ve grown out of teenage angst, in adulthood I still feel isolated, alienated and like I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do. I see a lot of the social world around me as totally pointless and unmoving, and a good deal of human behavior confuses and bothers me. Being a catcher in the rye sounds just as good to me as anything else.

When it comes down to it, reading The Catcher in the Rye just makes me feel less alone. That, I think, is precisely the point of writing, of music, and of art. Because, really, we’re all alone. Even being able to temporarily connect with someone (or their thoughts) on a non-superficial level is rare. We have to take what we can get.

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.” -Holden Caulfield
via J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 22