Posts Tagged ‘privacy’
Readers of this blog might wonder how much of what I write is true. I have a lovely unpublished comment from a time when I criticised someone with a serious following, accusing me of lying to pursue my own ends (unfortunately not elucidating what those ends are, which is a pity, as this blog could do with some ends). More of you will wonder whether I do the things I say I do. I admit that I tweak the truth. Sometimes I rearrange the order of events, more often I omit things to make a post clearer. I guess at the exact wording of conversations, and I play up emotions to give stories tension. Come to think of it, I do that last one in real life.
Telling the truth is easy when I’m the only one involved. With other people, it’s a bit trickier. Different people have different expectations of what is private and what’s public. Many years ago a girlfriend’s father had a spot of trouble after his secretary stole a lot of money and ran away. He had to give up his job, his daughter began to wonder whether he could afford her education. I told my best friend about it; my girlfriend was livid. Family troubles were private. She thought it so obvious that there was no need to tell me that.
In general, I take people’s preferences into account when writing or talking about them. I don’t publicise the address of the play partner who likes to keep his identities separate. I don’t tell you about the Lover’s deep emotional trauma from his stint in the Spanish Inquisition* I will tell you that he has a habit of putting dirty crockery on the draining board, which makes me want to hide forks in his shoes.** People’s preferences can’t, and shouldn’t be the only influence on how they are represented, though. Others seeing who you are and what you do is one of those unfortunate risks you take when leaving the house and interacting with people. If you spend the afternoon telling sexist jokes, I’m afraid it isn’t my job to check that you won’t be hurt when other people hear about it.
And that’s tough, because it applies to me, too. I wrote some time ago about a scene in which I failed to recite a poem I’d boasted about knowing weeks before, and was inordinately upset about my failure. Afterwards I asked the only witness not to tell anyone; I was ashamed, I didn’t want to be judged. He refused to keep my secret. Was I hurt? Yes. Did I dispute his right to tell the world about the incident which showed my arrogance and ignorance? No. I did go over the poem another couple of times, though.
In the blog, I tell the story, usually without the names, and given how few people I know in person read the blog, people’s privacy is relatively safe. It’s much more difficult in fiction, because fiction’s meant to be truthful and fictional.
I don’t know anything except from experience (and Hume). Perhaps you, as Descartes or Plato or Chomsky believe, know the nature of God or geometry or grammar from before birth, but I, sadly, don’t, especially the geometry, as my Maths teachers would testify. So if I’m going to tell you any sort of truth about the world in my writing, it’s going to have to be from experience. That isn’t to say that I’m going to write autobiographically. It’s called fiction for a reason, and I’m looking at you, Martin Amis, because I had to sit through your boring descriptions of Hollywood both in Money and during your long reminiscence at an author talk. Joining the dots between Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude and his autobiography, though, was more interesting, because everything had been shifted around and given a new meaning. Books don’t need to spring, fully formed out of your imagination. Down that road lies drafts of poems stuffed in hedges and fabricated persons from Porlock.
In fact, it’s probably best if you don’t write straight from your imagination. The two most boring types of narrative are purely imaginative: dreams and sexual fantasies. Don’t believe me? Go and look at the fantasy-sharing groups on Fetlife. Tell me if you manage to stay awake through three posts. Imagination isn’t bad. If you want to write (or dream, or even fantasise) about interplanetary war between 200 foot cat people and miniaturised mechanical penguins, feel free, but it won’t be interesting until you’ve used your experience to tell us what it feels like to be the 180 foot cat person, or what the penguins are really fighting for. And that’s because it won’t, otherwise, be truthful. Excuse me while I go and pitch that idea.
When you’re writing, though, what are the people around you meant to think? I use your boyfriend’s interesting career choice for a character who turns out to be a lying, cheating bastard. Am I accusing your boyfriend of that? No, it’s not him! So why not take out all the things that are like anyone I’ve ever known? Because the things I know are the only truths I have to share. And because in the case of a few lying, cheating bastards, I don’t mind if they recognise themselves. They aren’t going to sue, I’ve also put in that they have small willies.***
Writing, for me, in blog posts or fiction, is about trying to say something more than, ‘this happened.’ At the very least, I’m aiming at, ‘this happened and it was amusing,’ or even better, ‘this happened and it was a bit like something in your life, seen in a different way.’ That’s why I stand by my right to tell lies about myself, and truths about everyone else.
*Some details have been changed to protect relationships.
**In the interests of balance, I should probably share the fact that I, apparently, have no patience, don’t listen to reason, get crumbs in the bed and then complain about them, and let the plug hole get blocked up with rice.
***This is a lie for the purposes of humour. I haven’t done this at all, but I have admitted that I sometimes tweak the truth in blog posts. If you can believe me.
One of the things I love about writing is indulging my runaway imagination. It’s not daydreaming, it’s productive visualisation! Another of the things I love about it is the way that my own life can be cut up and stuck back together in different ways to create something much more meaningful (hopefully) than the original experience. The problem, I find, is when the two come together.
I didn’t realise that I could be a writer until I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s autobiography. I noticed that his magic realism was created by relating incidents from his life out of order and without the background information which would make them coherent, and I thought ‘I can do that!’ I don’t have to make something out of nothing; I don’t have to write in a vacuum. I can take characters and situations from my real life, and no one is going to brandish a manuscript at me shouting, “you’re not a real writer. You didn’t create this character, I can tell it’s my Aunt Marg!” In fact, my published friends tell me that Aunt Margs and their friends are excessively pleased to see themselves in print, to the point of deluding themselves that they are the models for characters they do not resemble.
So when I’m writing a story I sometimes pick a personal experience, which comes with its own cast of real people who I adapt to my requirements. Similarly, when I need a character, I often cast around my acquaintance for someone who fits the bill. Don’t worry, almost everyone is changed beyond recognition as I tweak and stretch them into who I need them to be.
All of this means that I spend a lot of time daydreaming about people. Add to that this fact: I haven’t had sex since January.
Don’t imagine that I am sad about my celibacy. I’m revelling in fresh-smelling sheets and the freedom to do what I want without having to notify anyone. I’m not even seeking casual sex, since I find myself a much more reliable provider of pleasure than almost anyone else.
That said, as I’ve mentioned in this blog before, sexual deprivation does lead me to notice sexual possibilities a lot more. And I, for the sake of my writing, have given my mind permission to go wandering off down these garden paths.
For example, there is a beautiful woman at my dance class. She is an excellent dancer. She is curvy, she has a pretty face and a tiny waist. She wears tight, tight dresses with low necklines and high hemlines. I don’t know how everyone else in the room is doing, but I have to make a conscious effort not to stare fixedly at her for the duration of the evening. And she’s the sort of girl where looking immediately leads to thoughts of touching.
I don’t know her name. I’ve never spoken to her, and I probably never will. I have, however, put her in a story. I wanted an object of forbidden lust for my main character, and there she was, ready-made and lust-inducing. She made it very easy to write the sex scenes. The only thing I worry about is my inability to look her in the eye. To be fair, it has always been difficult to drag my gaze up that far.
My imaginative investment in my mystery dancing girl has been productive. Sometimes, though, one thinks around in circles for a long time without working out precisely where the idea is going, and it never reaches paper. Such is the case with mystery dancer number two.
I have been told this man’s name more than once and forgotten it. One dances with a lot of men at classes and freestyles, and just to confuse you they change their clothes, sometimes halfway through the evening, and they often pop up at venues where you weren’t expecting to see them. I’ve given up trying to keep track. This man stuck in my mind because I found myself unintentionally flirting with him. The next week he flirted with me, while I tried to look demure. After that, I spent a week fantasising about him.
I don’t mean sexual fantasies. I always think it is a little rude to use real people as mental masturbation aids. A man once told me that I’d “given” him roughly thirty orgasms in a month. Not only did I think the numbers were probably inflated (did the man have no porn!?) and not only did I think that it demonstrated obsession rather than affection, but I also felt just a little violated. This is my body. If we’ve been together you’re entitled to the odd memory-wank, but this is icky. And, I imagine, sticky.
So I don’t mean that I settle down with my toy collection and conjure up images. In fact, it is much worse than that. I’ve invented a whole life for him: A history, hobbies and interests, friends and family members, a career, a taste for beef and beer stew, a best friend’s punky lesbian daughter. He’s taken me for days out at stately homes. He’s refused to come to a strip club with me as research for my novel. He’s invited me to dinner parties where I’ve been terrifically bored all night but made up for it by supplying a great breakfast. We had a terrible fight after I got uptight about the age gap, and he got angry with me for snogging his best friend’s daughter or smoking in his bedroom (it wasn’t entirely clear which, I’d done both), but we reconciled. He’s never taken me shopping, because he hates it so much. All of his bed linen is white.
So in my life there are two people about whom I know a set of real facts and a set of fictional facts. Both are important and relevant to me, but the fiction has a much stronger relation to my everyday life. One of them is already in a story, so I need to remember the fictions and add to them as she develops. The man may never make it onto the page, but he might, so I can’t abandon him yet, and in any case I am sure that he will influence some of my other characters. I don’t want to give him up.
Not only does this mean that I have to be very vigilant at separating the fact from the fiction when I do see these people face to face (enquiring after the health of imaginary family members would look foolish, for example), but I also have to guard against emotional indiscretions. When I saw my older man across the hall last week I felt a rush of affection. Then I remembered that he didn’t exist, so I avoided him for the rest of the night.
Do you find yourself living more in fantasy than reality? How do you maintain the divide? Let me know, just so I can be sure that I’m not fantasising my readers, too.