Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Lovely Limitations

Faith Adele, on nonfiction versus fiction:

It’s having to create a metaphor out of facts. I love the puzzle in that and the challenge. It’s like having to write a sestina, any kind of strong, dictated form. It’s got to end with these words, and have this long stanza – stuff like that. You have to create something that’s meaningful out of it and it’s not just an exercise. To me, nonfiction gives you the same sorts of limitations. You have these facts, but then you have to create art out of it with language and metaphor. I think it’s stunning because I am fascinated by the truth, and then I’m also fascinated by how fallible memory is. I love how I remember things and how I misrememeber things, and then how when your memory comes into contact with somebody else, it changes. I just love the process of memoir. It’s not really true, but it’s a truth. So I’m fascinated by that whole project and having to create metaphor and sense out of all this real detail.

Recently, a student who had been working on a memoir project started writing a short story. It's a lovely short story - her non-fiction writing is lovely, too. This isn't unusual - people get tired of their own lives, tired of showing up to the mirror again and again in a book-length memoir project. I think a certain amount of play-acting (putting on mask and make-up and becoming someone else) is an ok break, and healthy when done right. By extending ourselves into others, we also develop compassion for our inner others.

However, I am generally with Adele here. As much as I love fiction and always will, writing nonfiction in particular I find to be endlessly intriguing. A different and powerful challenge than fiction. Though it is actually unrealistic to think the options are limitless with fiction - as soon as you start a story your limits start appearing based on what you have already written, just like with any life - the options with nonfiction are even more limited.

As you have likely gathered by now if you read this blog regularly, I love playing with structure - having something to rebel against, play with, keep me in check. Structure itself - some limitations, appropriately placed - reflects back our freedom. 

Fiction, poetry, any form can do this. But I love how Adele points at the ones delivered to us specifically from nonfiction and especially from memoir.

By the way, her memoir, Meeting Faith, is excellent.

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