Last night I went to a talk by author Tim O’Brien for work, he was set to discuss The Things They Carried and due to the unwritten “no leisurely reading during the semester” rule I hadn’t read it. Nevertheless, I went and *sigh* there are just no coincidences in life, I was supposed to be there.
His first few words were, “I do not consider myself a professional speaker, or a professional soldier…I am a writer.” As you could imagine, I was hooked shortly there after. My mind wandered in and out of his talk and I began to immediately write in my unwritten novel. I wished for a scribe, someone who could listen to my musings and do the physical act of writing for me. Then I cursed such an idea because most of the time my writing is not premeditated and comes through my fingers as if they had minds of their own. No, I would have to do it myself. I have started many books, but I can somehow never finish; a trait that is not otherwise commonplace for me. In general, I finish what I start and of course I am very cautious of things I start. However with stories, it is my pattern.
O’Brien noted, “the truth is fluid, it changes. For example, it is 7:30 here but that is not true in Tokyo.” I scribbled down, “fluidity of truth,” and again my mind took off. I penned the disclaimer for my unwritten, The following story is, for all intents and purposes, the true events of my life as I have experienced them. I would like to reiterate that they are my truths as such, it may be debatable as perspectives rarely agree. And so an addendum, for everyone except for myself–the author–the following story is a work of fiction. I laughed at the thought that my truth being relative when O’Brien interrupted my thoughts, “Fiction writing is a way to expand the truth into what would have could have should have happened.” While that is what he said, what I heard and ingested was fiction writing is a means to access the potential of any story, visit the limits of possibility for any lived (or unlived) experience. FIREWORKS! I have never been much of a fiction writer. I thought to myself, call mom…ask her if I ever wrote stories when I was little. I remember writing poetry, I remembered making up stories in my head but I do not remember writing them down. I flew all over my imagination…I would tell people my name was something other than Jessica. I would tell them I had brothers and sisters and all sorts of made up family. I would ask them “what if I’m not who you think I am, and I’m actually in the witness protection program and this is all a ruse?” I never wrote stories but I lived them. Sometimes I find myself doing the same thing today although now my characters are more “normal” and unassuming, but it perhaps accounts for the reason I do not see the end of things…because I am just “in it” and ending the story in the beginning ruins all the fun of the journey.
He chimed back in, “…not the body, when you’re dead you’re dead, but the humanity….the humanity is there preserved between the pages.” I love how a story, even one hundreds of pages long, is a snapshot…of a person…of a place…of a time or experience, it is captured in our account of them. As soon as its written you are different, things are different and some truths aren’t even the truths any more. I thought of Alice:
“‘I could tell you my adventures — beginning from this morning,’ said Alice a little timidly: ‘but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.’
‘Explain all that,’ said the Mock Turtle.
‘No, no! The adventures first,’ said the Gryphon in an impatient tone: ‘explanations take such a dreadful time.’
And don’t they? Jeannie’s advice haunts me in the most beautiful way, “Tell the truth, let go of the consequence of telling the truth.” And isn’t that all a story is? No need to explain, just let it go. Let it run wild through the breeze, or the forest, or swim in the sea, let it fly through the clouds or glide across the ocean, just tell your story whatever it is wherever you are. So while I do not know anything more about The Things They Carried I can earnestly say that Tim O’Brien is now one of my favorite authors. The effects his words will have on my words cannot yet be seen, but I am confident that he will never leave me. That is the mark of a good storyteller, I think. That ability to haunt…in the ways that push you, in the ways that get you past any limits that you have imagined for yourself. A good author makes you different, makes you grow…and makes you just a little bit more yourself in all the best ways.