Is anyone else consumed by a giddy, punch drunk urge to steal a car and drive aimlessly through mountain valleys well past dawn…not because I’m bored or feel like living dangerously, but simply because I need something to write about.
Imagining it isn’t enough. Before it can become language, it has to be life.
I’ll simply watch On the Road trailers
read my favorite Kerouac quotes, and dream over coffee of breaking through that blue shield of sky.
It’s been a few years since I first packed up my books, stuffed several boxes in the belly of my dodge neon, and headed out west filled by dreams of Kerouac and Dean, and the goal of burning, burn baby burn, like roman candles.
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” – Jack Kerouac, On the Road
I longed to be mad, to live a life worth writing about. I had spent years crafting my present as though it were fiction. There were dark edges and dark characters, frantic lights, and houses lined with mattresses, open windows and doors cracked at their hinges. There were road trips and desperate lovers, the whole pulse of the cities I imagined compressed into single moments that threatened to burst and never stop overflowing.
I longed to write it all, on scrap napkins and the back side of street corner menus, between the lines of the books I kept in the back of my car. I would peddle my words on street corners, and die young atop a mound of unfinished manuscripts and paper napkins, happy and ever unsatisfied.
Then I moved out west, beyond the lines and edges of Cleveland – that mistake by the lake where my grandfather drank, fished, and drilled rivets into the sides of minivans.
There was the reality of it all, that desperate and near sick reality of living the life of a beatnik poet (often without the poetry part), of waiting tables, reciting poetry for $1 on downtown pearl street, Whiskey Wednesdays, and countless hours lost to frantic conversations, handsome men with awful voices and cheap guitars. I ate at Whole Foods those first six months, hitting up the samples for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I walked for hours and then, ran for hours more, to fill the time.
And then there was the way that that reality was remembered. How it shifted and grew between my tongues. My reality became my working fictions which I shaded, protected, and allowed to flourish unrestricted.
As I write the fictionalized narrative of my mother’s island, I begin to slowly realize how our realities slowly become fictions and how our fictions, then, become our realities.
And this is the point – the edges of our fictions slip within the promise of our reality until the two are indistinguishable from one another.
As a writer, this raises questions about the limits of my expressions, where the lines are and how they may shift or break under the pressure. What is off limits? What is fair game? What can be twisted, transformed? What is real and what isn’t? And do I have a right to make this distinction?
A writer and brilliant mentor, Selah Saterstrom composed a work of fiction many years back titled, “The Pink Institution.” This is a fictional work that describes the paradoxes and harsh contradictions of a Southern Belle growing within the shadow of a dark past and an uncertain, modern future. While fictionalized, much of the content was taken from overhead stories and dialogues and then shaped within the narrative.
Upon publication, her family grew to unknown levels of outrage. She was ostracized in every sense of the word, called unspeakable names, and banished in a very old-fashioned way. They still haven’t spoken to her.
This is the danger of being a writer and of writing fiction. Regardless of how sensational my stories are, they have their roots within my reality or the reality of another.
I understand the laws of copyright and so forth, but where is my responsibility to the fictions and realities of others?