Friday, February 3, 2012

Fiction is the Best Way to Tell the Truth

I've been thinking a lot lately about why I want to be a writer. Or if I even want to be a writer. There are a trillion infinity reasons not to be a writer: it's a massive pain in the neck, it's a lonely thing to write all by yourself, if you haven't published something by the age of 30 people start looking at you like you're a gorgon, etc.

But then I stopped feeling sorry for myself and thought about the reasons why it's great to be a writer.

And nothing came.

Until I hit on this: writing is just about the only time in life you get to be totally honest.

Honesty is the best policy, right? Whoever made up that saying should be thrown into the deep end with cement water wings. Because if you're always honest, you will not live a comfortable life. For instance, people don't want to hear your "honesty" in the office:

"Hey Jane, you look really dumpy today. Did your whiny son keep you up all night because you don't show him enough outward signs of affection?"

No. You will be summarily fired. And you can't even be honest with your own family. Not even about the little stuff.

"Dad, let's drop the charade. I hate Duke basketball."

Your dad will look at you like you just kicked him in the solar plexus. I repeat: you cannot be honest.

Except when you write, that is.

When you write, all of the rules change. You can make the most outrageous, easily falsifiable claims ("Gee Nate, it looks like that asteroid made of gouda cheese is on a collision course with the planet Hamglubla!") and no one can say a darn thing about it.

Not that the above sentence drips with honesty: alone, it's a totally meaningless string of words. But if you couch it in the context of reality--say, if the cheese-filled asteroid is going to destroy a planet where people kill each other because they can't control their tempers--then you know what? It's good that that stinkhole of a planet blows up, because people need to be kind to each other.

Just try saying "people should be kind to each other" to your friends, and watch their faces drop. Witness the awkward silence that ensues. Before long, if you persist in your campaign for kindness, society will force you to go live in a hippy van out in the desert somewhere. Dress your mantra up in an apocolyptic vision of a cheeseball evicerating a whole planet, however, and now you've got their attention.

When else can you get away with such honesty? I'll tell you when: never. This is why you should be glad you're an artist, if an artist you are. Chin up.

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