Friday, October 11, 2013

based on a true story

One of the guests at my sister’s UCLA graduation party was her high school marching band director, who was kind of sexist and annoying, but also dedicated and beloved by students who weren’t me. He asked how I was doing, and I told him I’d just finished my thesis at CalArts.

“It’s a collection of connected short stories,” I said.

“You wrote a whole book? Wow! That must have been hard.”

“It was,” I said proudly.

“And it’s all true?”

“No, it’s fiction.”

“Oh. You mean you just made it up?” His disappointment was palpable. A whole thesis full of lies.

Writers—not to mention readers of anything thicker than Parade Magazine—usually enjoy this story. Fiction is, of course, an art. You have to create a whole world, not just describe what you see.

Remember Parade? Remember All-Grown-Up Miley 1.0?
But my sister’s band director might be vindicated to know that one reason I chose fiction is because I’m a lazy researcher. I love learning about other times, places, people and, sigh, diseases, and weaving them into my stories. But I’d prefer to do my learning via other people’s tightly crafted nonfiction narratives, or Wikipedia, than via original sources. And I really hate citation.

Our culture is obsessed with nonfiction for slightly baffling reasons—see James Frey, etc., etc.—and especially with memoir. I don’t get it, except that I do. In the past year, I’ve been reading a lot of it, writing a lot of it. As I’ve told some of you, pretending I was maybe writing a memoir was one of the best cancer coping mechanisms I chose. Instead of spiraling into OCD in my just-for-me journal, I was forced to look at my situation with a bit of humor and perspective. I wrote in the past tense to convince myself I did in fact have a future.

Ever-so-slightly fictionalizing my truth made it feel truer to me.

It’s made for some long-ass blog entries, not to mention occasional tense problems when I try to translate into blog format. Thank you for bearing with me.

I also regularly binge on documentaries and reality shows and “reality” shows on Netflix—modern day sideshows, all of them—because I have to binge on something, and I feel like chocolate and French fries are off the table for me now. Last night I may have fallen deep into a salacious documentary about the World’s Fattest Woman Accused Of Murder. If I tell you it was also a fascinating story of family violence and border issues, you might rightly accuse me of protesting too much.

YouTube addiction even makes cats feel shame. Almost.
But there’s something about other people’s suffering—big suffering and little suffering and thousand-pound suffering—that delivers a fix. I’m comfortable being that fix for other people at times. Even as I also want to be envied by all who meet me. Because what’s a true story without some contradictions?

I will be reading a true story—about a nasty fight I had with my sister on Mother’s Day—on Oct. 23 at Lit Crawl. This also happens to be the day I have a check-up with my oncologist, and I’m terrified that I’ll get bad news and be so pulled into an awful true story that I won’t be able to focus on sharing a just-kind-of-cruddy true story, and that I will disappoint all the nice people who showed up to see me again.

I have a good prognosis. I do. And even if I had a mediocre one, it would be unlikely for cancer to come back after just four months. And yet the anxiety creeps in, a security blanket of fog. And I wasn’t going to write about it, because it’s supposed to be my private sentence, but here I am, typing my true story as I try to promote my readings like a good little author.

If you want to come enjoy the mess of it with me—and to hear nonfiction pieces by three other awesome queer writers, Bronwyn Mauldin, Wendy Oleson and Wendy Ortiz—here’s how to do it:

What: Lit Crawl L.A.: NoHo, an evening of readings and performances in the North Hollywood Arts District
Who: The L.A. Word, featuring Cheryl Klein, Bronwyn Mauldin, Wendy Oleson and Wendy Ortiz—and also about a hundred other writers at nearby venues, if we don’t float your boat
When: Wednesday, Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m.


Claire said...

Hmm, I do read things longer than Parade (often still call US Weekly or whatever is now Parade) but that story makes me want to punch that band director for being an asshole.

5-10 years ago, I read *a lot* of autobiographies/memoirs. Varying bits were reassuring or encouraging, I found. Quite a few on my shelf of favorites.

Best of luck at your next appointment and the Lit Crawl!

Sizzle said...

I totally remember Parade! Ha.

If I were closer I'd be at Lit Crawl. Sounds like a good time.

Always rooting for you.

Cheryl said...

Thanks for the support, you fine ladies!

Una said...

I concur with Claire: band director = a-hole.