Memories, Narrative, Reflection, Uncategorized

The Reluctant Fictionalist (& The Friend on the Pier)

I wondered when I would write this. I am writing to say I am writing again, though I was afraid to say so in so many words because it means I cannot retreat any more. Growing-up, I day-dreamed about being an author but I never sat down with a notebook and started sketching most of those story ideas (really, any). By the time I had a computer, it was just in time to make the internet my drug –as much as it has also been a tool. My first blog was more like writing therapy than a discipline and my second was more like a soap-box than a story-book. Reverse Exiled was my attempt to drift closer to the goal of writing narratives.

I have fiction in my background: two courses and a senior thesis made from three sections of an unwritten book. Three good sections I have not truly visited since college. I wrote several short stories that I am not ashamed to share, and some poetry as well. The past three years I have mulled over what really bars me from writing, and what kept me stalling the process even in my teenage years. Followers will be puzzled: I write non-fiction. I know I can do it – but I don’t want to be limited by it. It also makes me nervous to tell stories others have been witness to, though the responses to my wedding posts have been humblingly positive. I could never leave blogging, entirely, after that!

Tonight was going to be a re-run. Unable to focus on Arabic, I found myself on the couch reading hand-written journal entries from last fall and sipping tea with a sense of overwhelming dread. I psyche myself out. There are too many possibilities or else I never feel like the language is just right. Perhaps I cannot bear to commit myself so much to something that would dead-end or, worse, flow nicely and then be rejected (not that I know anything about that process). No one has ever, in my life, told me I could not write well… except me. Even my poetry professor, at her harshest moment, was saying “you CAN do better.”

I finally posed the critical question: why does the thought of doing what I want to do most cause me emotional pain? Immediately, I thought of one of my dearest friends who studies psychology. I had the urge to find her and vent, again. Instead, I wondered what it would be like to write from the perspective of someone like her encountering someone like me. Though it’s not much, I now have a stub – not even a complete scene—of a character like her going to visit a character like me. Already, though, I can tell they will not be precisely like us ~ that’s good. Even if this stub goes nowhere, I am proud that I opened the word-processor and wrote something instead of just crawling into bed and saying ‘tomorrow’. Tomorrow has never quite come. Today will have to do (tomorrow).

I see my narrator at first coming to my ‘subject’ character out of a sense of obligation, having tried to warn him that moving to the middle-East was a bad idea (this is nothing like my friend and I, by the way – she drove me to the airport and told me I was brave). She will wonder, aloud, at some point why he would ‘follow some woman’ into what she could only imagine as a dangerous place and be even more baffled that he would stay for months after his romance failed. He will show her that he has seen a different kind of love and offer many deep insights but, also, confusing emotions.


I know something about this stuff. Interestingly, the themes I picked for my thesis is close to the theme I am living right now and the theme I want to actualize in my ‘day-job’, studying arts-based approaches to conflict resolution and community building. Getting past barriers. I confess, I know only the smallest amount about the field in general but — but I digress… getting past barriers. If I were in the publishing industry, my barriers would be completely useless to me. Now, I have the chance to know what it is like to overcome a barrier to creativity.


Ironically, I balked at fiction that was too autobiographical for fear it would just turn into masked non-fiction. However, even as I journal I find myself almost saying things that might have happened. As I started to write from this narrator’s mind, I found that she was not entirely similar or dissimilar to my friend. I could put some of myself into her, or some part of someone else. I know I can do these things, I just do not have the habit yet. For all these months I have been trying to find the specific obstacle I could remove that would make everything ‘click’.


It’s the desire for a ‘click’. That’s not writing. I know from my non-fiction, it can take a long time to write something when you know what happened, let alone when you are DECIDING what happened. In the mean time, I am glad I dumped a page of even terrible writing because I know it must be part of my own healing process. It also pays to keep telling myself “I can write fiction; I am not strictly hardwired as a reporter – I can train my imagination again…”

–but I could always use some prayers. I am ever a flawed but spiritual man – I need the best help I can get. It is a long journey ahead and I often have an easier time seeing many small obstacles than the grand reasons to push past them.
If you would humor me… here are my scraps:


                Scott was laying chest-down on his step-father’s pier, left arm draped into the water. On mostly cloudy days, the surface of the small lake looked black and almost smooth, as if his arm were petrified in volcanic-glass. I hesitated on the back porch, wondering if my friend would move and if he were asleep. That would give me an excuse not to disturb him; I felt awkward already. Adjusting my glasses on the bridge of my nose, I tried to glean if his eyes were open but his own glasses made it hard to tell. The fogged lenses looked like plastic-framed cataracts and gave him a mug like a fresh, astute corpse. Some seaweed was stuck to his bare arm where the checkered sleeves of his shirt would have been if he had not unbuttoned his cuffs and rolled them up to his shoulders. April is not an appealing time to sun oneself on a pier, much less be the anti-social flounder who lays there in khakis and a wool vest when the sun is little more than an incandescent stain. The weather  with an indecisive timbre, sending chilly gusts that threatened rain but instead wore faded, powdery blue patches in the overcast sky.

                I hesitated on the back porch for a long time, throwing a glance toward the house from time to time to see if his mother was watching. She put me in an awkward position. When I arrived, I thought that Scott had asked her to call me and invite me to visit. Months had passed since our last contact but, apparently, Scott’s mom made an executive decision on his behalf. On the telephone she said ‘Scott has missed you so much while he was gone doing, you know, things over seas,’ but when I arrived at the door and asked for him, his step-father Steve smiled politely and gave her a questioning look. “Clara, dear. Scott’s friend from High School. The nice one who became a psychologist.”
                “Does he think she’s nice, too?” said Steve, chuckling. Or, more to the point, does Scott’s mother know that a bachelor’s degree doesn’t make me a psychologist. In the course of asking them where he was, it became apparent that he did not actually know I was coming nor was there any reason to believe he had requested a visit. Honestly,  we drifted apart after high school. I think I was the first one to tell him that following a woman into a conflict zone was not the way to build peace or change the world or whatever rhetoric he built around it. I think I was not the last either but the silence that followed in our friendship was telling.

                “Do you want me to get him for you?” said Steve, helpfully.

                “No, thank you, no. I can do it –“
                “Just kick him; he could use a kick in the ribs.”

                “Oh.” Not knowing, Steve I just said, “okay.”

                “I don’t mean literal. I meant like a metaphor or something. Something like that .” He was suddenly uncomfortable. “Why don’t I get him for you, quick? SCOTTY!”

                “Oh. Thank you? I was going to—“

                “Look, he’s awake now!”

                “—poke him with my toe.”


* * *


The grass wet my feet as I

with powdery blue sky lights opening and closing slowly.

                “I wish that it would snow, that a fluffy snow would come down. I don’t mean little ice-pellets but I mean wispy snow like ashes. Do you know what I mean?”
                “Scott, I know what you mean but, well, I don’t really understand why.”

                “Why you want it to snow in April. Did you miss playing in the snow while you were in the middle East?”


                “It will snow again.”

                “I just wanted it to snow right now.”

                “Okay. I was just saying that it is going to snow eventually.”

                “I know. I know it’s going to snow eventually. I was just saying I wanted it to snow right now.”

                “You just said that.”

                “Well, I wanted you to understand more clearly.”

                “I did actually understand; you would like snow right now but it is April. I am telling you that you can expect snow around the end of October.”         
                “That’s technically correct.”

                “That’s absolutely correct, Scott. Why do you need to have such a grouchy tone?”

                “Forget it. Fine. I hope it rains. There, now I am realistic again.”

                “I hope you go inside before it rains. Your butt looks a little wet – did it rain on you earlier?”

                “I sat on the moss by the shore.”

                “Okay. I guess that moss was wet?”
                “Yes. Alright. Now your butt is wet…”

* * *


Late April is not the time that social people prefer to sun themselves on the pier, so Scott


That moment, watching him lay motionless, had a washed-out sense of doom


“it was not a conflict zone when I arrived” [<Syria? That would require research… ]

“what do you mean?”

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