No Seven Second Emerson

Every day you see simplistic sentences attempting to reveal the very truths of life. As a writer, these gems are quite rare in the mines of ink and paper. These lines of ink and digital marks dot the Facebook feed in a dissembled philosophical essay of lost quotes and motivational wishes. I try to appreciate all the positive morsels singing down my newsfeed, but those words tend to be stronger tied in with personal experience or with a direct physical interaction. Whenever I read them in my head, through my own voice echoing among the honeycomb of my mind, I try to figure who is actually talking to me. Is it the quote itself, or the voice of the person who is posting it? There seems to be a lost connection between the two, like a bit of hope was left out to dry in a Meme or quote’s shallow font. The delivery of the hallowed sentence seems to be diluted by the endless blocks of images and renegade language. The heart can only beat with a body to power.

Clearly, I’m slightly uncomfortable creating a sentence like this myself, or else I wouldn’t spend an entire paragraph demonizing their modern mode of transport. I want to respect sentences like this, and I even have one of my own I’d like to share. I just don’t want it to be separated from the herd of everything else I wrote, like a calf for a hyena to pick-off. I feel really excited about us modern writers trying to deliver quality content in seven seconds or less. Most people say the modern attention span is a sign of the apocalypse, but I think people are just bored of seeing the same plot and narrative spawned in front of their eyes.

Recently, at my first reading as writer-in-residence at the Robbin Gallery here in Minnesota, I read a bunch of nonfiction to explain my fiction. My fiction clearly bored some of the listeners, along with me reading it. When I read my nonfiction aloud I felt like I was being myself. People have been telling me to write nonfiction my entire life, ever since I started writing ten years ago. I’ve always thought fictional monsters were the best, it was a style I had been drawn too since I was a child. I’ve been using monsters to lie about my emotions and interests for years. It was easier using fiction to lie, as opposed to using truth to make everyone uncomfortable.

I was more interested in making other people comfortable, instead of myself, a paradox that destroyed me for the majority of my life.

The sheer volume of people who have told me to write nonfiction is astounding. My family, fiance, friends, teachers, students, writers, drawers, artists, random people at parties and readings, and of course a variety of intoxicated strangers at local bars, are all people who have encouraged me to write about my life. My thesis adviser at the U of M Julie Schumacher would interrupt me as I talked about monsters and magical worlds with sentences like, “you should really just write about your dog.” I hated her for it. Writing about what was occurring in my life seemed ridiculous and trivial. Nothing exciting ever occurred within my own life. I dismissed her comment for six years the best I could, but it subconsciously laid an egg in my membrane. Now, wherever she is wandering in the dense and ego-tripping world of academia, she can know she was right.

My work has echoed these opinions as well. My most popular novel by far The Greenland Diaries, is actually a hybrid between fiction and nonfiction. I basically took my life, and injected monsters into it. I transplanted my own mindset into the character, and everything what the protagonist does in response to the Unnamed I would probably do. My apocalyptic, survivalist novel has a fair amount of nonfiction filling in the blanks between monsters, drums, and plants worming there way through the pavement. Just because I’m going to focus chiefly on nonfiction does not mean I’ll abandon all of my fiction projects. The Greenland Diaries sequels will still be released in the next few months and I’ll continue that series to its endpoint over the next three years.

I’m not going to lie, having everyone tell me to write nonfiction after having dedicated my life to fiction has caused a mild existential crisis to occur. What can I do though? As a writer, I care about my audience because I want one. You’re told to be yourself as writer, but sometimes you don’t always know what’s best for yourself. For the last ten years of my writing life, I’ve been refusing to write what I know because I didn’t think I knew anything. The more I share about my past, even in the most mundane conversations, the more people appreciate my life. How do you cope with this change? I guess the best thing for me to do is give it a shot, and hope people are right. This brings me back to my first paragraphs about quotes and pearls-of-wisdom. I’ve got one through this whole transcendental quandary. I’ve waited till the end of my post to share it so there can be some actual conception about it.

The good parts of the world will teach you who you are. The bad parts of the world will try and change it. 

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3 thoughts on “No Seven Second Emerson

  1. Everyone always told me I should be a writer, when I had my heart set on being an astrophysicist. Even once I realized they were right, it still took another whole set of realizations to find my identity as a non-fiction writer (which doesn’t conflict with my identity as a fiction writer). And even after that, you eventually realize that anything that makes you feel fulfilled is something you should do. We are not what we do. We do what we are, when we are at our most authentic.

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    1. I agree that the answer isn’t as simple as just writing nonfiction to find my identity as a writer. I’m not happy writing nonfiction, but I enjoy reading it out loud more than my fiction. I theoretically can’t even try to have a career in nonfiction because I’ve lied my entire life to make other people happy, so there are gaping wounds in my story that would never get past a publisher’s fact-checker. I think that’s why I’m so enamored with The Greenland Diaries, because I can be honest in that genre even though it’s fiction, but it’s so closely based on my life. I’ve made the current decision to write nonfiction that inspired The Greenland Diaries because the symbols and metaphors within that series are manifestations of my own personal trauma. I’ll read those selections aloud at my readings. I for one tend to think people exist as living conundrums. We are a strange combination of who we are inherently, and what we want to be. I might be more approachable when I write nonfiction, but I’m more comfortable in my fiction. This dichotomy echoes the Ying and Yang, and erodes the fabrication of absolute truth. Without fiction, I wouldn’t have nonfiction.

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    2. Re–Reading aloud: I learned this December that when I bother, which I usually do not, to read my pieces aloud, they are improved a hundred-fold. Or, to drop the hyperbole, a two-, five- or ten-fold. James Brown’s “Tighten Up” is playing in my head now: I edit out a ton more chaff. I really ought to dictate everything to voice-recognition, and then read what google has made of that aloud once the piece is “complete”. I really ought…

      The point was here, somewhere. Ah: That I think the best, most genuine writing is when we write the way we speak, or would speak if we had those chips already implanted for faster access to vocabulary and figures of speech. And perhaps the reason you prefer read-aloud non-fiction is because you are tapping into both genuine experience AND genuine voice.

      Or, maybe you just like it.
      🙂

      Thanks so much for the Follow on The Last Half! By all means, join in the discussion over there. I keep seeking new folk to keep the old crew in line.

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