All writers are liars.
We exaggerate, spinning lies out of words in order to create a stronger, more compelling narrative. We disregard facts to make what we write feel more ‘real’ (which is kind of counterintuitive, isn’t it?).
In my writing, more so than in real life, I am wry; I am significantly more dour; I play up my own incompetence, adding touches of ineptitude for comedic effect (last Summer, I got called out by some internet asshole while describing my first attempt at making Ginger Beer, although I’m actually a pretty decent cook). On my blog, what I write is the truth (for the most part), but in the end, it’s still my version of the truth.
So, why am I writing about, well, writing?
This past weekend, I received some exhilarating news. That piece that I wrote about back in December? It’s going to be picked up in a magazine! For the first time in my life, I’m getting published! I still have to make a few changes (more snacking! more mouthfeel! less sit-down!), but once the editor and I finally agree, about 1,000 of my words will go out to an audience larger than I ever had written for before. As someone who loves to write just for the sake of it, this is an amazing moment (that I still have to wait a bit for, as the magazine won’t get published until April, since it’s quarterly). But I’m officially a writer! It’s validation that 7th-grade-me didn’t totally screw college-age-me for life by deciding to major in Literature. It’s validation that by paying attention to the little details around me, I can make ordinary moments in life into something worthy of being written about.
The problem with what I wrote? It’s not exactly the truth.
When I was first asked to write about Shanghainese street food, I wrote then scrapped my initial story because it didn’t have a narrative. I also didn’t really think the world wanted to read an article about me getting (a little too) drunk on Chinese fake liquor and stumbling to get street noodles at 3am, bickering with the street food lady because she put soy sauce into the noodles even after I had asked her not to (I’m allergic). Instead, I chose to write about a date – probably the most fun date I’ve had in Shanghai. I had actually written about that exact date before on this blog, but didn’t explicitly mention what it was (which helped, because I was able to lift some sentences straight from my post). I’ve mentioned my reluctance to explicitly mention people and places before (and indeed I’ve avoided talking about those things, as well as family difficulties on here) and in some ways, retelling this story feels a little too personal, but what it comes down to is that I’m having a hard time coming to terms with retelling in a way that preserves both the truth yet still keeps it literary.
As I am finishing up the piece, I keep going back to the same dilemma: How do we write about something that happened with the hopeful innocence of the unknown when we already know the ending? How do we evoke the dreamy feelings of love when in the end things don’t always work out? How do we give our readers the ending they want (because after all it’s just one short story) when in reality, the narrative is much more complicated, and the ending isn’t particularly worthy of being literary?
And that’s why, like other writers, I lie.
My feelings for the person I wrote the story about are still.. conflicted. While we’re extremely compatible on paper, in person, we are both far too egotistical and self-absorbed. In many ways, he reminded me of one of the only people I had been truly compatible with, bearing startling similarities, down to the same Residential College (one year apart), the same college team, and the same association with bicycling. In short, we were (and I believe still are) emotionally-stunted douchebags with a superiority complex. His is a little justified. Mine will be too once I reach his age.
The most powerful thing about writing here is that I can give my stories the ending they deserve. The ending of my magazine piece may not have happened exactly as I wrote it, but it’s a cute ending nonetheless. Maybe the best way to write about what is true, is to not write about it at all.
Frivolous Monsters says
Congratulations on your big break. I’ve had an article published in a small writer’s journal, but nothing for money, so one day I hope to join you.
I didn’t see your blog about making ginger beer, but remember you mentioning on another one that you should take up brewing beer. I missed the opportunity then, so will say so now, that if you do ever start your own brewery then you should change your name to Malty Eva!
p.s. I always imagined ginger beer to be very British. It just shows these things aren’t as parochial as you imagine.
Thank you! It’s honestly a small step for now, but I’m hoping it’ll lead to something larger in the future.
Malty Eva sounds like a fantastic suggestion for a Brew! I’ve only tried my hand at Ginger Beer, but brew-making sounds like it’d also be fun. Is Ginger Beer in Britain usually alcoholic or not? I brew mine with yeast so it has a small ABV, but it’s usually pretty negligible at 2-3 percent.
Frivolous Monsters says
We all have to take small steps and hope for bigger leaps.
I’m guessing that Ginger Beer here must be alcoholic, although like yours not too much, although I’m not sure if I’ve ever had it. Looking up some brands on websites I’m still not too sure. I guess I must try it now.
It’s not big here now, and not as “British” as I assumed (especially not the Old Jamaican Ginger Beer), and I think all my pop culture references for it come from times past which include being mentioned a lot in old Enid Blyton ‘Famous Five’ novels. They were set in the 1940s, as best as I can work out, as they were first released then. A TV parody of these characters was filmed in the 1980s and included the catchphrase “lashings of ginger beer” which most people now mistake as being in the Blyton books, for real, even though it wasn’t.