The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Friday, July 07, 2006


by Patricia Parkinson

Writing non-fiction is draining. Writing fiction is too, but I’m only talking about nonfiction here. Nonfiction, nonfiction, nonfiction - got it? Good. All that dredging up of the past, God, and the pain - why does there have to be pain? I ask myself, and peal back a layer, a roll of film - my father leaving when leaves were green, images of babies lost, never to be held, and I think all writers are masochists. But I keep listening to the voice that pisses me off, that tells me this is the only way to get what I want most in my work – truth.

The draining part of writing about my own life, writing nonfiction stories about, “me,” the writer, and my unknowing family, is that I’m constantly on the lookout for a story, for a moment, a detail. Who looks interesting in line at Starbucks? What are they wearing? How do they stand? Are they sad? Happy? Horny? Hung? Maybe a killer! What’s happening now? Now. Right now, right now, right now - my mind chants and I close my eyes and repeat this mantra and receive mystical messages from the universe. I do. Really, I do. See what I mean? It’s tiring. What energy is around me? I ask. How does this energy feel? How can I express it in words?

Today the energy was festive. The words came easy breezy. Today I held a birthday party in the backyard for my son. He’s turning seven. He had a Sponge Bob piñata, Jurassic Park plates and a Lightening McQueen birthday cake. If any other movies were represented in the Wal Mart Party section I’m sure we would have bought their merchandise too. They were sold out of the King Kong hats, cardboard cylinders of the Empire State Building with Kong, hanging from fishing line, forever falling from children’s heads. It’s insanity.

My daughter, who is two years older, and her friend, gathered around the kitchen island while I readied the cake, excited to be “in” on the surprise, on the singing and the presents and the blindfolding of the piñata participants. We spoke in hushed voices, giggling under our breaths, ooohing and aaahing as I pushed the candles through the thick icing, feeling the smoosh as it broke through the top layer of chiffon and I made a mental note to hold this feeling, the sensation of the nubby candles on the tips of my fingers, (I used white candles with primary coloured nubs on them - primary nubs for boys – pastel nubs for girls) and the vision of the flame melting away the blue and red and green and yellow wax, in the story part of my heart. I watched as my daughter lead the procession, singing to her brother, who looked only at her, and then at me, my little boy who got so big so fast that I’m afraid to blink again, smiled above the flicker of seven candles as I walked in slow motion the way people who carry birthday cakes and punch bowls do, across the grass toward him. He had three girlfriends.

On easy breezy word days, I wonder if I sometimes create things, lunacy and confusion just to have something to write about, something draining and angst filled so I can relate to my characters. I should go for more walks, get in touch with nature, simplify, downsize, cancel my cell phone, yeah sure, that and join AA and exercise and other fictional promises I make to myself, however, the non fiction comedy and mostly action filled existance I either create or open myself up to unfolds like a story I’m working on, something I think I have control of what happens next. Then there are days like today when the energy comes to me with out asking and I trust enough in the energy to let the story unfold on its own.

I love writing about my life. Even if some of the stories are perhaps, somewhat exaggerated, the King Kong hats are well, my imagination working overtime (I should go into marketing for these people)anyway, so maybe some things I write are more fantasy than reality, or so real the character becomes someone else, or they're the way I picture a perfect birthday party to be. They are my stories. The only difference between fiction and nonfiction is how I say it, oh, and whose name I use.


Blogger Dana said...

I came across your blog by chance and found your style fascinating. I have written fiction and non-... Your last sentence was great. "The only difference between fiction and nonfiction is how I say it, oh, and whose name I use." I remember an editor somewhere saying that every writer's first novel is thinly veiled autobiography. Amusing, but that is not true for every writer.

I really agree with the notion that writing memoir or autobiographical stories obligates the writer to make her or himself the main character. And like the main character in fiction, that author/character should grow, develop, change, and the writing will then show the reader how she or he became the person she or he is.

Fascinating? It obligates us memoirists to do more than record anecdotes in which we were participants or observers. What did the event do to, for, with the author?

Anyway, keep writing. Cheers!

Sat Jul 08, 02:08:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Nance Knauer said...

I see a lot of truth here. And yes to the idea that writers sometimes create drama in their own lives to find their way into a story. I believe we're always sifting through the ashes of our own emotional fires to search for any live coals, some little spark that will lead us to an opening sentence.

Sat Jul 08, 09:24:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

hi, I just woke up, it's nooon!!! oh god, and the sun is shining and thank you soooo much for reading this..xoxoox

Sat Jul 08, 03:17:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger jmmfaria said...

Yes, I read this piece again and again, and I think it may be one of your best. It has so many layers of meaning below the surface that one can't help but admire the words chosen and the exquisite way you use them. This is a thrilling piece of writing to be savored over a glass of Dao red wine while smiling all the way to a picnic of one, and all.

Fiction is a lie, upon lie about the truth.

Write what you know. We do, damn it, we live it everyday until it hurts, makes us smile, frown, laugh or cry.

Thanks for the smiles, Patricia

Sat Jul 08, 06:01:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

Thank you Joe, I'm happy you're smiling...xoxo just started reading a wonderful novel today and I'm anxious to read more, maybe fiction is the way to go..thank you for everything, xoxoxo

Sat Jul 08, 07:44:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

I agree with Joe. This is one of your best. You write from the heart, girl. It's a gift.

Mon Jul 10, 01:10:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

thank you tricia...and have to come here, I'm to tired to go there...please...come visit.okay? one of my days off before the end of summer..xoxooxox

Tue Jul 11, 05:11:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger craig said...

A beautifully evocative piece, Patricia. I could honestly feel the squoosh of those candles. I know what you mean about being on the alert for a story (both internally and externally) - often when a friend is telling me a story, I'm thinking, "can I use this?" A nasty habit actually.

Love your writing.

Tue Jul 11, 09:57:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

I'm so there Craig, I carry around a notebook and "steal" little tidbits here and there...thanks xox

Tue Jul 11, 01:40:00 pm GMT-4  

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