Lately I’ve been exploring adding elements of fiction into what might otherwise be rather prosaic memoir. I used to think this approach to understanding life was a sacrilege, a bowdlerisation of truth. I’m not that puristic anymore.
Sometimes, for example, conflation of two different episodes, which didn’t actually happen in the time sequence portrayed, can be surpassingly instructive. This sort of playing with time happened to me yesterday as I was working on a response to a writing group stimulus: write about a dish, a food, an experience of eating.
I wanted to write something self-deprecatory, as in a previous effort I’d bemused my writerly colleagues with my ersatz attempts at authentic dialect. Brought up in southern Ontario, my ears are somehow less than sensitive to pronunciation idiosyncracies: I can’t readily distinguish between ‘ferry’ and ‘fairy’ for example, as folks here in the British isles seem to be able to do. So I started out my piece with my attempts to grapple with the pronunciation of ‘poutine,’ the recently touted ‘national dish of Canada‘ (though this attribution has also been thought of as misappropriation of a specific culture, the Québecois). At any rate, it wasn’t hard to begin with self-mockery over my faltering pronunciation.
But the story went on, emerging through my dancing fingers into something else. Not only the poutine I’d tried to order, but ice cream and maple syrup entered the picture, and then another quintessential Canadian pastime: the parlour game of crokinole. I’d already used that game in a different writing group, but it had particular resonance in my story, even though it came after my consideration of food. And finally, the story finished, titled appropriately, it lives as a kind of truth, except that it’s actually fiction in its juxtaposition of different events at different times.
The truth, I guess, can be revealed by something like ‘art’ whereas it can be occluded by a boring recitation of the actuality. I sometimes use the phrase: to make the piece/story/poem ‘sing.’ It’s the song I’m after, the resonance and timbre, the melody and harmony.
It’s no wonder that I sat down to write my story after a singing workshop day!
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