Tag Archives: fiction

The truth and dreams, 1: Lost

Women, photograph by Lara Wechsler

I dreamt that we were around each other, but not really together.  Our recent split was a wound still open, and I was trying to follow you, to get back to you, to make you see me again as yours.  I knew that I had pushed you away in the first place and then raised the stakes for a reunion.  I never claimed to be the complete master of my emotions.  And you, being your locked-down self, said the same thing over and over, which in this case was like saying nothing at all, since I didn’t believe you wanted it to end.

All this was in the air around us when I saw the child, a young girl maybe two or three, walking around, uncertain perhaps where she was.  She was small, dressed in a pink Hello Kitty onesy, carrying a stuffed animal.  She bore a vague resemblance to you.  It looked as if she would begin to cry at any moment.

I didn’t know whose child she was, and there were no other adults around.  For reasons I don’t really understand or remember, I thought the child was with you, or that you knew where the parents were.  I pursued you with the child, and I told you that we need to find the parents.

I don’t remember that you said anything, but you took the child from me.

Then we got into a car and you told me to drive.  The car wasn’t yours, but I couldn’t figure out if it was stolen or rented.  On the way there—a “there” that only became clear as we got closer, since I didn’t know where we were going and was only following your periodic directions—the air between us was frosty.  Not much was said.  You held on to the child.

We pulled into the parking lot of a drug store, one of those chain stores that all look and feel the same, regardless of the name on the sign out front.  It was very white—the aisles, the light, the coats that people were wearing.  You took the child back behind the pharmacy counter and began speaking to someone amid shelves of pills and ointments and jars.  I couldn’t hear what you said, but you did something to divert me, something involving the car, and I left.

When I got back to the pharmacy, you were gone.  I shouted into empty space, “We have to return the car!  Whose is it?”  Then I saw you running away.

I followed you into a massive, dark parking lot, the kind of multi-story affair you see next to stadiums, shopping malls, and airports.  By the time I reached the spot, the car was gone and so were you.  I thought: I must call you.

I awoke shaking and covered in sweat.  I reached to the nightstand for the telephone, and that’s when I realized where I was.

Notes and Credits

This posting is fiction, but the dream was real.

Photography credit to Lara Wechsler, who let me use this photo for this posting.  Lara’s work can be found on flickr, and on her own website.   Her work is on exhibit with other local artists at 440 Gallery in Park Slope, Brooklyn.  Her work is street photography, which mainly involves photos of street scenes and, in Lara’s case, photographs of people.  The photograph I used in this posting is the rare one in her collection not of people (or even one person).  In this case, it’s a shot that evokes a persona, the perfect image for this dream that made me think, over and over again, what do I want?


Filed under conflict, danger, fiction, life, love, struggle, truth

The truth and fiction


They say that the truth is stranger than fiction.  This is true, but meaningless.  The truth may be strange, indeed, but good fiction is compelling.  That’s what makes fiction more real (or more true) than the truth.  Fiction speaks to you in ways that the truth never will.  The real question is not whether something is truth or fiction, but rather how good it is, either way.

Note for the concerned, erudite, elite, and critical:  Not all fiction is truer than truth.  Only the best fiction is, but we’re not talking about bad fiction here.  Danielle Steele fits here as good fiction.  And Nora Roberts.  There are good reasons to read DS and NR and James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon.  Good fiction is better than truth at helping us understand what is and isn’t true in the world.  [See my quote from Kafka in the quotes section of the blog.]

This is why poetry and fiction are utterly essential to life as we know it.  The arts make life possible, because only through the arts do we understand how we live together, relate to each other, learn from each other, and build the wherewithal to fall and love (or lust) and propagate the species.  This is because the arts are all about that one central feature of humanity that allows us to be who we are:  narrative.  Not mere communication, the narrative is a story, meta-communication with backstory, protagonists, antagonists, beginnings, middles, ends.  Narrative is the essence of being human.

So what happens when we use narrative to relate something that really happened?  We all know the old telephone game, and social science verifies in no uncertain terms how deeply flawed narrative is as a way to communicate what really happened, how it happened (which unfortunately stands in for “truth” with lots of people).  Eyewitness testimony, it turns out, is an awful way to find the truth and bring people to justice.  People remember what they want to remember and tell you the story that’s important to them.  As a teacher and trainer of interviewers and researchers I am adamant:  The worst way to find out about something is to ask about it directly.  That’s because everything we say (including this very post) is really about doing some specific emotional work for the speaker.

This is a key concept:  emotional work.  Our stories have a two-fold nature.  They convey information, but because we’re usually invested in that information in important personal ways, we tell our stories in ways that satisfy important personal needs.  This creates a paradox of truth and fiction, however, because it makes some truths utterly false and irrelevant, and much fiction important, compelling, and utterly true.


The paradox of truth and fiction is revealed in James  Frey’s   story with Oprah – how he “embellished” his memoir, A Million Little Pieces, to the point at which is was less memoir than perhaps creative non-fiction or even a novel “based on a true story.”  It’s worth noting that Frey did try to offer the work as a novel when he started out.

I never read A Million Little Pieces.  I read My Friend Leonard, the sequel.  I was deeply moved by Frey’s writing and admit I was choked up at the end of Leonard.  Frey’s writing style was gripping and compelling and the story he told was true in ways that deeply connected with so many readers.  Frey’s work holds up, no matter how embellished it is.

When the truth becomes shrill, does it really matter?

When fiction speaks the truth, it surely does.


Filed under art, fiction, James Frey