Finding the Words

While considering the re-launch of my webpage, I had the urge to start a blog. Something to keep the site alive, I thought. To attract readers and bring people back to my writing. It’s a basic enough concept—“the blog”—but what you might not have guessed is how much I struggled with it. I’ve always been ambivalent toward the idea of “blogs.” It’s the format itself that vexed me – the idea that my innermost thoughts are so damn interesting they could attract a readership. “Hah!” I might’ve said. “How egotistical! How vain.” I held that to write an interesting blog, I would first need to live an incredibly interesting life.

            At least, this was my defense for writing “The Flight of a Boomerang.” About two years ago, I ventured out on a 6-month, 15,000-mile journey around the continental US that was (for all intensive purposes) interesting enough to read about. But even then, I hardly formatted my posts in the style of a “blog.” Instead, they were more like rough-draft chapters to a novel, all of it amounting to over 100,000 words. The pictures alone were enough to bring people back; but in my attempt to produce a coherent and well-rounded story, I was inadvertently hurting the people nearest me.

            I received a phone call about halfway through my trip from an early host. My portrayal of his son, he told me, could potentially have devastating effects on his future. He was about to graduate with a bachelors in business, and would be applying for jobs soon. “What if someone Googled his name before an interview," he asked. "What if this came up?”

            I had no response. As far as I could tell, I hadn’t slanted his son in a negative light—they were both close friends of mine—but he was right. I had written about our trip to a casino, about superstition and lust and loneliness. But in trying to make sense of my own adventures, and to create an engaging narrative for an outside audience, I had framed his son unfairly: I had molded him into something he was not.

            I am and always will be a fiction writer. Tim O’Brien wrote that “fiction is the lie that helps us to understand the truth,” and I have lived by that as a kind of mantra. A well-crafted narrative has the power to bring out the lower harmonies of daily life; the notes that you have to really listen for, but are much more interesting than the sounds of your own voice. And while that is often the most interesting bit, what I’ve discovered the more that I write is how the best of my fiction comes after I’ve carved a piece of myself onto the page. There is no dividing line: great fiction is rooted in reality, and the best non-fiction is colored by a flare for the fantastic; the unrealistic; the fictitious.

            This goes well beyond writing. As men and women, we perceive the world through narrative. It’s how we learn human history, how we discern and share our own histories, and it’s how our minds structure memory – the way in which we select and discard the occurrences of our past, condensing our lives into a progression of events that make sense. We cram select experiences into a narrative arc, but that arc itself is artificial. Reality has to be warped to fit the framework—it stretches and bends in order to hit every corner, every wall—as we exaggerate the sense of connection we maybe felt on a first date, leaving out the lurch in our gut two days later when our ex sent the message, “I miss you.”

            I didn’t understand this when I wrote my travel blog. I didn't see the pervasiveness of dissociation, how warping reality was actually natural and, more importantly, that it can be unavoidable when reaching for a larger truth.

            I’m not here to start over. But I also don’t lead as interesting a life as I did before. My weekdays are spent in the library and at cafés, and most weekends I spend at work or in my flat. Still, I have learned things. Simple things, often obvious when they’re spelt out on the page, but in my experience it is the simplest realizations that strike the hardest.

            So what is this "blog" going to be about? Maybe just that: a search for simplicity. Or maybe I’m flailing for a level of self-consciousness, a means to "stay above it all." Regardless, writers like Something I've Noticed and Show and Tell: POV have convinced me of the blog's potential, and through them I’ve read blogs that are interesting and engaging and that resonate in the mind like waves in a grotto. I’ve read blogs where the sole purpose was to ask a question; but a question that was still raw—shapeless and shadowed—until given the words to frame it with. And I’ve read blogs that helped lead me to an answer.

            Ideally, this blog will be all of that. A medium to hold your attention; to make you think; and, by the end of it, to find us the words that give it all form.

 

Sketch by  Elicia Edijanto

Sketch by Elicia Edijanto