Stupid and Imaginative

at a party... sigh
at a party... sigh

T. didn’t want to leave the party. She’d met a guy and she wasn’t going to ruin her night by having to take me back to the dorm. It was 2 in the morning.

I didn’t know who to call. My roommate was out of town. My neighbors didn’t have cars. One did, but she probably would refuse to get out of bed. Other phone numbers I didn’t know–and this was long before cell phones besides. I could walk back into town down the highway for several miles. I could find a sofa and sleep in the fraternity house.

A guy standing nearby with a group of friends said, “You need a ride?”

I didn’t know him. “I’ll figure something out,” I said, thinking if I were someone else I’d make T. take me back.

“I’ll give you ride,” he said.

“That’s okay. Thanks anyway.”

T. nudged me. “See? He’ll give you a ride.”

He nodded. “Let me help–I’m nice. Ask anyone here.” He was also sober. The other guys were all drunk.

If I told T. that since she brought me, she ought to take me home, she’d get mad and refuse. If I told this guy no, I still wouldn’t have a ride home, and I would insult him and be stuck in the house all night with him and his fraternity brothers. I reconsidered walking.

“Hands to myself,” he said with a grin. “Scouts honor.” Behind him his friends vouched for him. Then I felt vain for even thinking he had an ulterior motive. This guy looked like the cheerleader type–bouncing girls with cleavage and fake fingernails.

“All right,” I said. “Thanks.”

T. waved me off happily and I followed him out the door and decided that if he took one wrong turn, I’d get out of the car no matter where we were.

He was an alumni, 25 years old, in town for a reunion and he worked as an engineer at a big company in Indianapolis. He had a girlfriend too in fact. How old was I? 19. Was I hungry? He’d take me to get something to eat.

Just home, I said, imagining a clutter of scenarios. One–he took me straight home, dropped me off, and that was that. Two–he didn’t take me home and I couldn’t get away from him. Later with the police they’d laugh at me because I had, after all, gotten in his car. Three–he didn’t take me home but I did get away from him only to left stranded in an alley. Four–he took me home, dropped me off, and then had a good laugh with friends about how I thought he found me at all attractive. Five–he took me home, I became possessed by some wild, wayward, self and invited him in shocking the hell out of everybody.

He pulled up in front of my dorm, parked, and turned off the engine. He turned sideways so that one arm was behind me on the back of the seat and the other arm in front of me along the dash. I am so stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid, I thought.

“So, this is it,” he said. “See my hands? I’m keeping them to myself.”

“I see that,” I said. “Well, thanks for the ride.”

“Can I come up?”

“I don’t think so.” I actually felt ungrateful and anxious at the same time. He leaned in closer. “You sure?”

I wanted out of the car with as little fuss as possible. I put a hand on the door handle and then kissed him. I opened the door and pulled away. “Bye,” I said, and slipped out, slamming the door before he could reply.

Last night I was working on scene in my latest novel that made me feel uncomfortable–I can’t write that. Ugh. What the hell am I doing? Someone might read this! Writing certain scenes, no matter how often you remind yourself that the character isn’t you, not you-you, not really, it still feels like exposing yourself. Like admitting to something you’d rather not.

The next day when T. got home, she asked me if I had kissed that guy. “Of course not,” I said, not even entirely sure why I was lying. “I just met him.”

But in writing fiction, you’ve got to tell the truth–never mind that fiction is all made up. And telling the truth takes practice.

How honest are you in your writing? How easy is it to tell the truth? Why?

14 thoughts on “Stupid and Imaginative

  1. “Last night I was working on scene in my latest novel that made me feel uncomfortable–I can’t write that. Ugh. What the hell am I doing? Someone might read this! Writing certain scenes, no matter how often you remind yourself that the character isn’t you, not you-you, not really, it still feels like exposing yourself. Like admitting to something you’d rather not.” and “But in writing fiction, you’ve got to tell the truth–never mind that fiction is all made up. And telling the truth takes practice.”

    Brilliant observations about writing!

    And, yes, I do the same thing, think I can’t say that! People will read it and think that I do/did/think/want that! I feel too exposed to write certain things, and we all have issues that strike us as too much exposure, I believe.

  2. To be truthful about the things that really affect you? Incredibly hard. I was thinking about this today. What I’ve blogged about recently are not the things keeping me awake half the night. The raw, revealing truth is something I need the distance of years and the kaleidoscope of fiction to face.

  3. Good question. I think I’m pretty honest in my non fiction, or transparent, at least. Fiction though can often be more immediate than non fiction. It can be deeper. I think I do a lot of writing around the truth and then my tendency is to rush through the moment as fast as I can. I need to work on that.

  4. I have to add something, as I thought about my statement that fiction is more immediate than non-fiction. I think it’s a question of control. In non fiction, you are choosing to write about that specific truth, and everyone knows it. You are in control even in your exposure.

    With fiction, so much of it is working under the surface in lands of metaphor or the subconscious, that the story is in more control of that truth than you are, and your vulnerability is right out there.
    Poetry is vulnerable, too, I think in the same way. I do the same avoidance thing in my poetry. So…

  5. Love the title of this post: Stupid and Imaginative (not the more obvious UNimaginative). That is a combination dangerous to one’s mental health, isn’t it???

    I apparently have a very bad sense of what should and shouldn’t be said or recounted. When I tell The Missus that I wouldn’t want the world to know X about me, almost invariably she says, “Huh? But that’s true of EVERYBODY!” And then I’ll be telling her off-handedly something else about the way I think about something, or what I once did, and she’ll look at me in a combination of open-mouthed shock and fond bemusement. Which may not bode well for my fictional story-telling instincts, let alone success.

  6. This is a bet. It is an intuitive bet with myself. Had it been a real situation, you’d have bee directed to your local NPR station. My bet is that it was more difficult for you to have written this particular blog post than it was for you to have undergone the complex unease of the situation of the 19-year-old you seeking release from the fraternity house. I will even double down on this bet by thinking, Marta’s got it, she’s really got it, because this is the dynamic needed to use your own sense of truth in the depiction of what is true for your characters.

    Thus the truth to emerge from this blog investigation of yours: Never write easy things. Easy things don’t ring with authenticity, they ring with the fake good fellowship of Hallmark and Martha Stewart. An excellent pole star for you to look at is Meryl Streep, who makes things seem easy even though they are not. Yet another pole star is Louise Erdrich who, book after book, story after story, takes on the near impossible and makes us realize, yes, that’s how it is.

    In an existential sense, it doesn’t matter to me what you actually did on that night at the fraternity house twenty years back. What matters is that you had me in that fraternity house as me, seeing an opportunity to carry out the war raging within me of being the opportunist make-out artist in front of fraternity brothers and the noble Galahad, wanting to do something nice for someone obviously uncomfortable, wanting to ratify that aspect of my self. Your scenario and challenges took me somewhere I hadn’t been in some time.

  7. Shelly, you win. The first part of that bet anyway. The second part I’ll leave for others to decide.

    JES, yes, the stupid/imaginative combination has gotten me into trouble plenty of times. But maybe your own sense of what is supposedly okay to tell is what you need to tell a story. Maybe you’ll be true that way.

    rowena, we probably all need to work on that.

    Sherri, in writing that doesn’t sound backwards.

    Kate, I agree-years help.

    writtenwrydd, if we’re really writing, we all feel that way–which is why I almost hit the delete button on this particular post… and a few in the past.

  8. I can “go there” in nonfiction. My first published book was a memoir that I now read with amazement at my own daring. Telling the truth has always been my default stance in writing. But now I find that I want to “go there” in fiction and keep my real life more private- to save the risk-taking as a writer, for novels- a harder task.

  9. I should add, a harder task “for me,” not for all writers. The fiction writers I admire most seem brutally honest, but I don’t truthfully know what it took for them to reach that.
    I also had a few “should I stay or should I go” nights Marta- and made different choices each time- some good, some not so good. Now I make my daughter keep a credit card and cell phone with her at all times, so she has more options. At least I hope and pray so…

  10. loriaustex


    Man, that was a great thing you posted here.

    It carried me along as a story; and it brought back a time I was in college, sitting on stairs one step lower than a very cute guy, wishing he’d notice me and feeling so invisible…how his corduroy pants felt as I placed my hand on his thigh and leaned on his leg to stand up…lust, embarrassment, self-consciousness all in a mix so painful I had to leave the party early.

    Your truth must be Truth when it wrings/rings the harmonic of my truth from places that, like Shelly said, I hadn’t been in some time.

  11. Sarah, makes me glad I have a son, but then I worry about how he will treat women. And I’ve had some of those “not so good” choices too. Whether I ever write about them here remains to be seen.

    lori, the pain is clear even in those brief sentences you’ve written here. Don’t know if I’m glad or not that I could take you back there. A mixed blessing that.

  12. loriaustex

    M., it’s a blessing, and I’m glad for it — those vivid felt things, even the pain, are a rich source for art, and part of what helps me on my better days remember how much compassion it takes to be human.

    Happy New Year!!! Yay for your writing! I hope you enjoy a nice black-eyed peas (for luck) and cabbage (for the green that keeps us in ink and paper) New Year’s Day meal.

  13. Writtenwyrd quoted your blog post and I came to read the whole thing. There’s a feeling I get, like cold fingers on my stomach, when I know what I’m writing is true and meaningful to me. I try to mentally convert that to a positive (“this is good”) but it can be difficult.

    Loriaustex said it wrings/rings the harmonic of my truth

    I like this phrasing and it describes your post well.

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