where the writers are
One-Way Mirror

I spent the morning with people whom I think about all the time, who do not know I exist, and who cannot know I exist. In their world, I do not exist, and this is part of their attraction for me. I love them, though I do not always like them, and I don’t think they would necessarily like me or appreciate my fumbling and intent efforts on their behalf, including my efforts to tell the truth about them and to protect them from the demands of those who wish them to be likable. These people I think about all the time keep secrets, cheat on each other, make terrible and unpredictable dinner guests, lie to themselves and each other, but nonetheless are doing their best.

When I emerge from their world (they are often in places like hell or locked psychiatric facilities but happen right now to be in Florence), I go to my real but virtual life, where it’s my birthday. Out here, I find beautiful emails and Facebook messages from many people whom I love, and also like (including both friends from my real real life – where we could not make sense of our own invented or actual narratives without each other – and also people with whom I have had a great conversation or two at a party or conference: the rest of our relationship has taken place via our online selves). There’s a particular happiness to having everyone all in one place, at one moment: family and all kinds of friends, including the friends I share drafts with, the friends I read published books with, friends I teach with, and the writers I’ve worked with, whose ideas and projects I follow as they continue to unfold. And FB is brilliant at the technology of reminding us that we exist (in case we’d forgotten or become confused about this) – and that so many people we care about are still out there, living their own narratives.

Writers/artists tend to be bound up both in our friends’ life narratives and in their ongoing artistic projects. When I see that a colleague is taking a “self-earned” sabbatical, the coming year becomes more full of possibility at the prospect of hearing/reading her new poems.

Other FB friends (in the age of one degree of separation) are friends with people who, like the people I spent my morning with, also don’t know that I’m here, though we live in the same world. They certainly don’t know how intense our one-way relationship is, though they may hope that many of us, in our anonymous capacity as their impassioned readers, are out here. Those of us whose imaginary lives are as real as our real lives have quite a few of these one-way mirror relationships: we get obsessed with the work of a writer, read all of their books, love and argue with different aspects of their ideas and approaches, walk around thinking about the books, and why some of them work superbly and others are marvelously flawed and frustrating.

Among our own writer friends, someone is always in workshop or a thesis interview, or has handed over a rough or “finished” manuscript to a friend, an agent, or an editor and is waiting to have it read. Someone else has hit a bump in their writing and doesn’t yet know how to get across it or is rereading their own draft, which they hoped was much further along than it is, and quarreling with it.

Thinking about this right now, perhaps, because it’s the middle of a Warren Wilson residency, and some piece of my attention is with writers who are dear to me, colleagues and students bringing their work to show and share, writers workshopping and being workshopped, giving readings of new work, teaching classes and giving lectures as a way to wrestle with the craft and ideas in published works (downloadable lectures, classes, and readings) .

In my “real” life, it’s been a weekend of birthday events, including a trip to one of my favorite museums to watch a community-based exhibition come into being and admire the associated mutant dismembered/reassembled surreal toys and other objects (“We/Customize”). Also a dinner at Café Gratitude with a dozen or so members (four generations!) of my beloved and fabulous family (using the word “fabulous” both to mean “wonderful” and in its more technical sense).

But in between, in my imaginary real world, I have been stuck for two or three days on whether or not a character of mine keeps a secret. Invisible to her, I have been watching her (and maybe metafiction is, among other things, an attempt to break that one-way mirror, to get our narrators or characters to admit we exist).

I can’t make up what she is going to do. There are writers, like Philip Pullman, for example, who do break these knots by just “making it up,”and if I could get his results, believe me, I’d do it too. But the way I’m seeing this situation, one choice would be a lie, and the other “the truth.” Or maybe there’s a third solution, a way to break the deadlock. Once I see it, I will know – or think I know – what the truth is, though my early readers may help me to see otherwise. Because although this person I’m watching does not know my/her readers, they have met her before and know her in the way you can only know someone when you’ve seen her in many forms, over many drafts. Becoming, I hope, more true.