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Yeah, let’s go with prickly. It’s a nicer word than “arrogant” and I’m not really trying to start trouble here. I just want to stand by nonfiction’s side and say that I sanction a peaceful coexistence between fiction and nonfiction. I like them both and they both have a right to live.
What we’ve had for some time now is tolerance between the two camps. Poop on tolerance. Tolerance is an ugly word. Tolerance means “You suck, but since I can’t do anything about you, so just don’t bother me.” What we need is acceptance.
As wars go, this one between fiction and nonfiction is delightfully non-destructive. The worst it gets is just really, really annoying. Fiction writers bust out the Rudyard Kipling (“Fiction is truth’s older sister”) to remind us that news stories, biographies, scientific fact books, and histories are all just works of opinion, really, and, therefore, are not the actual truth. Fiction, on the other hand, is pure. There are no lies, just representations of the writer’s soul.
On the other hand, nonfiction writers condescend fiction as make-believe. Not a word of it actually happened, they say — it even says so in the disclaimer that no part of the work is real. Nonfiction, therefore, is important. Instructive. Real.
Okay, everybody. . . take a breath and relax. Everything’s all right.
The disharmony, at least to me, seems to be over the words “truth” and “fact.” Truth changes, fact doesn’t. Truth is a product of its time and of those who perceive it. Who’s the nicest guy in the world? Ask ten people and you’ll get ten different answers, all of which will be the truth to the person answering. No one is lying, they all just see things differently. What’s two plus two? Ask everyone at any point in history, and they will all say four. That’s a fact.
If nonfiction, then, were to be judged on its adherence to inarguable facts, then the only true nonfiction would be mathematics books (not science books, because science changes all the time). And that would be really boring reading. Even Einstein liked detective stories.
I make no greater point this week than this — it’s all good. Fiction has its value and nonfiction has its value. Both have their strengths and their flaws. So let’s, everybody, stop fighting over which is the more valid. It doesn’t matter.
And that’s the truth.
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Quite the come-on.
But actually what she wanted was for me to kill a wasp. I don’t know why she needed me for that. She was armed to the teeth and in a killing mood. But when a woman wants you, you go.
I dumped out a cup full of paper clips and grabbed a piece of junk mail.
“What are you doing,” she asked.
“I’m going to get your wasp.”
“You’re not going to kill it?”
I answered as I always do whenever people ask me that: “I don’t kill things.”
I really don’t. I trapped the wasp (which, actually, was just a bee) and set it loose outside. It was bothering no one. It was minding its own business. Like I always try to do until some idiot with a flyswatter runs up on me.
To be fair, that rarely happens. But it used to happen all the time. I grew up in Trenton, NJ (pity accepted), where a little guy minding his own business, far removed from everyone else, became the sudden focus of people who needed to make a statement. You see, killers need to kill. Moreover, they need to control. And one lone person who is neither part of nor interested in the pack and its mentality, standing apart and being content with his own company, is not something killers can just let be.
Sadly, most people are killers, which explains a lot. In fiction it explains why bestsellers involve guns and death but never compassion. Well, not never, but certainly not often.
In terms of what insights such an incident as the wasp scene above offers to fiction writers, it’s a lesson in paying attention to details. What conflict does the scene represent? Irrationality (seriously, who doesn’t know the difference between a bee and a wasp?) vs. reason? Sure.
Mainstream, unchallenged, life-in-the-Matrix, programmed, ingrained thinking (there’s an insect loose, it must die) vs. you, know, not mainstream, unchallenged, life-in-the-Matrix, programmed, ingrained thinking? OK.
Compassion and personal conviction vs. reactionary panicky idiocy? Why not.
But what does it tell you about the deeper subtext? Maybe a guy who feels no need to hurt a little bee who’s minding his own business somewhere far removed from the flyswatters is a metaphor for a guy who himself prefers to be left alone and to not be approached by people who need to fuck up his shit.
Maybe it’s just one little bee’s attempt to remind people about the value of mercy. Which is having the power and the provocation to hurt and not hurting.
Maybe it’s a little bigger than just fiction.