Tuesday, 14 November, 2006

It’s All Fiction, Anyway…

Posted in Humor, Writing at 12:18 pm by glpease

The other day I attended a truly great party. Why the qualifying language? Too many parties lately seem to be little more than a mind-numbing gathering of narcissists with little better to do than try to impress each other with their most recent accomplishments, or rapacious pseudo-raconteurs obsessed with their recent acquisitions. I guess I don’t get invited to the right parties often. Maybe this says something about me, but never mind that. This one was actually fun. Good folks, good food, good wine, and some interesting conversation.

I managed to stumble my way into a passionate discussion about life paths, which, after an extended prologue, turned to that dismaying topic of what people do for a living. “What do you do?” I don’t like that question, and never have. I suppose they don’t want to know that I play guitar, pet my dogs, smoke pipes, make and exhibit black and white photographs, ride mountain bikes, fence, restore sport cars, listen to music, cook, eat, spend time with people I like. What do I do for a living? Ah. That’s always what they want to know. That’s often what defines a person in our society.

“I blend pipe tobacco.” Glazed looks. When I say this, especially here in California, I usually get the feeling that the word “Pariah” has been tattooed on my forehead in neon ink, or that I should turn around to show the “Merchant of Death – Please Kick Me” sign that has suddenly found itself stapled to my backside. Better to move on.

“I’m a student.” Puzzled expressions that someone in his 40s is a student. A student of what, I’m sure they instantly wondered. Good question. A student of everything, I suppose, but that wouldn’t satisfy anyone. A copout never does. I suppose their puzzlement is at least somewhat warranted. What IS a guy my age doing in school? Shouldn’t I be making a living, ice-picking my way up the corporate ladder, bringing up kids, driving an SUV? Acquiring things so I can impress people at parties? Shouldn’t I be done with the silliness of school? Gads, what if they ask what school I attend, what I’m studying, why anyone would want to study THAT? Recover. Fast. A quick parry and riposte.

“I’m a writer.” Touché. NOW they seemed interested. Why this would interest people, I’ll never understand. It seems that every third person you meet is a writer. Big deal.

“Do you write fiction or nonfiction?”

I don’t really understand the need for this distinction. I write. What else matters? I considered saying, “The alphabet, in various salubrious combinations, along with little dots of punctuation on occasion. But, mostly the alphabet.” That would surely bring more glassy eyes gazing my direction, but really staring at the wall behind me. I chose to sail a different tack.

“It’s all fiction, really. Isn’t it?” The eyes indicated that I had apparently spoken some great and profound truth, though I was really only being glib, buying a second or two, trying to cover up the fact that I really don’t make much money writing, that I feel a little self-conscious calling myself a writer, and that I’d have to go back to discussing blending pipe tobacco, and light up the neon “pariah” sign if this didn’t go the right way.

A friend of mine, whose father sculpts beautiful things in stone and bronze, once said, “Dad’s not really an artist. He doesn’t ever sell anything.” Those damnable words echo in my head every time I attempt to convince editors or the world – or, myself, really – that I’m a writer. Sure, I sell a little, but probably not nearly enough, under my friend’s rules, to call myself a writer. The words echo, and I have to find a way to silence them. But, isn’t a writer just someone who writes? I didn’t say, after all, that I was an author. That’s a very different bag of cats. Fortunately, I didn’t say I was a poet. Poets never make any money, but we write poetry because it’s what poets do. I’d probably have been requested to recite some “Owl and the Pussycat” rhyme to satisfy curious ears.

With the ball back in my court, though, I had to play it, or feign some sudden and dramatic illness; the back of a pallid hand pressed flaccidly against a sweaty brow, eyelids fluttering, and a good case of the vapors. Hardly my style. I hadn’t had nearly enough wine to pull off a convincing performance.

“Whatever we write, whatever stories we tell are colored by our own subjective perception and faulty memories of our illusions of reality, and are therefore fiction. Really, the recording of objective reality wouldn’t be all that interesting, would it? So, isn’t it all fiction in a way?” Apparently, I’d had enough wine, after all.

A fellow at the end of the table, an educator of some sort, piqued up. “How very true! I’d never really looked at it that way, but of course, you’re right. What is reality, after all, beyond our perception of it?” We’d all had enough wine, it seems.We’d paddled into the puddles of platitudes.

I had dodged the bullet, though. I’d turned the conversation toward something more philosophical, less personal, and could avert any further discussion about what I “do.” It was a pleasant direction to steer things, after all.

We ended up wandering down metaphysical pathways for quite some time, our thoughts and tongues being well oiled by the endless supply of some excellent Pinot Noir, and some delightful cigars, ingeniously lit with the still glowing coals from the BBQ.

Next time this question arises, and I know it will, I may be slightly bolder. Or, I’ll just say that I’m a bum. They’ll assume, or even know I’m a writer, and the topic will slide toward something more comfortable for all involved. Nice weather we’re having, isn’t it?

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11 Comments »

  1. Allen H. said,

    Ha ha ha 🙂 Excellent post, Greg! I have an idea! We need a t-shirt for you, it can be Death all in black, but with a pipe sticking out of his chops… “the dark blender”… 🙂 ha ha ha. 🙂

    I too tend to hate these silly questions… I more often get: “You’re *still* in school?” Around the office I get: “Hey, haven’t you graduated yet?!”… ugh.

    Speaking of which, I better go and work more…

  2. iansforest said,

    Who was it that said ” we make our destinies by our choice of gods…” We define ourselves by our actions, no matter our professions or our professions. It takes a thoughtful person or perhaps experience itself to understand this concept I think, because for some, life happens too quickly to notice:).

    Kind regards,

    Ian

  3. Richard H. Davis said,

    I used ot answer, I appraise real estate, but found that the unwashed masses would next ask, “what is my house worth”? Now i say i appraise big concrete tilt-up industrial buildings and they leave me alone. Your pint about society defining a person by what he or she “does” is right on target. Try parties where there is no wine, just very high grade non-blended brown liqour and you may have better luck.

  4. Felix Cappuccio said,

    Dear Mr Pease i would like to coment on the present blog i once went to a cigar dinner and the host was paul garmirian he just came out with his line of cigars in the early ninetiesdoctors laywers wall street brokers and we were talking and one of the guys asked what do you do for aliveing i told him iwas abus driver he laughed and said your kiding ilooked him streight in the eye and said no iam not he took a back seat who is any body to comment on what you do or brush you off for that matter in my opionion your agreat tobacco maker lets get back to free thinking issues charecter and thehell with all that false museing. sinerly yours felix cappuccio

  5. Pat McG said,

    Hey, Greg —

    I think many of us have too many eclectic activities to be pinned down to one. I have found while unemployed that I can keep myself busy all day with the hobbies I would have said before I worked to support!

    I’m glad to have found you again!

    pat

  6. Nick Psaki said,

    Greg,

    Sounds like it was a highly enjoyable party.

    It is interesting, to me, that an educator had never considered that all perception of (and description of) reality is subjective! It seems intuitively obvious to the casual observer that beyond simply describing action and reaction, any amplification of events beyond the simplest terms brings a recount of events or description of objects and places into the realm of subjective observation.

    I find it ironic, too, that in company that would enjoy cigars after dinner, your occupation would raise an eyebrow of consternation rather than one of genuine interest.

    I consider myself a student, both literally and figuratively. Yes, I attend an academic institution (sporadically, unfortunately), as well as continually observe the world, its components, and its comings and goings with an unending curiousity. I continually pursue knowledge about those things that interest me. I never tire of it. I have a feeling if I ever stop being interested in things around me, I will have reached the point where life really isn’t worth living anymore. It isn’t that I feel the need to be engaged in everything around me, but that I at least like to observe the world as I move through it. Often I resent the fact that other things intrude themselves to divert my attention. I have a selfish streak when it comes to entertaining my curiosity, I guess.

    So be a proud student. Eventually we all graduate. What the post-graduate level is remains one of the greatest mysteries of all, n’est ce pas?

    Warmest Regards,

    Nick

  7. glpease said,

    Nick! Good of you to visit. Bonus points for recognizing the irony. Of course, it’s a bit of literary license. By the time we’d reached that point, the antis were either absent or too drunk to levy any sort of counterblaste.

    As to our good friend “The Educator,” it wasn’t that he’d never cogitated on the nature of subjective reality, but rather that he’d not associated the whole fiction/non-fiction categorization with the nature of subjectivity.

    Judging from the overall level of much of the political posturing and so-called argument we suffered through during the recent mid-term elections, and pretty much every day, I suspect he is not alone in failing to see the broader connections…

  8. wayne e stovall said,

    GREG !!!!!
    YOU SHAMELESS BASTID !!!!
    you stole this entire treatise from a famous tobacco blenders website…
    i knew that i had seen this before and was,very quickly,able to find the
    original source…so are got sir…have you no shame….anyway, i enjoyed
    it just as much this time

    by the way the original can be found a glpease.com in the articles and
    essays section.

    wayne from oregon

  9. glpease said,

    Wayne, imitation is flattery, right? What, then, could be more flattering than outright plagiarism? Okay, that I’m plagiarizing myself takes a bit of the blush from the rose, but… I did do a small amount of editing, as any good plagiarist would.

    I’ll be retiring some of the articles on that “other site,” and putting them here, instead. I like this format for the articles, and the ability to have others share their comments. So, you can expect more “stolen” articles to appear here over time.

    -glp

  10. Nick Psaki said,

    Genuinely good to be back, and to peruse the expanded content of your site. Mine remains woefully out of date.

    Best,

    Nick

  11. Steve Nordquist said,

    I linked in from a Noncommutative Algebra blog. I guess you didn’t want to try that as a default job title? You can’t be a lout, because you had fun and you’d need that CGI and prosthetics crew Adam Sandler needed to wake up as a fat guy….

    Prosecutorial Concept Artist?
    Infrastructural Playtester?
    Vasodilator Barista?


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