Tag Archives: creative nonfiction

With Mouth to Ear: Assaying the Essay

The Falkirk Wheel by Kanneth Barker; used under a Creative Commons license

The Falkirk Wheel by Kenneth Barker; used under a Creative Commons license

Why define something positive in terms of what it is not? “Non” fiction: I have no idea how this term came to be applied to writing what is, in intent, a “true” story. David Byrne, of Talking Heads fame, titled his film of fictional weavings True Stories.

Although Byrne’s film is highly improbable as a series of “real” events, the voice of his film is quite believable and true. True Stories presents a critique of contemporary consumer culture as sharp and insightful as, say, an essay by the 20th-century German philosopher, Theodore Adorno. In fact, Adorno has a great line about just such things as truth and reality: “In psychoanalysis, only the exaggerations are true.”

What I think Adorno’s gnome means for “nonfiction”—and I think especially of “creative nonfiction,” but as well of writing in general—goes something like this. The subjective is always going to be subjunctive—wishes, wants, desires, meditations—and therefore unverifiable. There’s always a point of quantum uncertainty when it comes to locating the veracity of any piece of writing. Sometimes that uncertainty reaches critical mass, and is obviously a work of fiction. At other times the quantum uncertainty shrinks smaller and smaller, collapsing into a black hole that sucks in any and all insinuations of imagination. As an example, perhaps Donald Barthleme’s Snow White is clearly at critical mass, while the white pages are pretty much a black hole. Unless, of course, you’re a typeface designer and are engaged in the art of creating tiny letters that can be read quickly and easily. The Dutch type design community, for instance, is famous for its innovations, both technical and stylistic, in creating utilitarian typefaces. It’s like The Rockman said to Oblio and Arrow in the animated film The Point: “You see what you want to see, and you hear what you want to hear.” Continue reading

Going Somewhere

I. On The Bus

In California, hitch hiking on the freeway is illegal. In downtown Los Angeles, trying to hitch a ride on the freeway is not only illegal, it’s stupid. Cars are chaining onto the I-5 from the I-10 at 60 miles per hour, and there’s nowhere to stop.

“This is no good,” I say to Naomi. “We’ll need a fucken helicopter.”

“Or an angel,” she quips right back. She’s standing facing traffic, her weathered gaze calmly searching the alarmed faces of drivers as they whip around the curved on-ramp. Her swirly India-print skirt is pulled to a tempting angle by an invisible hand. Nearly invisible: the back-draft of nomadic Angelinos lets fly an asthma of dust, shredded leaves, and small rocks being quickly pulverized to more dust. Naomi stands immune, or as if she herself is a part of the wind. She has the slim legs of a girl.


Union Station in downtown L.A. Image: Wikimedia Commons used under Creative Commons license

Smack dab in the middle of one of the busiest interchanges on the planet. The oil-shortage crisis having been recently declared officially over, it seems to me that the drivers are feeling extravagant, wasteful of their Jurassic inheritance, and heedless of the two waifs standing on the banks of the raging river of speed. Naomi gives up trying to charm a ride with her mesmerizing eyes, and comes and stands beside me. She’s immediately hypnotized by the rhythm of tail lights racing away. Continue reading