I went to Pitt, allegedly the birthplace of creative nonfiction, for a semester for graduate school. Something that got paid a lot of lip-service was the role of truth in Creative Nonfiction. Here’s where I’ve landed on the matter. Just today actually. First some back story:
I want to write a novel about my grandma. Baptized Florence, but Flossie, Flo, Sarge, or any other of a slew of nicknames to her friends and family. Florence Ella Leib died long about 2005, when my baby was just a wee baby. She was an ahead-of-her-time feminist pragmatist. At least that’s the truth that matters to me.
Here are the other truths that matter to me: She served in WWII. She had a baby at age 17 to a guy who didn’t marry her. She had 4 more babies with another guy who also didn’t marry her, but who at least lived with her and pretended until he became a PTSD drunk and she worked 3 jobs to support her 4 kids, one of whom was my dad.
Recently, I was at some family thing–right, it was a family reunion with about 6 of the not-dead people from my grandma’s generation, most of whom are now dying off. It was the other side of the family, but one of Flossie’s cousins or something married one of my mom’s mom’s brothers or something. In any case, the two sides of my family are connected somehow via marriage (but not via blood thank the lucky constellations). Anyhow, all the folks in my mom’s generation, who’ve started losing parents now, were all ruminating over how it’s important to ask these questions we have about our parents’ parents. Because before we know it, they’ll be gone and there won’t be any more asking.
Since then, I’ve been in minor panic mode trying to figure out how to get one-on-one with a couple of Flossie’s living siblings who’re cogent enough to converse. And it occurred to me today, as I read this disaster of a short story I wrote, that the important truth in fiction is the emotional truth. Whatever my grandma’s youth was like, what I make up will be at least as cool and, as far as anybody who’s alive can remember, as accurate!
Boy-oh was that a liberating epiphany. The stuff I know is enough. And unless there’s some political or social or moral reason for the whole journalistic integrity thing, creative nonfiction can be fiction as far as I’m concerned. Arguably, all realist fiction is creative nonfiction. The only stuff that’s really fiction would be dystopian sci fi and those sorts of things. But to a schizophrenic, even those things could seem real.
The notion that perception is reality has been hitting my home base pretty hard of late.