One thing that always annoys the hell out of me is when people equate my fictional short stories to my lived experiences or emotions. The things I write in my fiction, even when inspired by or closely resembling real life, are not real life; they are fiction. This is a concept that seems to be incredibly difficult for many people to grasp, especially when they see a familiar aspect in one of my stories.
It’s no surprise that I write a lot about sex and, in particular, the sex life of many nameless creations whom I often gift with traits I find in myself and the people I meet. Gifting traits of an individual to a fictional character does not make that fictional character based on or even inspired by that individual. Yet, you may or may not be surprised by how many times I’ve had people (mostly men, actually) come up to me and want to discuss a short story I wrote because they misinterpret my characters as being representations of me or them.
When I wrote “The Rejection,” it was the first story I had written in years, and I was (and still am) so proud of it. It tells the story of a woman who has just been told that the man she was sleeping with and starting to fall for is no longer interested in sleeping with her. This leads her to go through a sort of heartbreak, which is expressed in a melancholy stream of consciousness. The man who inspired this story was one I had slept with and had accidentally developed a crush on. He had allowed me to crash at his place while I was travelling and after we fucked on the first of my three-night stay, he told me that he didn’t think we should fuck the next day. He gave reasons that seemed flimsy to me (and still do) and I brushed the incident off, but my ego was wounded enough for me to write a few lines of what would go on to become “The Rejection.”
Aside from the variation on his announcement and the very thinly veiled descriptions of the hot sex we had had, nothing in “The Rejection” is true. Yet, this guy approached me after reading it to explain himself and his decision from that one night ages ago. He reassured me that he didn’t reject me and that he did find me attractive otherwise we wouldn’t have had the good time we did. At first I was mildly amused and thought it cute that he felt the need to explain himself, but then I got angry. People don’t have to know me long to know that I am not one to hide my feelings—be they positive or negative. If I were truly heartbroken and felt rejected to the extent the character in my story did, I would have sent this guy a message myself instead of passive aggressively writing it out in a short story and sharing it on social media in the hopes that he’d read it and reach out. I don’t have time for that shit, to be honest.
So, when I explained to him that the story wasn’t about me and especially not about him, he pointed out that the fact that my use of hints of dialogue from our real conversations and description of the real sex we had had made him assume that there was more truth than fiction to it. Problem one is the assumption about a person’s art as it relates to the artist. Problem two is the decision to take that assumption for truth and act on it rather than verifying the theory first.
Yes, art is more often than not inspired by real life. Yes, artists more often than not use their own lives and emotions to fuel their art. But no, what the artist creates and what the artist is are never one and the same.
When I’m struggling with my own emotions and/or the triggering events in my life (which range from the minuscule to the massive), I write. When something happens and I feel like I can’t get any closure because there are too many conflicting emotions simmering around like firecrackers about to go off inside my gut, I write. It’s the equivalent of displacing those firecrackers to a large field where they can explode as they please and some people may see them and enjoy them while others won’t. Writing—sometimes particularly my fiction—is a form of self-therapy in which I can deal with my madness in a constructive, healthy way.
This is why my fiction so often seems to be a realisation of my real life, because it’s seldom ever borne out of an immaculate idea. These ideas are always conceived by the people around me and how I react to them. Any time I get hurt and don’t know how to manage it without putting my life on hold, I write about it. And as I write, it turns into something totally separate from me. That problem ceases to be mine and becomes that of my characters. By being attached to my characters, it begins to grow, expand and evolve. It begins as something as simple as a man telling me we shouldn’t fuck the following night into a quasi-elaborate stream of consciousness about a woman who has just been dumped and finds her world crumbling around her.
Very often, I incorporate the agonies of my mental health into my fiction as well for the same reason I’ve just stated. Writing is a way to cope, and by projecting my emotions on to my characters, I am able to see them from afar and also, to an extent, see how bad things could be. I allow the lives of my characters to unfold naturally and this allows me to live out dark fantasies and immature, romanticized ideas about pain, death and love. My characters are allowed to run away from their demons into substance abuse, borderline nymphomania and even death without my having to go through these traumas and—in theory—without my needing to worry my loved ones.
And yet my loved ones still worry because they wrongly assume that my characters are my cry for help when actually they are the other members of my therapy group. My actual, true, raw feelings are only ever nakedly exposed in the private, handwritten journals I’ve been keeping since I was ten. Anything that shows up in my stories that seems alarming or a little too unsettling when coupled with a nonchalantly morbid comment I may have made is the character’s feelings.
Recently, I went on a first date with a writer. I generally avoid dating writers because I find them to be tedious and unattractive in most ways, but for some reason (probably because I’m a sick masochist) I gave this guy a chance. He was a published poet with two books under his belt and a third on its way. He had an absurd name (which sadly may have been his birth name and not an egotistical pseudonym) and he was an ugly ball of fragile masculinity.
He read one of my stories—“The Rejects”—and aside from some passive comments about liking my writing style he didn’t seem to care much for it. However, later that evening he mentioned a line from that story—the one about the narrator describing how alcohol helps find her her lovers attractive—and likened it to me.
“You said you drink to find guys attractive,” he said and immediately I jumped on him. I jumped because I never drink to find someone attractive, though it has happened that once or twice I found a man more physically attractive solely because I was drunk. However, this isn’t a habit I utilize, but I find it an interesting character trait.
The fact that this guy read my shit and literally knew nothing about me (he was an awful conversationalist as well, apparently highly intimidated by my brassiness) landed on the conclusion that I wrote about myself. Despite my low level of respect for writers, it was still insulting to have a fellow prostitute of letters fail to give me the credit I am due. Anyone can write their life story, but not everyone can create a life for others and tell it in an enjoyable manner. To assume that I write solely about myself is an insult to my talents and skills as a writer of fiction. It’s implying that I cannot create, only retell.
Contrary to popular belief, I don’t actually control the lives of my characters. The characters tell me what is happening to them and I write it out. I seldom have control over what these characters end up doing or saying. Even when I plan the most perfect plot twist or ideal dialogue, the characters say or do something totally different, which is often not as good or as exciting as I had planned, but these are their lives—I am just the storyteller.
And I like it that way. I’ve always been the one to dream of doing interesting things like becoming an alcoholic or drug addict or suicidal tragedy because I’ve admired people who—supposedly—were great artists because of these agonies. But I’ve also always been highly logical and never impulsive, so I often overthink things and end up making the right decision. I’ve also never kept a secret of my pain, especially as I’ve gotten older. Everyone who knows me knows this, so it can sting a little bit when these same people look for cries for help where there are none. It’s when I, a self-proclaimed texting fiend, suddenly stop texting that should worry people; or when I cancel plans at the last minute, particularly when I do everything including getting to the location of the social event before suddenly turning back that should worry people; or when I’m abruptly not at all excited for something that I had been gabbing about for weeks that should worry people. Ironically, these things usually don’t worry people at all. But let me write a story in which a character is sad, impulsive and a danger to herself and suddenly everyone is concerned for my well-being.
It’s also interesting to note that it’s only the women in my stories that people find me in, never the men. I put just as much of myself into my male characters as I do female, yet the male characters are always brushed off as fiction or—worse—some guy I had a fling with. It’s very likely that people know me and find things to be concerned about where there are none. Or it could be that people very incorrectly think that I am too shy or embarrassed to talk about what is plaguing me and I’m calling for help through my stories. I’m not.
When I write a story, it’s just a story. Usually, I’m really proud of it and like sharing it with people, but I don’t really care if they enjoy it or not because it’s not for them. It’s not for anyone—it just is. I write because I don’t know how to do anything else, and I find a special sort of comfort in writing that no human being has ever come close to providing. I write because I like sorting my shit out myself, without other people’s biases and (faux) concern influencing me and potentially making me feel worse. I write because I can’t help it, and the final aim is not really any different than my buying a dress when I’m feeling a little happy, or gifting myself jagged little scars when I’m overwhelmed, or even crying tears at the drop of a hat when happy or sad alike. They’re nothing more than a result of my being and trying to remind myself that I do exist and I exist only for myself.
So, if you’re one of the handful of people who avidly read all my fiction, I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself. But, if you’re one of the people who reads my stories and uses them as a blueprint for attempting to understand my emotions, I need you to stop because you’re only making a fool of yourself. Art isn’t really meant to be used as a tool for amateur psychoanalysis. For the most part, it’s meant to just be enjoyed. I’m going to keep writing and sharing my writing. I would love for my readers to help me shed the voice in the back of my head that tries to come up with polite, succinct ways to tell those taking my fiction at face value to just enjoy the art for art’s sake or fuck right off into the sea.