One thing you should know about me as a character is that I like to make up stories. In the novel L is writing, I dream up tales about who vandalized my house; tales about my father’s life as a noncombatant during World War II; tales about his successes and defeats as a gambler. None of these stories has much to do with reality.
Nancy Huston wrote a book called The Tale Tellers. It’s about how we live by fiction, how everything we think we “know” about the world, right down to our given names and our family names, is fiction of one stripe or another. Which is not the same as a lie. Now, these stories I make up about my dad, or about the vandal who smashed my window and spray-painted nasty words on my door — these stories aren’t true, but they’re not the same thing as lies, either. I don’t tell them in order to deceive anyone, they’re just my way of figuring out the world.
What I’m saying is, please take me seriously, but don’t believe a word I say.
Here’s something from one of the stories I make up in the novel. One of my Art History students, Eleanor, has been on my mind. I’ve been harbouring suspicions about her. I picture her at home on a Saturday morning:
Suppose Eleanor peeks in at the barely open bedroom door and sees that her room-mate’s bed is still empty. She looks at the clock on the stove. Eight-thirty. If Mona isn’t home now, she won’t show up for hours yet. Eleanor puts a hand on the bedroom door, presses so it swings open a few inches more. She’d love to uncover a secret in Mona’s room, find a stash of grass or E, a half-empty bottle of vodka inside a knee-high boot, a stack of love letters from someone other than her boyfriend. She knows there’ll be no such thing. Mona could run for public office twenty years from now and she wouldn’t even have to lie about inhaling. Odds are, there’s nothing to be gained by snooping in Mona’s room. Eleanor takes a step in.
I hardly know Eleanor at all, but that doesn’t stop me from coming up with a detailed scenario of what she did in her room-mate’s bedroom, and why. I wonder, when L writes about me, if she’s doing the same thing I do when I make up stories — just taking a run at making sense of the world. And then another run, and another.
I have another story for you, and this one isn’t from the novel: Ten years ago my author took a trip to Greece; she left her husband and son back in Canada and she sat on a beach all day for seven straight days, rain or sun, watching the waves and only stopping to walk back across the highway to the taverna for meals at noon and ten p.m., and then off to bed. She stayed at a guest house run by an English woman named Rose and her Greek husband Stavros. This beach-sitting was a little sabbatical, which L needed because recent events had raised a zombie-horde of questions about life, the universe and everyday routine. As she sat there day after day, listening to the sea and trying to decipher the ways of human beings, she decided on a course of action: she would invent a character and put her in certain situations and watch to see how that character acted and why. The character she made up was me. Having created me, L packed me back to Saskatoon and started making up a story for me to star in. She wasn’t halfway into the first draft before she discovered I like to make up stories too. I’m only human, after all.
Just one thing before I go: That story I just told — about how my author, L, sat on a beach for seven days, and the best she could come up with was me — did she really go off alone and do nothing but watch the sea for an entire week? Is any of that true, or is it just a story I made up to help me think about my own little world and how I came to be? Is it just my own creation story?