Whenever I’m around people and one of them tells the often-embarrassing tale of a particularly weird thing that happened to them or around them, the following happens:
Person Who Didn’t Tell The Story: *turns to me* That’s going to turn up in a story one day, isn’t it?
Me: Probably, but I’ll change the names so only we know who did it.
Person Who Told The Story: *nervous laughter*
It must be how psychologists feel whenever people start acting “normal”* when they’re around.
Rest easy: most of those stories you tell me and mine do not end up in our writing. Sometimes it’s because real life really is stranger than fiction; I still find it hard to believe than a well-educated person who had made it well into middle age would claim to find the taste of chocolate laxatives so good that they’d eat enough boxes to spend an entire day at work violently shitting themselves.** And sometimes it’s because the stories themselves are too distinctive. No one wants to explain to their family over Thanksgiving dinner that they didn’t think anyone would recognize Uncle Al in that short story about the guy who tried to fuck a tractor.
Mostly, though, that stuff doesn’t end up there because it’s not the stories we’re looking for.
What is far more likely to end up in our writing material are feelings, atmospheres, quirks of speech, habits, places, or things. That lamp made seashells from a long-ago vacation that Aunt Ida took in her youth; most of the shells have fallen away, leaving dried glue and memories behind. The way family dinner feels when everyone’s just waiting, waiting, for Racist Inappropriate Grandma to make some comment about Sophie’s new boyfriend. The hollow sound of the wind in the now-abandoned neighbourhood of your youth, rattling loose shutters that no one will ever come to repair.
The way you hesitate and flush, twisting your glass around and around in your hands, before telling that story, half embarrassed, half proud.
So, you’ll end up in our stories. All of you. But you probably won’t recognize yourself when you do.
* Or what they think is normal. Hint: it’s not.
** God, I wish I was making that up.