For me, it is much easier to write truth-based fiction than to write a fictional story from scratch. When telling a story from my life, I don’t need to worry about the people involved staying in character, or developing a logical progression of events, making sure that the beginning, middle, and end fit together as a coherent unit; I simply tell the story how it went. I don’t need to spend time or effort thinking about what the people might do next or react in fictional scenarios based on their characteristics; I am already familiar with what the real people are like and how they act in certain situations. I don’t need to rack my brains to think about how my brother will respond to a spider crawling in his room; I know he’ll run for my mom and get her to rescue him from it. It is more difficult to imagine a fictional character’s every response, because his/her personality isn’t as strong or concrete as that of any real person I know.
It has been said that some writers’ characters have minds of their own, and that they grow on their own. Unfortunately, my fictional characters are about as independent as week-old babies, and have just as much depth. Real people have much more complexity than I could ever create in a fictional character. Thus, at least in my case, fiction that is grounded in truth is much more interesting to read than complete fiction.
Writing that is based on true fears and desires also resonates more with a reader than does absolute fiction. I enjoy playing with children, and have learned a lot from them. Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned is that children find anything stamped with sincerity much more enjoyable to engage in than something that is motivated by grudging compliance. If even little children can recognize the distinctive mark of sincerity and the signals of reluctance and indifference, how much more so will unenthusiastic writing stand out to readers, writers, and scholars? I find it very difficult to vividly communicate a fear or desire that I myself do not find pressing or significant; from where will the complex emotions and thoughts that accompany such matters come if not from my own mind? And so I begin my writing with my most meaningful experiences and feelings: something I have long been passionate about, something I have feared all my life, something I have always admired about an individual. Afterward, I disguise them with falsities until they resemble a fictional story, fit for viewing by public eyes. To me, fiction is putting a new face on an old and dear friend and presenting him to readers as a dear stranger.
I really like how Butler characterizes the main character in this short story. Butler makes the parrot’s experiences a direct parallel to the man’s experiences and feelings during his life, and in doing so, characterizes the man. When he was a man, he felt certain that his wife was having sex with other men, but couldn’t talk to his wife about it because he “felt like a damn fool whenever [he] actually said anything” and was also scared to lose her since “she looked at [him] like she could start hating [him] real easy.” When he is a parrot, he knows that she is having sex with men “just out of sight,” just as he had known when he was a man – he never sees it, but can deduce it. In both lives, he knows but cannot do anything about it because he is locked away – locked up in the bathroom as a man, locked in the cage as a bird. This depiction of the “caged bird” is a reflection of how trapped and helpless the man felt living with his wife. The man also struggles to express his feelings in both of his lives. As a parrot, he wants to express the extent of his surprise when he sees his wife and say “Holy shit. It’s you,” but it comes out as a mere “hello”; he wants to tell the “pasty face[d]” how much he hates him, but can only call him a “cracker”; he wants to tell his wife how much he still loves her, that he “still want[s] only [her]” even when she’s having sex with another man, but can only manage a “hello.” Likewise, as a man, there were so many things he wanted to say to her, if only he “had the words.” He realizes that he can “never say what is in [his] heart to her. Never.” The image of a parrot with a man’s intelligence but a parrot’s limited vocabulary evokes deep sympathy for the man living inside the parrot; by making the parrot’s experiences parallel the man’s life, Butler indicates that during the man’s life, the man felt just as frustrated and incapable of communication as the parrot. This is a clever way of characterizing the man, because Butler does not simply say, “The man felt as frustrated and incapable as a parrot with a man’s intelligence and a parrot’s vocabulary”; instead, he actually puts the man into the parrot’s situation, and implies the situation’s relevance to the man’s life. By living the parrot’s experience, we understand the man’s suffering.
In the movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy II, there is a small, squirrel-sized animal that never lets go of an object once it bites; nothing but death can loosen its hold. I realized today that I’m a lot like this animal. Once set on something, I follow it like my life depends on it. Unfortunately, this passionate determination is very short-sighted – something that was made clear to me a few hours ago. Today, I played in a church soccer game and went afterward to eat dinner at church. At my church, there’s a little boy in 6th grade who lives to annoy me every Sunday. Anyway, I was calmly eating dinner with some friends and talking when this little boy came up to me and asked me if he should eat the spicy jalapeno. He then proceeded to make a big show of contemplating about whether he should eat the jalapeno or not. After about twenty seconds of this nonsense, I asked him politely if I could eat the pepper; surprised, he gave it to me. Immediately, I stood up, threw my chair back, tossed him onto a table, and tried to force open his mouth. The little bugger started screaming and making a big fuss, and ran away from me into lots of chairs, making a racket. Of course, I did the only reasonable thing I could’ve done: I ran and tackled him, and pinned him on the ground. I was about to do the deed when an adult, a fellow soccer player, shook my head at me quietly, but firmly. I stood up, and realized with surprise that everyone in the cafeteria was looking at me with varying degrees of fear in their eyes, the young Korean moms most afraid. I walked to my seat slowly and began eating again. After some brief reflection on my actions, I understood that all this silliness was triggered by a simple desire to get the darned jalapeno down this little boy’s throat and see him suffer.
I digress. All I meant to say was that certain experiences made me wonder whether writing is about hanging on tooth and nail and struggling through, or whether it’s about truly enjoying oneself and writing simply to write. The quote we heard in class – from John Updike? – showed me that, at least for some people, writing is an enjoyable pursuit, rather than a school chore and workplace necessity. I hope that this class will help me to enjoy writing for the sake of writing, which I have never really been fond of.