They Fried Frey, and the beat goes on....
So James Frey got outed as a liar by Oprah is no doubt fuming, readers are pulling his "non-fiction" book off the shelves, addicts and alcoholics are feeling betrayed, guys who didn't get to #1 best-seller status are crowing, and creative writing students are saying Holy crap! You mean there are consequences for lying our asses off to make our stories seem more tragic, dramatic and COMMERCIAL!?!

This is going to be a touchstone of my semester-- here is what's wrong with non-fiction as a genre, kiddies: Bullshit. I say this as a card-carrying practitioner of the genre. Guilty as charged.

Today, Jack Kerouac's On the Road would be marketed as creative non-fiction, except the editors would want sex scenes between Sal and Dean and some semi-tragic pondering of childhood woes and possible sexual abuse. I once sat on a PhD committee where the faculty members suggested to the young memoirist to simply lie in the manuscript at hand to make it more interesting and "cohesive."

When I want to lie, I write fiction, damn it! Fiction is the lie that is more real than truth! Being a human, I can't help but get things wrong, massage reality so I look better, and misremember. I am full of vanity and weakness, just like everybody else. But I also consider it part of my spiritual discipline to tell the truth in words (have we spoken of Wen-Fu yet?) with as much bravery as I can muster. (I am a coward, I'll admit.)

I often have to tell my workshops, There is no extra credit for suffering. In the current confessional (or faux-confessional) mode that dominates our students' writings, appalling scenarios pile up like snow in Cicero. Dude--as soon as the writer finds out that the exquisitely detailed account of grand-dad's incestuous weenie-waggle in the furnace room during Thanksgiving 1989 totally blew the class away, all bets are off! Soon, you are workshopping the sorrow and the pity (the shock and awe) and not the writing. By the following week, grand-dad will not only have abused his kin, but will have been a drunk--and died in a truck wreck with a bus full of poor kids on their way to an amusement park. Followed by the revelation, at the next student's grand-dad's funeral, that the dog has cancer. You can't judge a book by its coverage of pain. How do you judge pain? Is Frey's pain, whatever it is, worse or better than Sylvia Plath's, or that guy who wrote "A Boy Called It" or whatever it's called? How about Gary Gilmore, or his victims? Plug in the Pain-O-Meter!

They fried Frey, that lying bastard. Still, if he wanted to be famous, he got it. Sort of. If he wanted a best-seller, he got it. If he wanted money, he got that, too. In all those ways, he comes out ahead. The future remains to be seen, and the book remains to be remaindered.

I consider it a great blessing to have subject matter outside of ourselves. Look. See. Kim Stafford calls for "eloquent listening."

Maybe if we weren't so busy blabbing ourselves into superstardom, we might hear the small voices of those who don't get heard, those who think they will fade away and never be remembered. The forgotten and ignored are often more interesting than we are. So I'm going to shut up.

PS check out my pal Lowry Pei's new website. If anybody taught me how to write, it must have been Pei. I think he taught me how to think, anyway.

Love 2 All--LAU

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