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“A lie, sometimes, can be truer than the truth, which is why fiction gets written.”- Tim O’Brien
Writing fiction and poetry can be controversial, especially when you use the name of the pizzeria where you worked when you were 13, and mention that they had mice and cockroaches. Poetic license might also lead to suing license, so when I read my new poetry book, Waitress at the Red Moon Pizzeria (Unsolicited Press, Davis, California), in my hometown (Lakewood, New Jersey, USA), I’ll order from the Red Moon Pizzeria but not reunite with the owners, once my employers, because the following two lines might hurt their feelings:
“Albert Schwartz said you made pizza boxes for $1.50 an hour and
sued the owner while cockroaches and mice scuttled on the floor,”
It might even cause the health department to void their food permit. Besides, every other pizzeria in New Jersey is called “The Red Moon Pizzeria,” and them suing you for misappropriating their name would be like Tom, Dick or Harry suing you for naming your child “after them.”
In addition, several kids who never wanted to be your friend suddenly want to be friend because you are an author. They ask if you were writing about them during your poem “Orgasm on Yom Kippur,” which concerns pharmaceutical majors and PhD scholars. Maybe you had them in mind when you were having orgasm under the water faucet and your mother walked in on you and compared you with those noble, well-behaved, exceedingly pristine souls with extensive CVs from Harvard and the like—compared them with your measly Rutgers University resume—they were actually in the synagogue while you were in the bathtub having pleasure on the day of atonement.
Really: it’s not about you!
A friend of mine recently emailed that she’s enjoying my poetry book, Waitress at the Red Moon Pizzeria, and has decided who the “pimply kid” and several other characters might be in the poem “High School.” Here is the stanza:
“in the library lesbian nuns studied Thomas Aquinas while pimpled ex-seniors flirted with cheerleaders because they had not done so in the 1950s”
Truthfully, numerous teens in high school had strawberry patches on their adolescent faces so it is normal for your former classmates to assume they were the pimpled characters who spoke with cheerleaders in the late 70s “because they had not done so in the 1950s.”
Similarly, let’s say you are dreaming about some guy who never invited you to his bar mitzvah, though you invited him to your bat mitzvah, and you dream that you encounter him in a radio shop in your old town and that he’s really nice to you, in the dream, though his mother, whom you’ve recently seen in the supermarket, was a complete bitch, barely saying hello near the grapefruit section. She ran her food carriage over to the avocadoes when she saw you coming. Well, now, all the kids who made fun of you in Hebrew school wonder if it’s them you are discussing, but, really, let’s be honest—no one invited you to their bar mitzvah!
Let’s also presume that the love of your life—you considered her that—has brought a suit against you, alleging that you have exploited your 5-month tryst with her in a nonfiction piece about losing your virginity. You have inscribed a Dante meets Beatrice-like meaning to your words about the relationship, whereas she tells everyone, “We never dated.” That she is suing you, with one of the best Orthodox Jewish-Hispanic solicitors on the Jersey Shore of New Jersey, USA, is reason to think that maybe you had a relationship, when the truth is that most of it was in your head, and that which resided in your skull is now down on paper and/or Kindle and/or Internet.
Some things are better left in reality while other things, when they enter reality, are better left in fiction. As a “bad reality” thing to do, you wouldn’t post on Facebook, “I’ve never had a hot flash.” This would seem too personal and autobiographical, too immediate, for the Facebook audience. Thus instead I write a poem, “Why I have never had a hot flash: this is why God loves me,” which gets published in an obscure journal no one will ever read. Now it, the poem, which is more inspired than it is autobiographical, is actually “in its element” in an obscure journal that no one reads. If “I’ve never had a hot flash” appears in your Facebook status, your future mother-in-law, who will invariably pay for your wedding because you have no money—will be devastated. She will only be proud if she learns about this non-menopause state of being in obscurityville literary journalville, far removed from her District of Columbia suburb, because to her Facebook posts are like gossiping with her tennis partners near the avocado section.
Thus, and in conclusion, the delicate creative writing process is a mesmerized synthesis of what’s in your mind and never happened but achieves a degree of reality in poetry and fiction. So let everyone you know think that you’re writing about him or her though it truthfully comes from experiences that you’ve misinterpreted. Bon appétit!