Writing the truth has always been a challenge for me. In college, I started out as a journalism major, but it was strongly suggested that I transfer into the fiction department as quickly as possible. Let’s just say I have a tendency to embellish that wiser minds quickly realized would make journalism a poor career choice.
So I became a fiction writer, and I’ve never been happier. But recently I was asked by friends to write a nonfiction piece describing an incident that reflects the emotional impact of a tragedy I’ve tried hard to erase from memory. Just the thought of the project made me sweat.
Several of us are writers, with various memories of that time. Our stories will be as different as our emotional responses were, which is exactly what they wanted. The assignment seemed simple enough: Detail the times, the event, and a random memory that is somehow connected. Something true.
They had me until those last two words: something true.
I had great ambivalence about the project. Simultaneous and contradictory emotions pulled in equal and opposite directions and kept me up at night. But, because the cause was a good one, and since it would put me back in touch with old friends, I reluctantly said yes. And then I had a full-on panic attack.
The more I tried to begin, the more ambivalence I felt about the subject matter. For me, it was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. In the end, the truth was some place in between, in the seemingly random and mundane details of memory, which were the only memories I was able to summon.
My notes are skeletal at best, but here’s what I’ve got so far:
It was the ‘80s, and I was living in LA’s Laurel Canyon. Nightlife was just down the hill on Sunset: The Whiskey, the Roxy. It was the proverbial “sex and drugs and rock and roll” lifestyle. Anything was possible. By day, I worked at a sound-stage facility where anything possible was actually happening: from MTV videos, features, sitcoms, to porn and cartoons. Every Monday night I met with Bob McKee and nine other writers in his development group to workshop our screenplays.
My housemate, Russell, had just come out of the closet and was enjoying his equivalent of the same wild and happy life. I was renting the downstairs of his canyon home, with its hazy view of the distant downtown skyline, the smell of eucalyptus, and the night howls of coyotes. We shared a kitchen and a deck. It was during that time that I met the man I would marry. Eventually, Gary and I moved to a bungalow in the hills of Los Feliz. It was indeed the best of times.
And then something happened. [Read more…]