Writer's Notes - Nelson Lowhim

Why I write...

Fragments of a terracotta amphora (jar). Credit: Probably by the Painter of Tarquinia RC 6847

I've been on a melancholy streak recently. It's gone as far as to debilitate my writing. I hope it doesn't last. It was this past Memorial Day, however, that left my heart dipped in acidic thought. 

Mainly, what was my fiction writing accomplishing in this world of mindless chants of USA at rallies of demagogues who glorify the worst in us?1 What does fiction writing in general accomplish?2 And, more to the point, what do my pseudo essays accomplish? Can mixing fiction and non-fiction do much? Or am I merely confusing and irritating the reader?

That was the state of my chaotic mind when the muse hit: a quick visual of a character—a veteran—breaking down his life and past sins.3 A consoling ear, wanting the veteran to be in the here and now of civilian life and not elsewhere in some desert, told him to make right with God, the one who forgives all. The veteran scoffed and said he had enough of God, cared not a wit for his "forgiveness" and was only working until his death for the forgiveness of humanity because after this comes the fire. 

He meant the fires of hell, the hatred of God, but the civilian took it to mean an oncoming war, an allusion to The Fire Next Time. This seems to be the standard civilian reaction I’ve seen to most any veteran's statement—in that they take that statement to be violent.

This story may seem trivial, but allowing the muse to pass unheeded almost always multiplies my confusion and my triste. So I wondered if such visions, when used as a piece of fiction, would simply be dismissed as fiction, as unreal, when it was anything but. 

I'm not trying to confuse you.4 I'm merely trying to figure out what fiction and non-fiction mean to you when reading a text.5 And in this postmodern world of minimal truths and only the biggest loudspeaker mattering, why does the fiction/non-fiction border matter?

Back to my story. Next, to wash away some of my melancholy, I surfed the internet. There I happened upon a short animation. It was not so much a story as a video-essay. The narrator was speaking about how some civilizations tended to have myths about war, though it wasn't always certain if these myths were meant to assuage any post-war trauma. 

This one city on a hill spoke of evil spirits that stalked battlegrounds. They would tear the skin off dead warriors. Each spirit then pretended to be that man to his family or lover or wife. Thing is, everyone knows their warrior is dead, but this spirit still manages to make people think it’s really the warrior and slowly changes the survivors’ perception of the warrior's untimely death and the reason for the war by spouting lies in their ears while dancing and smiling.

This is so effective a dance, that after the grieving of the family members is over, they are willing to go back to war, the multiple dead warriors animated and cheering them on, happy to have fresh new bodies in which to reside. 

In this specific story—there were many versions—the people found out that their king was the one who called these evil spirits. One day they decide to rid themselves of him. The end—and a happy one, right?

Except this wasn't a video-essay I watched on the internet. Rather, it was a story I thought up, something to touch upon the sadness that had descended upon me that day.

Once again I come back to the question: Does it matter that what I write is something I didn't really see? Is fiction better as non-fiction? Allowing the reader to put down their defenses—a Trojan Horse, if you will—and let the idea in?

Or does the idea of it existing on the internet, a veritable idea-labyrinth, allow it some measure of stature and make it mean more? Or does it being fiction mean that it stretches your imagination in some way that non-fiction does not allow for? Thus by toying with the border, I'm doing a great disservice to the entire world?

I'm not sure. Really, I'm not. But as a writer, I sense that at least mimicking how futile it is to draw that line and to assume that all non-fiction represents truth while fiction is what's not real. Our current world seems to point to this being a natural state of humanity—so why draw that line? I'll continue to write pseudo essays and I'll continue to think that it represents a new way forward for writing. You?

 

  • 1. No I don't mean all of them, and I mainly mean the odes to slavery on a Yale building, or a segregationist on a Princeton campus. Note that I don't use the word “mindless” lightly.
  • 2. A quick look at even the "serious" tripe making it in literary circles is enough to make one weep. Of course even if it is serious, one wonders, like Jon Stewart, if it really matters in the end.
  • 3. The good we do is interred with our bones, while the bad we do lives long after.
  • 4. And garner the reader's or consumer's hateful ire. A deathblow these days.
  • 5. And what it means to me when writing it? What does distance do to this seed of an idea? Anything worthwhile?

Nelson Lowhim is the author of the novels Ministry of Bombs, The Struggle Trilogy, City Muse, and the When Gods Fail series; most of these books are available online or at select bookstores. He is a veteran of the Iraq War. You can find more about Nelson and his books at nelsonlowhim.blogspot.com or follow him on Twitter @nlowhim.