So Many Thought Bubbles: The Imagined Life in Nonfiction

January 4, 2010 § 1 Comment

Philip Graham offers up a thoughtful post on our imagined lives and how they might become part of our nonfiction, by looking at the work of Jenny Boully and the writing exercise Boully contributed to the new book of nonfiction exercises, Now Write! Nonfiction, edited by Sherry Ellis.  Here is an excerpt, or you can jump to the entire blog post here:

Boully’s entry in Ellis’s nonfiction anthology is “Breaking from ‘Fact’ in Essay Writing.” It doesn’t start well, by my lights, with a seeming defense of the notorious James Frey’s silly puttying various points of his biography .. [but] Boully soon gets down to serious business, challenging the notion that essayists must avoid invention and instead stick to an implied stricture of Who What When Where Why. “Dream-life, daydreaming-life, and the imagined-life can sometimes be experienced so profoundly that they feel real to us,” she says, in a sentence that’s as spot-on a sentence as any I’ve recently read.

I say they are real, if we think them, because, though fictions, they are what we build our lives upon. Walk down a crowded street and you’ll be surrounded by people who are not concentrating on the very important mechanics of walking, but are instead having conversations in their minds with people who aren’t present: revising a fraught conversation with a spouse from earlier that morning, anticipating an encounter with a friend later in the day, or arguing, yet again, with a deceased parent. Or those fellow travelers might be sculpting possible strategies for managing a child’s adolescent rage, or plotting out a hoped-for vacation, or digging into the details of an alternate, imagined life.

So many thought bubbles, like storm clouds, hover above us.

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