Every life is a work of fiction. That’s what I tell my writing students. People come to me wanting to tell their life story, the narrative that sums them up, that captures the essence of who they are. They expect to find this story hiding inside them like a Michelangelo statue trapped in the marble, fully formed, waiting to be released.
Instead, what they confront is a tower of Babel, a chorus of conflicting voices, a cast of many different characters in search of a coherent author. There is no singular there there, they find. There is no figure inside the stone. It’s more like “The Invisible Man,” as they unwind their memories in search of a self, pulling layer upon layer of gauze — just like the creature in the movie — finding only person-less space, riddles, fantasies, dreams-in-progress, enigmas, puzzles and open questions.
Who am I?, they ask themselves, unable to locate themselves on paper. Why can’t they pin down their story? I tell them, trying not to sound too metaphysical, that it’s because their story isn’t real, not in the way they think it is.