Nine months ago today, I wrote a blog hinting at the possibility of changing courses by composing a collection of stories that were decidedly non-fiction. My new bartending job had me gabbing more frequently than usual, and I noticed how often the busboys or managers would congregate around the bar to join the guests in listening to whatever tale I happened to be reminiscing about at the time. Eventually, the sheer volume of these slightly-repressed memories began to surprise even me. I began to speculate if the time was right, after years of resistance, to jot some of these real-life anecdotes down into a collection of their own. Perhaps I’d be inspired to finally record audio versions for the website. And maybe “These Stories Are True” would be the perfect title…
Before the summer had ended, I made a deal with myself to accept the challenge. And I visualized returning to the Vineyard the following Spring with the entire project already complete!
Now, judging by my previous output, one books-worth of short stories takes decidedly longer than a year to reach a finished state. But, well - in a way, these stories had already been written; all I’d have to do is remember what happened. Almost none of the oddball events I was tempted to recreate were important enough to appear in an autobiography, so no family members or old girlfriends would be thrown under the bus. The overall randomness to the project, I felt, was perfect. I was simply going to discover if the abundance of crazy situations I’ve encountered would translate well to the written page. Maybe my friends at michaelaba.com would find these stories as amusing as those bar patrons in Martha’s Vineyard apparently did.
And so I set off to write. But I didn’t begin until four months later, after returning to NYC. And even with such a late start, I truly thought a first draft of everything would easily be accomplished by Christmas. I’d already scratched out the 16 or 17 topics before leaving the Vineyard and was actually looking forward to composing my first-ever batch of real-life essays.
And right now, while working on this blog, I’m thinking - it still took me another five months?! To have completed only a first draft? What was my problem? Is reality truly so much harder for me to to deal with than fiction?
At this point, I’m not sure I can accurately answer any of those questions. But a few thoughts come to mind…
For one, I believe this experience has illuminated a major reason why I always felt more comfortable aligning my aspirations towards fiction in the first place. If a character I’ve created has an interestingly comical observation to make, I can laugh with an imaginary audience reading along with me. But if those same words emerge straight from my own mouth, I can see myself leading a barrage of derogatory chants: “Why should we care what Michael Laba has to say about the state of the world today?” “Does Michael Laba truly believe he’s smarter than the average politician?” “Why is he always so fixated on breasts!?”
And there’s a part of me who still wonders if I’m a true writer, because true writers must love to write, right? Well, I’ve proven time and again my ability to be drawn away from producing fiction - and now non-fiction! - at a moment’s notice. (I’ll admit; MSNBC has been an almost impossible-to-resist detour these last couple of years…)
Also, a few friends and family members have already identified, sometimes angrily, with characters I resolutely maintain have nothing whatsoever to do with them. So how would these same people react to seeing their actual names show up in a true story? Would future holiday invitations be revoked?
Well, I soldiered on nevertheless and now have new questions to ask. Was that really me bumping into Elton John at a Tower Records in Boston? Was I the moron who allowed his regular dentist to end every visit with quasi-professional, penis-exposing physical exams? Who, besides myself, would ever be dumb enough to hand over good money for an empty cardboard box in the belief he was purchasing a stolen TV?
But these seemingly-fictional plot lines all happened to Michael Laba. And with the finished version of “These Stories Are True” expected to be available for download on michaelaba.com before the end of the year, everyone will soon have the opportunity to read or listen to my recollections for themselves.
Interestingly enough, I’m noticing that the question “Why is he always so fixated on breasts!?” doesn’t appear relevant to any of the 17 essays I’d chosen to explore. Maybe the truth is, despite what one might believe from the exploits of several semi-idiotic characters of fiction-past, the real Michael Laba was never fixated on breasts in the first place.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury - let me present ‘These Stories Are True’ as a defense to the character of the author in question…”
Actually, this resembles the plot line to a story from the “Early Odds & Split Ends” collection, an old favorite of mine called “My Idaho Murder Trial”. Hmm… Maybe I’m ready for a return to old ways… While this trip through reality has undoubtedly been thought-provoking and internally rewarding, exposing myself through fiction might very well be, for me at least, a bit more fun.
I’m thinking now of writing a funny story with a lead character based on either Dolly Parton or the porn star Stormy Daniels.
Don’t ask me why…