The Truth Is Out There

 

It was July 1997. A hot, humid night like all of the others in a Fort Worth, Texas summer. My friend and coworker, Anita, and I were enjoying a night out at the AMC Palace 9, the newest downtown movieplex, packed elbow to elbow in front of the largest screen the theatre had, the a/c blasting the hot night into a joyous reason to wear a sweatshirt. Tired from working the overnight shift at the television station, I munched on my favorite movie treat of Diet Coke, Hot Tamales, and popcorn, no butter… a delightful flavor combination of sugar, caffeine and salt to jolt tired eyes awake for some enjoyment. We were watching Contact, starring Jodie Foster as the persevering, intelligent, little-green-men-seeking Dr. Ellie Arroway. That was a character I could relate to… in search of truth for the betterment of society with doubters all around.

iwanttobelieveThe truth is out there. I want to believe, the posters in my office shout to anyone who walks into my door. I used to be known by the handle Mrs_TheTruthIsOutThere in internet dork circle chat rooms expounding the virtues of Mulder and Scully. Inevitably the posters start a conversation about The X Files and my devotion to these mantras, my mantras, the mantras I feel that every writer should live by.

In Creative nonfiction workshops everywhere, students read and discuss what creative nonfiction is, how is it defined, what it means. They talk about queering the essay, escaping labels, bending genre, and hydras. They talk about David Shields and Lia Purpura and Brian Doyle and Ander Monson and others. The workshops have some good thesis statements going. But I’d like to propose my own, which I believe captures who I am, as well as the definition of nonfiction creative writing — “the search for truth.”

Searching for truth is about discovery, self-awareness, analysis of the world. It’s about finding connections where others don’t see them. It’s about the journey to universal truths, my truth, your truth, our truth. It’s about imagining reality and living it. It differs from journalism, my professional career of almost two decades, in that creative nonfiction writing doesn’t aim to just report the truth. Instead it circles around truth, delves into it, gives it context and meaning. It lives and breathes and feels.

My childhood memories revolve around trips to Disney World, anything related to Madonna, and wanting to be Barbara Walters. A weird combination it might seem, but not to me. Disney was all about dreaming big dreams, being creative, thinking outside the box, using your imagination to succeed. And so was Madonna. She inspired me to be myself, be different, do what I wanted to do, and to be smart about it. Barbara Walters, well, she brought those things together for me. She was a woman’s voice, never afraid, it seemed, to ask anyone any question.

Known for my seemingly insane care for and attention to details, my sister nicknamed me “Spiky Details” when we were kids. (Well, the spiky is unrelated. I got that part of my nickname from hating to shave my legs as often as necessary, leaving the coarse black hair poking anyone unfortunate to brush against by my legs.) But all the same, I hungered to know the little things, hear the full story. I didn’t like having things filtered down to me. I wanted to know exactly what happened. I wanted to find out for myself and tell other people the details they needed to know. I wanted to write the news. I wanted to find the truth and share it.

I’d spend lots of time in high school justifying this choice to be a journalist to almost every teacher I had, except Barclay Burrows, the advisor of the high school newspaper, yearbook, and morning announcements, all of which I proudly was a part of. My biology teacher, Mrs. Ruiz, would tell me I was wasting my intelligence wanting to be a journalist when I could do something really good for the world as a scientist. But I didn’t see it that way, and neither did Mr. Burrows. It’s not that he was a former journalist or a writer of any kind or even someone who enjoyed the news. He was a DJ with the same bellowing voice of every disk jockey you’ve ever heard on the radio. He was a bald-headed, suspender-wearing, jolly, all-around-cool guy. He let me cut up magazines and collage them all over my “Editor-In-Chief” desk in his classroom my senior year to express myself, then bought a piece of glass to lay over the top of my creation to keep it from getting ruined. In fact, when I graduated he told me he was going to keep the desk because one day he knew I was going to be famous. I don’t know if he did keep the desk or not, but it didn’t matter. That vote of confidence was all I needed to believe that I could be Barbara Walters or whoever else I wanted to be.

When I walked into that big, beautiful two-story newsroom with floor to ceiling windows at KVUE-TV for the first time, I knew all of those years dreaming, hoping, planning and working hard were well spent. I had made contact with my calling. I was home. For the first time, I felt I was right where I belonged, with people who felt the same passions and drive. That was a good feeling.

I feel that same overwhelming desire now, some twenty years later. Still a wrtiter, still a journalist at heart. Still searching with Mulder and Scully every day to gather up all of those tiny little fragments of words and meaning in the details. I feel alive in the search for real truth, universal truth in context, as I now write creative nonfiction essays and discuss the work of others with now old MFA colleagues. I’m not only in contact with my world, I’m touching my truth like I never have before and it’s electrifying my spirit.

~
Lesson learned #1: Following your passion leads to a place where you fit in.

Lesson learned #2: Writing isn’t a job. It isn’t for everyone. If it is for you, you know it. You don’t do it for the money (good thing, cause it doesn’t generally pay much yet sucks up all your time). You do it because it is your calling and you can’t help to not do it.

Lesson learned #3: Mulder, Scully and Dr. Arroway really had something going in their pursuits of the truth. (The people that wrote them sure did too.)

Lesson learned #4: Completing my MFA was something I needed to do. Not for money, not for a title, not to get somewhere or something. I needed it to help guide me in my search for truth and sharing that with the world. And I found that, leaving the program even deeper in my quest. The truth is out there. I want to believe.

 

 

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