Tuesday, January 21, 2014

On the fictional continuum

Now that "having my hair done" is an hours-long process, entailing extended periods of sitting, enfoiled and baked-potato-like, I have occasion to catch up on various celebrities' lives. Last week, I learned (from I forget which magazine) that Drew Barrymore has made peace with her tumultuous past, formed the family she's always wanted, and embarked on an array of successful business ventures. In other words, she has finally found redemption. And I felt good for her, and hopeful that maybe I, too, can redeem myself, though I've had a much less tumultuous past, still there's stuff I should probably overcome in order to be more at peace, more successful, more ... I dunno. Better. If Drew can do it, why not me?

Then I got to thinking about the redemption narrative in general, and how central it seems to be in fiction. Even in the tiniest doses, we still somehow demand it from the stories we read and tell. Is there really no way out for this character? Can you possibly just let a little light in? Otherwise, why are we reading? Why, indeed? Do stories exist to give us hope? Do we stop reading if there's no hope, just as we might want to stop living for that same reason? Is living like reading? Is life a story we tell ourselves?

Drew Barrymore, like all celebrities, is a story for the rest of us. The Drew I read about, while steeping my hair in (natural, organic) chemicals, is a creation, a collaboration shaped by Drew herself, her "handlers," the writer, the editor, me, and probably other people as well. But, on some level, aren't we all? Creations, I mean--intentional and otherwise, shaped by ourselves and others. The fact that we really can't know what goes on in anyone else's mind means that we have to make fictions of others to a certain extent. And we fictionalize ourselves every day, these days more than ever (hello, Facebook).

If all that's true, maybe there's no clear division between fiction and real life, but more of a continuum, on which novels (or movies) occupy one end, non-famous people the other, and celebrities some middle ground. The effort and intention that go into creating the fictions make the difference.

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