Thoughts on Fiction and the New Intimacy

1. I keep thinking about all the time I spend online looking at things (photos, writings, memories, ideas, intimacies) that belong to other people, to people, more specifically, that I don't know. Sometimes I have a connection with these people, but often I don't. That word connection is interesting anyway. Sometimes it's just a chain of seven or eight people. Where does "connection" end, nowadays? I'm connected in some way or other, if you look hard and creatively enough, to lots of people that I have really no actual connection with.

So what does it mean, to look impartially (or not impartially) upon something that means something to someone you've never met and maybe never will meet but means nothing to you, on a personal level at least, and feel something anyway?

(I mean very mundane, personal things here, by the way: photos from a trip to the coast, a snapshot of a lunch or a bedspread or an outfit, a tweet about a commute or a commentary about a cup of tea.)


Maybe it doesn't matter after all: it's just stories, it's all just stories, it's all about the spaces in between a text and a reader, where there's room to interpret and build.

The other day I had this thought, that the way I write and the way I think about story are completely different things. The story in my head is very messy, very alive. But the story on the page must be restrained, very disciplined and dignified, to allow for a reader. The best part of any piece of writing really, in my opinion, is the space in between: that is to say, the spaces the author leaves for a reader to contribute to the creation of a story. When I was little this is how I used to read: by putting down the book and adding to the story in my own head. What I enjoyed most was this process of silent contribution, of placing my own thoughts, my own interpretations, into the text. I would take my book outside with me and walk in circles around a pile of rocks left over from the construction of some bit of the house. It was not a very large pile, so the circles were small but I never got vertigo and every once in awhile I would open the book to a random page and sniff. If we hadn't lived on a ranch, quite far removed from other people, people would probably have driven past and looked at me making circles and sniffing books and thought I was crazy. A crazy little girl with dusty scuffed shoes and too much time to think.


Anyway other people have written much more elegantly than I ever could about interpretation and influence and intertextuality, but what I really feel is that where anything comes to life is the place where it overlaps with your own experience.


It works best with intimate objects, when you feel you have a window into something. Maybe this is why I feel like I am always looking for the non-stories. A photograph from a war zone or a tweet about a celebrity encounter is too far removed from my own experience, too much like the fictions I already know. But to see someone else write about a trip to the farmer's market, to see a snapshot of someone else's shoelaces, makes me think about the stories (or the non-stories?) of how people are connected: how did I arrive at this moment, this image, this blog, this point of re-distributing or re-purposing content? It would be interesting to look at the story in great detail, the list of connections, the path I followed. Sometimes, of course, it's very simple - this person, who I know (online or offline or both), recommend/linked to/mentioned this thing, and now here I am, arrived after following a direct path. But sometimes, oftentimes, it's much more convoluted. And other connections start to appear, start to seep into the story. This is really the thing I like about the internet, maybe: the endless possibility for quiet human drama (where drama means only connection, in some small way, any way).


Which is why to look at someone's holiday snapshot, to see a photo (for example) of a boat bobbing on the water in Devon, is so interesting. I have never been to that town in Devon, I have never seen that boat, I do not know the person who took the photograph and posted it online, I don't even know someone who knows that person (though it may be that I know someone who knows someone who knows that person). And so I am looking at a piece of fiction. I am allowed to be a part of the creation of that piece of fiction. The gap between my experience, my own self, and the creator of the content, the anonymous or nearly anonymous girl on the beach, is large enough to allow for an entire story to fit comfortably, to settle and grow.