by Derek Berry
Harry does not wear a hat because once in a health magazine, he read an article called “6 Reasons Men’s Hair Falls out.” Number 4 stated that men who wear hats tend to lose hair more quickly than men who do not. Although Harry is more embarrassed about his little bald spot than Prufrock would be, he does not cover his thinning hair with a baseball cap. Nor a hat where the brim is wide so he looks like a gangster. Nor with a leather fedora like Indiana Jones. Because his family has a history of male pattern baldness, from both sides of his family, though that doesn’t matter since male pattern baldness is a sex-related gene.
Harry does not wear hats, and this is his story.
Some women become strippers. This can also introduce a story, one likely more complicated than male pattern baldness. Everything that happens in this life can become a story, if only you look for it.
In these stories, everyone is a hero. Everyone is an antagonist. Everyone is a secondary character who appears in chapter 3, then doesn’t show up again until the twenty year high school class reunion, having been in Cuba dealing cocaine. These stories are why I write. They beg to be told. Sure, Harry’s hair problem is interesting, but then – what if we expand the idea even more? What about the time Harry found a spaceship in his back yard?
Now we’re escalating the plot, making it more complicated and interesting. Suddenly, you’re writing. You’re telling a story you can never quite stop telling, not even as you write “The End” because stories don’t even end with death. They go on and on and on, every piece of them fascinating if you’ve got the right mindset.
Maybe as a kid, my own life was boring. I could not speak very well, so people had to really pay attention to me if I were to get my point across. Perhaps this made me desperate to express myself. Every piece of myself, even the most essential core, I could not express. I was merely quiet or unintelligible. My brain hid beneath a netting of coded language that it took too long for most people to understand. In writing, I find a way to express myself without speech, a powerful way to brush through the language barrier. Even now, I can speak better than fine, performing as a spoken word poet on a regular basis.
But that initial need to tell stories, that was inside of me. In some way, it is in all of us. We love to tell about our past and our failures and our successes, even if they seem rather boring. A grandparent will burn to talk about his granddaughter’s first steps and words. While this seems so boring, it is a story that must be told because the words are pushing at the surface of the boiling pot like lobsters fighting to stay alive.
What we encounter in life, we have an indelible need to relate to others. Perhaps, through these stories, we can connect with others, becoming united through universal humanity.
The stories I write, I believe, are particularly silent. They speak volumes in their awkward silence. Their scuffle and grimace. Their lights look like stars but are really cell phones that people are checking while at quiet parties where no one really knows each other and no one is truly texting, just staring at blank phone screens. That sort of silence.
There are many of these silences in our lives, things we avoid or approach in odd and cliché ways. Such a race. As a white male, it is difficult to approach discussing race as anything else other than a bystander. Surely I cannot experience racism, right? But sure, white males experience racism, only it’s not something he can readily talk about. Nor can be not-awkwardly discuss racism against blacks. These silences seem to fill up our hallways, our rooms, our houses. They fill every space in which we do not discuss them until they fill our lungs and we drown in silence.
In my fiction, I write into those silences, explore things better left unsaid in an attempt to put into words the things we cannot bear to hear. Perhaps by voicing these unsaid concerns, we can better understand ourselves and our fellow human beings. Perhaps our most wicked yet similar traits live in those silent flatlands where you can hear the echo of a penny being spun, everything is so muted.
This is what drives me to write, to inject sound into silence. To take something we never speak of, whether it be humorous or serious or even pointless, and write about it. Someone might one day read that and say, “Wow. I also sometimes apply deodorant to my nose because I feel my nose sweats too much.”
Connecting with people is a great reason for blogging, but in fiction, these connections can come easier since what you write does not necessarily have to originate from personal experience. This is what makes us write, and in a way, what helps us continue to live. Each sentence might as well be: I was here and I did something. Written like a gang name or heart in Sharpie on a class desk. A mercurial permanence of shared experience: the story, even if fictional, becomes truth and sometimes that greater truth makes for a damn good story.