Tales from Class

In class today, I showed clips from another movie (Twelve Monkeys, directed by the brilliant Terry Gilliam). I had this impression that students were rolling their eyes. Okay, they seemed to be thinking. But that's fiction. We're supposed to be writing true stories.

So what is it that makes us feel that true stories offer us less choice, less opportunity for creativity than do fictional stories? Maybe, in some strange way, true stories offer us more choices, more opportunities.

Last Monday, for instance, I told my students how, when I was younger, I wrote stories that I resolved by having the protagonist (a thinly disguised me) dissolve into tears. Back then, I had so much to learn about story-telling.

"Tears," I informed my students, "are not a resolution to a story. Tears resolve nothing."

But the very next day, over coffee, a friend told a story about almost missing a train. She was young and our setting is Chicago, probably in the late 1950s. She had a big suitcase and she needed to catch a bus so she could get to the train station. But every bus that passed her was already full. None of them stopped. Finally, realizing she could never get to the train on time, she began to sob.

A policeman on horseback stopped and asked her what the matter was. He stopped a cab -- an occupied cab -- and directed the driver to take my friend to the train station. She continued to sob in the cab. She offered to pay for her fare, but the other passenger wouldn't hear of it.

She arrived at the train station, still crying, and began running after the train, which was already pulling out of the station. A conductor saw her -- I would guess because she was such a bedraggled tear-streaked mess by this time -- and stopped the train for her.

All because she cried.

And maybe because she was a beautiful, red-headed teenage girl.

I will be mulling this story over for a while (that story and a child-rearing book I once read, Tears and Tantrums by Aletha Solter, who makes a compelling argument for the resolving power of tears). I hope that my friend will suddenly get the itch to put her story down in all its detail (I've tried to keep it stripped down, as it is her story and not mine). She was catching the train to go to her sister's, but in the novelization I have a feeling a handsome stranger will materialize. (Either way, I'd love to hear more!)