Last night, on my way to my friends’ album release party, I was walking and eating a slice of pizza because I didn’t want to get too drunk when I started drinking and outside the bar I saw that the moon was orange. Copper, even, like a coin. I wedged the crust into my mouth to free my hands and took a picture because I wanted to show it to you. I thought it might have been an eclipse, which would have been romantic. Then I learned that it’s orange from the fires in Canada. The haze from the smoke is changing the color of the sky.
In interviews lately I’ve been trying to sneak in my thoughts about the difference between fiction and nonfiction. Sometimes they get cut; it’s okay. It’s helpful to have articulated them. What I’ve been sitting with is how the difference lies in the reliance on language. In nonfiction, we’re writing around what we assume to be true. Something happened, something happened to make us write about it. But we know that we can never get there, to that truth, Tell all the truth but tell it slant —, and so language becomes our chisel, chipping away at the mess of life until a shape is revealed. We’ll always know, though, what’s missing. When I think about writing an essay, or in I guess my book’s case, a memoir of sorts, all my metaphors are of dredging. Sifting, sorting, pulling, untangling. There is something there, I know it is there, because I have felt it, and that feeling tugged me along like a fish on a hook. So it exists. My work is to find it.
Fiction is different. It’s about making, line by line, a world. The world comes into view and we hope it is convincing. Here, I can’t doubt language. If I am skeptical about words and what they do, my house will fall down. But if I believe in language, and if I am so careful about it, thinking about what words mean, and which word is the right word, then if I work hard enough, with my head bent low, when I step away, I will have made something. And hopefully it will be specific, and that specificity will make it true, even if none of it happened.
What they do have in common is belief. In nonfiction, you have to believe in yourself enough to tell the story. And in fiction, you have to believe in the integrity of the world you’re making. You have to believe in yourself then, too.
Anyway, let’s return to our world, the only one we have to live in. It feels so different lately. In New York, the vibes are off. The outfits are good, amazing, even, and I’m supposed to be selling my book right now, that’s why I opened the tab to write this letter, but all I can do is think about how the planet is barreling toward temperatures that will not kill it but will kill us, if runaway capitalism doesn’t kill us in another, faster way. This morning there was a thunderstorm so cinematic it felt like someone had pressed pause when it ended. We’re eating bougie chips in my apartment because the workers are striking at Frito-Lay. A rich man touched the edge of space for a moment, but Laika did it first, and she never got a funeral.
I can’t explain to you why I’m still writing. I’ve been reading Annie Ernaux. She writes the same way I do—to explain her life to herself, and to acknowledge that in a way, she’s always been writing. Her books, or the ones I’ve read, at least, end up turned inside-out, as her narrator reflects on the process of writing the book itself.
Maybe it comes back to what I was talking about earlier. There’s an impulse in me that tells me to write. I can do a lot of things, and I have, but I always come back to writing. The thing is, I believe in the work. I really do believe in it—that it matters, that stories are worth telling. I still want to write about memory; I want to write about what happens in a family; I want to write about the things we inherit and the things we don’t realize we’re carrying. I believe in the book I just wrote, and I believe in the book that I’m writing. Even when it’s hard. It feels weird to try to sell you something while the world is burning. But making something, making something out of words, that doesn’t feel weird at all. It feels like the only thing.
I have a new essay out soon—well, I’ll have a couple essays out soon. But this one’s about god, and believing in things you can’t see. There are some things I do believe in. Not god, not yet. I’ll let you know when the essay’s out, maybe not here, but somewhere.
1: Yes, Pop Song is out, in both the US and the UK. You can buy it on Bookshop or Bookshop UK or at your local independent bookstore.
2: I was going to the Cafuné album release party, and you can check out Running here.
3: I’ve read A Girl’s Story, Simple Passion, and The Years, and each of these books, by Annie Ernaux, is perfect.
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Hi, you’re reading intimacies, a relaunch of the original, occasional diary letter I sent out from 2016-2018. You’re getting this email because you were previously subscribed to its first iteration, and you got those emails because you were probably subscribed to Cum Shots, my previous letter at Nerve. If you liked this letter, please click the heart. Thank you for reading. I really appreciate you.