Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Is this story credible?


John Rember

Don't believe what you read on the Internet. Especially if it begins, THIS INFORMATION COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE AND FREEDOM. More especially if it continues, "What is going on? Something very sinister is going on. Polls reveal that more than 90 percent of the American people believe the government is keeping UFO knowledge from the public. But why?"

Why indeed? If I was George W. Bush and had UFO information, I'd be telling a secretary to get Fox News on the phone. If the American people knew that I'd been dealing with alien bases beneath America's Indian reservations, they might give me a break on my Iraq war policy and stop talking about that stupid Mission Accomplished photo op.

If they knew aliens were using "human glandular secretions and enzymes in horrible genetic experiments," they might stop complaining about no-bid contracts to Halliburton subsidiaries and quit psychoanalyzing my fistfight with Dad.

If they knew that 25 million American citizens have been implanted with alien devices that turn them into zombies, they might forgive my squandering of the good will the world had toward America after 9/11 and quit saying I'm a dry drunk.

But I'm not George W. Bush. Instead, I'm writing for a tiny newspaper in a tiny mountain town in an enormous and incomprehensible universe. Which brings me to some real hidden information: THINGS ARE WEIRD ENOUGH WITHOUT THE ALIENS.

Right now, I'm in Seaside, Ore. It's snowed on the beach for the first time in 20 years. For two nights this week, we watched as Comet MacNaught dove toward the sunset and sniffed sea breezes carrying the faint odor of Chinese coal-fired plants.

I'm here for a distance MFA residency, along with my fellow faculty and 40 students. What we all have in common is that we see writing as a way to a meaningful life. But becoming a writer or any kind of artist means you follow truth wherever it leads, even into the dark sub-basements of the culture.

If you read Hemingway or Melville or hang a De Kooning or Munch or Pollock on your wall, you're rubbing up against someone who has followed the truth without regard for its consequences. It's not always pleasant, but it's mostly good for you.

So, my current fantasy has George Bush showing up to get an MFA in fiction, and I'm assigned as his mentor. First, I ask him to write an essay on Munch's "The Scream." Then I ask him to read "Moby Dick," paying particular attention to what happens to Captain Ahab's ship. When George submits his first piece of fiction to my workshop, I ask, "Could this really happen? Is this story credible?"

The workshop members deal harshly with George. "This is nothing but mindless violence," says a woman student, whose own story is about deciding to divorce a husband during the Super Bowl halftime show.

"People don't think like this," says one of the young men, who writes stories about people living in trees so loggers won't cut them down. "These characters have no interior life."

George gets sullen and angry, so I step in.

"It's important to remember this is a work in progress," I say to everybody. "But, George, you have to remember to show and not tell. Your characters just go off to war. When you send them away for another year, show them as people with loving parents and spouses at home. And all those people blown up by those air strikes? They don't really come alive in your story—they're like stick figures, not real characters. Give them thoughts and feelings."

"They have thoughts and feelings," George says. "Revenge and hate. That's what makes people tick. Look at Captain Ahab."

Even though it's fantasy, I can recognize when my own teaching has backfired on me. Fortunately, George's time is up, and we turn to the next story, about chip-implanted zombies directed by the CIA who have started selling drugs to children. They're smuggling them into America via offshore oil platforms. Their drug profits are financing a secret bunker under Area 51 in Nevada where high government officials—alien/human hybrids who all look like Karl Rove and Dick Cheney—will wait out a nuclear war. Meanwhile, Chinese Capitalists are firing up another coal-powered plant every five days. Resorts in the Alps are growing grass instead of grooming snow. Greenland is losing 80 cubic miles of ice per year.

"Could this actually happen?" I ask the workshop. "Is this story credible?"




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