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All that matters, I will say didactically and evasively, is whether the story seems real. Which is why I will sometimes give these same creative writing students, who are curious to know about me, an asment to write a piece of fiction about themselvesin which they are the central character—but several decades older.
What story can they create about who they might be in the future based upon the raw material of who they are now? This is, at least to my way of thinking, a quick and painless way for a beginning writer to launch into the world of fiction, by being obliged to build from facts close at hand.
Some students, naturally, will ignore my guidelines and take the easy way out, recycling a short story they wrote for a fiction class, putting their first name on the middle-age Smoking stories fiction, who happens to have gray hair and shares no characteristics, as far I can tell, with the twenty-year-old author. Perhaps these students believe that when they are older they will be completely different from who they are at present—and how can I argue with that? Happily, though, many of my students will expand and exaggerate their personalities, their lived experiences, their hopes and aspirations.
There was the student on the varsity wrestling team who envisioned himself Smoking stories fiction a father, age forty-something, out of shape and browbeating his teenage son, who also happened to be a wrestler, into making weight for the upcoming match. There was the screenwriting major imagining himself in the future, single, depressed, and having to contend with how his once lofty artistic expectations had been reduced to working for reality TV. And then there was me and my recent short story, where I went in reverse, going younger not older, writing about a nineteen-year-old actor living in a midsize city, stuck in a dead-end job, dreaming of one day moving to L.
I knew that first there is disinterest, then comes mild curiosity, then desire, then dreams, then obsessive daytime thinking, then needfollowed, shortly thereafter, by the absolute inability, no matter what, to stop. My introduction to cigarettes had begun in an acting class, of all places, where the scene I was performing in had required the character to smoke.
In the pursuit of thespian authenticity, I had rehearsed one day after class with my scene partner, who was already a smoker, and who had given me a cigarette from his own pack, patiently showing me the proper way to inhale and exhale. At my first attempt, I gagged and nearly fainted—but an actor persists, and after the third or fourth cigarette I was becoming accustomed to it, dare I say enjoying it.
I knew, of course, that cigarettes were deadly, but I was planning to smoke only for this particular scene in this particular class, and then never again. By the end of the rehearsal, unbeknownst to me, I was already on my way to becoming addicted.
Months later, I was pledging to myself each night that I was going to quit for good, then and there, and by noon the next day I was smoking again. My introduction to crack cocaine occurred a few years later on a summer night after my shift as a cook in Smoking stories fiction restaurant. I was aware that he occasionally smoked crack, but I did not understand that he was an addict, which means that I did not understand that anyone who occasionally smokes crack is, ipso facto, an addict.
This was the late eighties and crack cocaine was ascendant, and all we needed to do was walk to the housing projects, about a mile away, where, for twenty dollars each, we could buy what we wanted. Then we walked a mile back to my apartment to smoke in my bedroom, out of a pipe that my friend had made with aluminum foil. It was all novelty for me, the pipe, the smoke, the high, and I was excited that I was having this authentic experience, this once-in-a-lifetime experience that I was never, never going to do again.
In addition to being an actor, I had wanted to be a writer, and I remember thinking, with something akin to euphoria, Now I have something to write about! When we were done getting high, my friend suggested we do what all addicts suggest: to go back and buy more.
That summer I smoked about a half dozen more times with other men I worked with at the restaurant, sometimes groups of men. We would stay up all night and then go back into work in the morning with almost no sleep. We used various contraptions for pipes, once even the antenna from a car, and I spent increasing sums of money that ultimately reached a hundred dollars. I was able to go days without smoking crack, but I could not go days without thinking about smoking crack.
Each time I entered the restaurant for my shift I would fantasize that today someone would invite me to get high. I was not conscious of any similarities between crack and cigarettes, even though they were nearly identical: the desire, the obsession, the dreams. At some point in the trip, an elderly man got on and took the seat directly in from of me. He was about seventy years old, toothless, dressed in baggy, monochrome Smoking stories fiction. As the bus ride continued, something distressing and insistent began to take shape in my mind, until I finally realized that this seventy-year-old man was not, in fact, seventy years old, nor was he a stranger to me, but rather a friend of mine.
In our early twenties, we had worked at that same restaurant together, played pickup basketball together, and, yes, smoked crack cocaine together. We had spent a summer afternoon walking around Pittsburgh, off from work, nothing to do, too hot to play basketball. I remember trying my best not to broach the subject of crack, dimly aware that I was thinking of it incessantly. Next came need. Could I lend his brother forty dollars? No, I was sorry, but I could not. That was Smoking stories fiction last I spoke to him until that bus ride in Pittsburgh, twenty-five years later, when I tapped him on the shoulder and we stood and hugged each other, and I tried to pretend that there was nothing unsettling about his appearance.
These were the facts that became the fiction. But most of these facts never made it into my story. The only thing that I hoped would remain visible was some faint glimpse of truth. Remember Me.Smoking stories fiction
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