Thursday, December 10, 2020

Facing the Music

by Creative Nonfiction contributor Ed Davis

Nobody I knew could play the guitar. We longed to, aching to become the next band of working-class kids to seize the world's attention as the Beatles had. So far, lip-synching was as close as we'd gotten. I wondered: should I keep on walking or sneak around back and see who was playing those magic strings? Doing so would mean I'd have to face the music in more ways than one.

The childhood scapegoating event I describe in my memoir "The Strength of Strings" in Bacopa Literary Review 2020 has lived inside me for half a century, striving to find artistic expression, first, in an unpublished novel I wrote in the early 1980s, and now as memoir. The thing about fictionalizing autobiography, I've found, is that you transform truth (facts) through the magic of fiction into Truth (significance). And though that still seems true, I've come to believe that sometimes you just need to tell the truth as accurately as you can, relying on memory rather than imagination--a real challenge for this novelist. But I had to try.

     Steve looked up.

     "Hey," he said.

     "Hey," I returned, hunched inside my army jacket at the edge of the concrete slab. The day wasn't as dark as it had been only a couple of minutes ago.

     "You gonna stand there . . . or come over?" 

      I walked over and sat down. Despite the harsh wind of almost October coming at us across the back yard, some part of what was frozen between us thawed a little while we eyeballed each other above an object whose power I felt in my chest and limbs. Maybe that no-name, sunburst electric had the power to make a nobody become visible in our junior high world. A lot remained to be seen, like: does he hate me? 

Writing memoir feels a lot more naked to me than writing fiction, so it's got to be worth it. While "Strings" required many drafts, I finally felt good about coming clean about a childhood memory bearing a lot of emotional freight--or as clean as I can at this time. It's quite possible the memory of this incident has more to teach me before I die.

As for music, though I'm not actively making it anymore, my characters are. Without Steve, without pantomiming The Beatles before we learned to play and learn, then write, our own songs, I wouldn't have felt qualified to portray the Dylanesque rock star of my latest novel The Psalms of Israel Jones. One regret about our renewed relationship at the end of my pal's life is that, although I gifted him with a copy of Psalms, he died before he could read it--or, if he did manage to read it, to tell me what he thought. But he liked "Strength of Strings" enough to let me share it with his parents in the "nana" version (sans curse words).

Many thanks to Mary Bast and Bacopa Literary Review for letting me share my memoir, and now this follow-up with you.

*   *   *

Ed Davis, a former professor of writing, literature, and humanities, served as the assistant director for the Antioch Writers' Workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio. His stories and poems have appeared in journals such as Leaping Clear, Metafore, Hawaii Pacific Review, and Stoneboat. His latest novel, The Psalms of Israel Jones (West Virginia University Press 2014), won the 2010 Hackney Award for an unpublished novel.

 Read Ed Davis' "The Strength of Strings: A Memoir" on pp. 131-136,
as well as other engaging works of Creative Nonfiction, Fiction, Poetry,
Short- Short, and Humor in Bacopa Literary Review 2020


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