The truth is stranger than fiction. We hear this saying all the time. A story will run on the national news or Facebook or even in your hometown that seems completely impossible. But, it’s not impossible because it’s true. Crazy right? Whether these are tragedies or feel good stories, we all look at them and say, unbelievable.
As a career, I teach writing to seventh graders at a public school. Twelve and thirteen year old human beings are some of the most fascinating life forms on the planet, trust me. I have been spending my days with them for the last nine years, and I swear they have taught me more lessons about life than I have taught them.
At the end of 7th grade, my students and I complete a six week debate unit. One part of a comprehensive unit of study in 2017 is something called essential questions. In case you aren’t up on the latest education lingo, an essential question is one that doesn’t have one set answer and is supposed to lead you to asking more questions. Two of the essential questions I asked this year during the debate unit were: Are there any truths that are absolute or definite? and How does a person go about discovering the truth?
The students had some interesting answers. Most said that yes, indeed, there are facts that are absolutely true, and of course, they said you find them by Googling.
What I didn’t discuss with my students, however, is something that I find fascinating and often touch on in my writing— to what extent do we spin our own truths or create our own versions of reality to suit our needs?
As someone with a masters in clinical social work, I know all about the ways humans, myself included, protect our precious egos from assault. When we do something wrong, even if we know it is wrong, we usually have a good reason. I once worked with someone who got arrested for drunk driving and when I saw him a few days later, I told him I was sorry to hear what happened. He said, “You know I’m really not a bad person, right?” For some reason, this has always stuck with me, perhaps because, indeed, I did know him to be a decent person. A decent person who made a bad decision, and luckily, no one got hurt. There have been times I’ve found myself wanting to say the exact same thing when I’ve ticked someone off or been the source of trouble for them.
In my latest novel, One Broken Day, the main character, Lizzie, changes her identity and moves to Nantucket Island to escape her tragic past. She believes she has good reasons for lying and hiding the truth about who she is, but eventually, she finds out that the best intentions do not always matter. The story is filled with ironic touches about the different personas we all create for ourselves even when we aren’t in dire circumstances like Lizzie.
The truth has long been the subject of literary pondering, political diatribes, and heartfelt prayers, and I suspect it always will be. In the end, the truth is all we have. Our truth. The life we have lived. May it always be stranger than fiction in all the best ways possible.
Melissa MacVicar was born and mostly raised on Nantucket Island, and she currently lives there with her husband and two teenage children. When not being a wife and mother and teaching writing to seventh graders, she enjoys binge watching shows like Big Little Lies, House of Cards, and Outlander. Despite the rumors to the contrary, she does not actually wish she was a teenager again.