Remembering The Fool

I have to confess that of all the stories I might tell my favorites are those in which I am the lead actor. If I must, I will chalk a certain degree of this preference up to vanity, but only as I point out that the better you know your protagonist, the better your story. Moreover, of all the biographical stories I might tell, none are more pleasing than those in which I suffer the most. And I don’t mean stories in which some villain has wronged me, or stories in which it appears fate has taken me out at the knees. I used to like to tell such stories. I liked these stories because the cruelty of Life or Other People was always surprising and my audience would sometimes feel sorry for me. But I grew tired of these stories. You can dress complaint up in a compelling narrative—and when in the right mood I can be quite the tailor—but in the end everyone feels just a little bit worse unless they band together in mutual loathing for Mean People or Mean Life.

No, the stories I like are those in which I unravel my own happiness thread by thread. So delicious, from the safe vantage of the present, to travel back to the day when all seemed lost, when I believed a story of ruin and defeat. Bill the Fool makes a very compelling protagonist because he is always so certain of his own doom, he is always so passionate in defense of misery. So satisfying when he learns the joke was on him and he was safe all along.

Andre Dubus, when discussing his memoir Townie, pointed out that in telling our own stories we must first remember them—as in, we must put them back together. Such is the power of story. I can pull myself apart from head to toe, I can dismember my life with the unique violence of self-loathing—but I must use my own two hands to do so. Everything I tear remains with me, and when I tell the story true, all the pieces fit together perfectly.

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