Friday, May 4, 2012

Imaginary Lover

"Never turn(s) you down
When all the others turn you away
They're around"*
Yet another reason to be miffed at President Obama. Here I am, toiling…struggling hand to mouth as a freelance writer. Royalty checks dribbling in – a little here, a little there. Modest talent paired with comprehensive law enforcement experience aspiring to pay off credit cards pumped full of cruises, B&B vacations and wine. A minor scrivener pouring my heart into fictional Karen and Adam, just as fictional Amy and Ken, and trying to peek life into Cici. Then, I find out I'm competing with Barack Obama for the novel reader's attention. That's just plain wrong.

Apparently, when the President was in college, he had a girlfriend named "New York Girlfriend." Her identity was later established, to an extent. At least, her name is Genevieve. Sort of. In his book Dreams From My Father, President Obama recounts an important moment when the NYGF questions him about a play they'd just attended in New York. The emotionally charged conversation:

After the play was over, my friend started talking about why black people were so angry all the time. I said it was a matter of remembering—nobody asks why Jews remember the Holocaust, I think I said—and she said that's different, and I said it wasn't, and she said that anger was just a dead end. We had a big fight, right in front of the theater. When we got back to the car she started crying. She couldn't be black, she said. She would if she could, but she couldn't. She could only be herself, and wasn't that enough.
Great stuff. A poignant moment, two good people struggling for common understanding, reaching out for each other. Only, it never happened.

As he said recently, and apparently forewarned in his book, this character was a "compression," a compilation of several real people and events, rearranged for the purposes of clarity. The point isn't that the conversation took place in New York, or that NYGF was the young lady weeping in the car, wanting to be someone else but unable (little did she know). The point was to animate the real-life challenges an interracial couple faces. Important point.

With all due respect, sir, that's what a novelist does. I take people who are real, squish them together into an entirely new fictional being and concoct situations that reveal something important. Karen O'Neil is an unhappily married policewoman who faces her demons, and the husband she struggles to leave, with inner strength she did not know she had (odd for a police officer? Hardly). I wanted to write about women I've met in the course of almost thirty years as a cop, express my frustration – and my understanding – that they stayed with abusive men. I wanted to tell a story with a happy ending, how my character found not just love, but respect, when a decent man entered her life.

I wrote a novel. Apparently, so did Barack Obama.

*"Imaginary Lover," Atlanta Rhythm Section, 1978.

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