The other night I dreamt that I had at least seven different selves that I circulated among. I wasn’t surprised. My roles in the outer world shift regularly from writer to teacher to mother to wife to social director to cook. But I also realize that writing fiction, poetry, and non-fiction calls on very different aspects of myself.
When I’m involved in creating a fictive narrative, I have to allow myself to enter into many different settings, characters, and feeling states in order to pull it off. For example, with Fling!, my first published novel, when I wrote the section on Mexico City, I had never been there. Nor had I visited the city in the 1920s, one of the time periods that occur in the book. But through research about the city, and inhabiting my own imagination, I somehow managed to pull it off. I not only created a believable environment, but I also established a character that fit into that period.
In Curva Peligrosa, my second published novel, this dynamic also was true. Curva, the main character, was born in a small southern Mexico town and travels The Old North Trail with her horses, parrots, goat, and dog for twenty years. I’ve never been to southern Mexico, and I’ve also never seen The Old North Trail. (There actually is such a route that Native Canadians and Americans traversed many years ago, the first super highway!) Nor have I been a bronco buster, as Curva is for a time.
When I write poetry, something different happens. I don’t start with a particular character or setting. Instead, I’m motivated by a feeling or an image or an unexplainable nudge. Nor do I have any idea where the poem is going, though the same is true with fiction. I’m always heading off a precipice, never knowing where or when I’ll land. Poetry seems to be sparked by some inner urge and often leaves me with a quandary or unanswered question. The poem remains a mystery in many ways even to me, the creator.
Non-fiction draws on some aspects of the above two genres, but a very different self takes charge here. While I also don’t usually know where I’m going when I write non-fiction, I am less dependent on mood and characters to guide me. Here, ideas tend to rule, and I dance between them, letting one spark another until a mosaic forms and I have an essay.
These various personas that I inhabit make me resonate with chameleons’ innate ability to change color. Writers who work in various genres share this shape-shifting ability.