Sunday, September 27, 2020


Like so many others beleaguered by the pandemic, noxious politics, and stay-at-home guidelines, we've been watching—and rewatching (and rewatching)—The Great British Baking Show as a balm against daily strife. While enjoying the second episode of the series's third season in which vicar's wife Sarah-Jane "freestyles" her plaited bread and suffers for it, I was waiting for something that never came. I'd remembered her embarrassed confession on-camera that she couldn't manage even a simple three-strand plait of her daughter's hair, much to her shame. And I remember her crying as she said this and, later in the episode, reckoning with her self-perceived failures as a Mum. Turns out that I'd invented this bit of narrative; she had mentioned her lame plaiting skills, but never upbraided herself for it in the weepy manner I'd remembered. I'd taken her bit of self-mockery and turned it into a story in which she'd allowed her meager motherly talents to get under her skin and define her as a poor mother. It's interesting to me what grows in the mind. Flannery C'Connor wrote that "A story really isn't any good unless it successfully resists paraphrase, unless it hangs on and expands in the mind," and I guess that was what I was doing with Sarah-Jane: letting her story hang on and expand—except what I wrote was fiction, steering her story into places it hadn't gone (as edited for television, anyway). I took her small confession where I wanted it to go, into melodrama, a mother-daughter dynamic rich with pathos. I was surprised when that scene didn't play out as I watched last night, but then I was struck by where the imagination goes, adding rooms to a story as one adds rooms to a house. This is how fiction works, obviously, but this is also how our day-to-day minds work, thickening memories with sentiment they don't have, building up dramas in our head, adding dimension to our ordinary days by allowing events to lead to stories which expand and hang on, blurring the line between nonfiction and fiction, between fact and desire. What the imagination wants. Anyway, I wish Sarah-Jane and her daughter well, wherever they are.

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