Sunday, December 16, 2007

More Fabulous Realities

While I’m on the subject of fabulous realities…

The phrase came to me by way of Ken Macrorie’s Telling Writing, published in 1970, and still one of the best books about writing and teaching writing that I know. It came to Macrorie by way of Thoreau: “Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truth, while reality is fabulous. If men would steadily observe realities only, and not allow themselves to be deluded, life, to compare it with such things as we know, would be like a fairy tale and the Arabian Nights Entertainments.”

According to Macrorie, a fabulous reality is something we encounter in the ordinary world that surprises us. “It is not fairly surprising, but absolutely surprising, because it is unique,” he wrote. “Tension is necessary to make a fabulous reality. Two things that do not belong together touch in some way. And their touching creates waves of further suggestion that are not stated.”

Having collected fabulous realities for more than thirty years now, I’ll add another indicator: discovering one is bound to make you smile. One of my first was a sign on the door of an office at the Indiana State Fair that said “Rabbit Director.” Typing it right now makes me smile…again. What the heck is a rabbit director? What, exactly, would his duties be? Would any kid, anywhere, asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, answer, “Rabbit Director at the Indiana State Fair?” I mean, really!

Sometimes fabulous realities make their way into stories—like the pink Volvo, the punk couple with the beautiful baby, the 7 year-old Elvis impersonator I wrote about earlier. But, mainly, they just bring a shock of pure delight into an ordinary day. Some things just shouldn’t be forgotten, it seems to me, so I have little notebooks full of them. Here are a few I’ve come upon lately:

* An advertisement for “Clown Therapy.”
* A large white bra lying in the middle of the park across the street from my house.
* A guy wearing a T-shirt with a facsimile of the Burger King logo on it—and written on the hamburger: JESUS IS KING
* A display of kid-size pink rifles at a gun show. The sign advertising them said, “My First Rifle.” In small print below: “Not a toy.” (I was doing research for a book I’m writing. That’s why I was there. Honest!)
* An elderly lady in Las Vegas dressed in a full-length mink coat and rhinestone flip-flops, an oxygen pack tucked neatly into her pocket.

Nothing cheers me up like a good fabulous reality! Anybody have a good one to share?


Leila said...

I've got two:

a smiling convict doing a strip-tease style dance for his visitor behind inch thick glass

a cop putting a Spongebob lunchbox in the backseat of his police car

Andrew Borden said...

A Victorian lesbian wielding a hatchet!

Brian Mandabach said...

I like the fabulous realities that make you smile. But is that part of the definition? Maybe sometimes they make you grimace in horror.

Barbara Shoup said...

Maybe the definition should be slightly adjusted to say that fabulous realities make you smile (even when, sometimes, you know you shouldn't.) For excellent examples, check out the Annual Darwin Awards!

BTW, I LOVE the Spongebob lunchbox!

Leila said...

The Victorian lesbian?
THAT makes you grimace in horror?!

It sounds like you need to become more desensitized to violence. Watch the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the entire series) a couple times, then play Grand Theft Auto for about 5 hours. After that, you'll find hatchet-wielding Victorians downright inspiring.

Now, the Darwin Awards are just in bad taste.

sbalmuth said...

Here's two:

1) In Peru this summer, I saw a woman wearing a shirt that said "Always big, sexy, always right now." I don't think she had the faintest idea of what it meant.

2) Everyday when I went to my biological anthropology class, I would pass this guy who had a table that read "Questions about Christianity?" The man liked to stand on his chair and call things to the passersby like, "Jesus has made saved us!" I always snickered as I passed, because I was on my way to learn about evolution. But then, one day, I passed the table and this woman had set up another table right next to his, which read: "Atheism". Both the Christian man and the Atheist woman were standing side by side on their chairs not looking at each other. One would shout something, and the other would respond obliquely. For instance, the woman said, "Don't be enslaved by religion!"
The man said, without looking at her, "Jesus made it so that we would not be enslaved by ignorance!" I wanted to stay all day and watch them, but I had to go learn about evolution.

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