It was sophomore year of high school, Ms. Hager’s American literature class, when I learned one of my favorite words: semisubnebulous.
It was used in a short story, but I can’t remember which one. Probably something by Faulkner. Maybe Chopin. What I do remember is a footnote at the bottom of the page provided the definition.
It means walking around in dreamlike state. Half asleep. Half awake. It’s basically sleepwalking, but it sounds so much cooler than that.
Or at least that’s what it means to me. Because to this day, I have yet to see it defined anywhere else. It’s a ghost of a word, but I love it just the same.
There are plenty of non-ghost words that start with semi. Semiannual. Semicolon. Semisweet. Semitruck. Semicircle . . . But semifiction isn’t one of them. There’s just no such thing.
That’s because writing is not some two-lane road paved thick in black asphalt with reflective yellow lines that clearly divide the fact from the fantasy. Or if it is, we’re weaving in and out of our lanes like drunk drivers fleeing the scene of a bar fight.
The truth is even our most imagined tales are steeped far too long in boiling kettles of reality and history. And our most honest stories are fuzzied by slanted perspectives, by blurry Polaroids thumbtacked along the walls of our minds.
It’s unavoidable. And poor James Frey had to learn the hard way. But to this girl, there’s no difference between a million little truths and a million little lies.
It’s all in what we remember. In how we remember. In how we write what we remember.
It’s the emotions that seep out of our pores. It’s the words we make up during our high school English classes. It’s the scenes we try to capture–in fiction and in memoir–each one rooted in fading recollections, sepia-toned facts, and yes, even semisubnebulous memories.
So go on. Write your heart out, storytellers. Let all the semitruths spill from your veins.
The world will probably only believe half of them anyway.
Photo credit: ForgottenCharm on Etsy