I have always followed the news. My earliest memories are of backseats, couches, cheap restaurants and taxi cabs in other countries where my mother or father would ask: can you turn it up please? The news. Can you turn it up? So they could hear better, so they could hear right. Whatever haze of childish daydream I was caught in quickly cleared at the sound of the official voices of men and women announcing today in Cairo four people dead…Last night a French passenger plane was highjacked…Comments made by English Prime minister Margaret Thatcher…and the reality, just as much a daydream as anything else, surrounded me and I swam in the world of words, announcements, facts, tragedies -breaking news.
What did it break? The luxurious haze of the daydream. The moment’s calm. I was too young to tell the difference between the make believe in my head and the make believe on the radio. Both were invisible, both belonged to larger stories, larger worlds I did not know, and both were far out of my grasp. That was not the case for my parents. As refugees fleeing a revolution and seeking out a place to land, a place to make a home for their new small family, the news was a series of instructions. Where to go. How to get there. Which country is open to immigrants, which country is closed. What is the situation back home. For this and other concerns the news, official, in English (depending on where we were) was paramount, instructive, a guide, the wisdom of the moment. In some sense they themselves were part of some headline thrown away in yesterday’s trash and little did they know the choices they made, the way they moved in reaction to the news would become tomorrows news. Not headlines with their names and faces necessarily but reports of migrations, relocations, displacements and arrivals. A chronicling of the shifting world.
Onward though a peripatetic childhood, obedient adolescence, engaging college and into a rowdy and festive adulthood where news was deeply unfashionable. My artist, musician, waitress and cook friends paid no attention to the news. When they caught me listening or reading or watching they’d laugh or tease and ask why? And I’d always answer the same thing: it’s a story, just like a book or a movie. I want to see what happens next.
What I didn’t explain and most likely didn’t know at the time was that I looked for news in everything, films, music, art, relationships, weather, traffic jams. Without a presence of body politic, a resonance to the issues of today or yesterday or next year, I couldn’t keep focus; my heart had nowhere to settle, my head no place to connect. When I started to write, in my mid twenties, I saw that my fiction was my mind at play with all the news I’d ever heard. News of places I’d never been, people I had never met, that still, somehow passed through me and ended up in the daydream of my fiction.
As a teacher of writing I encourage a wordly-ness in my students, a news reading practice that will bring them up to date on the myriad of stories that are occurring among the seven billion of us, concurrently breathing in and out on the planet today. I mention that even the most revered writers of speculative fiction, Atwood, Asimov, Dick must have been in touch with the news – of science, of the environment, of human political movements – to create believable future worlds. Among the writers I turn to again and again: J.M Coetzee, Edward P. Jones, Elena Ferrante, and William Faulkner, there is a deep connection to the news of the day and the history that preceded it and that connection makes their fictional worlds vivid, engrossing and airtight. Following the news-story of our time immeasurably broadens our own stories, opening our hearts to the inside and outside of a person, a scene, a passage such that in the end the writer is a guide, taking us from their own personal daydream into the daydream we all share.
Laleh Khadivi is a at work on the third book of her Kurdish Trilogy. She is fascinated by all things in motion. She and her family live in Berkeley California.