One of the great comforts of the writer's life: It's all material, baby. Anything can be boiled down, blown up, distilled, expanded, reimagined, or otherwise twisted, and used in the story. Anything. Anything. Anything.
Though we all know this, now and then it's worth celebrating all over again.
I can use the elementary teacher who would sigh at me all the time, like I was such a lousy waste of time. I can use the time when I happened to wave at Queen Elizabeth when we were both in Paris, and she waved back. (I just wanted to put my name and Queen Elizabeth in the same sentence, but yes, it's true.) Somehow, I can use that.
I can use the roommate who I think wanted to kill me, or at least to see me dead. I can use the I fell into a torture chamber in the Tower of London in front of so many people! story. I can talk about giddily running barefoot at night when I couldn't see. About hours of ceramics work, about goofy marching band stories, about my ongoing love affair with pie making. About all the lunch hours I spent in junior high at a typewriter in the school library, quietly retyping all the call numbers, spine by spine. About stings, about glories, about the quiet moments too.
I can write about what I overheard, what I dreamed up, what happened to me, and also all the things that never did. I can write about that. So can you.
It's poignant, sometimes painful, bittersweet, or joyous. But it's a gift, isn't it, to know that nothing is wasted. In this crazy work we do, it can all be used to tell the truth, to redeem what hurts. We spend it all in the service of something beautiful.