Today I read a moving blog post about a friendship. The author wrote about her friend with the truth of memory, not necessarily the facts. Raising the Dead ‹ BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog ‹ Reader — WordPress.com. I read another insightful blog post about current political turmoil in France. Out My Window ‹ Reader — WordPress.com. Somehow those two posts melded, although completely different in intent, and made me think about my reality and my memories.
To me facts are incontrovertible, they may be proven false later, but they are the concrete reality that can be proven at this point in time. Facts are objective, the absolute of what we know now through all our senses. Truth is subjective. It is the reality of facts filtered through our experience. We are all human and, as humans, subject to our own prejudices and emotional knowledge. Truth is facts of the heart, our day-to-day understanding of what is going on around us. As memoir writers it is important, on your journey to the truth, not to let facts be stumbling stones. While facts may be important they are not the sum total of the experience or the lessons you learn along the way.
I have a friend, a brilliant sculptor, who exhibits regularly at art shows around the country. I’ve watched her, in an hour or two, turn big lumps of clay into miniature animals – wolves, horses – so realistic that you expect them to move toward you at any moment. A magical experience. Many years ago, I traveled with her to an art exhibition in Montana that included her work. During our time there meeting artists and enjoying the art world, we had an on-and-off weeklong discussion on religion. What is the soul, what is spirit, can God be proven, etc? The discussion continued as we packed up and left Great Falls. I was driving her van. Somewhere along the highway, we passed a gas station where a large dog was sitting close to the edge of the road. We are both dog lovers.
I interrupted our discussion with “What kind of dog was that?” as we zoomed by.
“Dog?” she replied, “What dog?”
“The one we just passed,” I answered.
“We didn’t pass a dog, we just went by a Circle K,” she said.
“Ah, you didn’t see the dog, but it was there.”
“You’re making it up to change the subject.”
At the next turnable place, I maneuvered the van across lanes of the lightly traveled highway in a most illegal U-turn and headed to the gas station possibly five miles back, hoping the dog hadn’t been run over or run away. Sure enough, the dog was still sitting by the road.
“There,” says I, “that dog.”
“Oh, I guess I didn’t see it. It looks like a shepherd mix to me.”
“And that was my point,” I said returning to our discussion about belief. “Your reality is that the dog didn’t exist because you didn’t experience it. Your truth is different from my truth. My truth could be based on an illusion or on my five senses, but it is my truth. It is what I know to be true and the same goes for you. Had I not turned the van around, we would have totally different memories of the same experience.”
What would my essay be today if the dog left, disappearing around the side of the building or into its owner’s car? It would be of a dog I swear I saw but then disappeared and her story would be of a crazy friend who made a U-turn in the middle of a highway to show her a phantom dog. Both would be true.
I write fiction primarily. Fiction contains elements of a writer’s truth. To my many memoir writing friends I want to say, write YOUR truth. There are no video or audio recordings of your day-to-day activities or relationships and the memories they engender. Your memory IS the recording and it IS filtered through your experience. Write what is in your heart because that is the truth and that is more important and much more interesting than all the facts listed in order as years evolve. Don’t let the fears of others block your truth. They cannot convey your story and should not arbitrate it. They are bit players, you are the star. What you learned is of value to those who are not able to express their story in words. Your truth may inspire or may help someone, even in your family, understand their world better. Write your story as it is for you. Don’t wait to let someone else tell it because it will then only be your story filtered through their experience, their story of you. Be Brave.
Our book Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets includes essays from each author’s truth as well as fiction short stories and poetry.