Truth is for stenographers

Hicken’s fur bearing troutAn interesting line from “The Fake Memoirist’s Survival Guide, How to embellish your life story without getting caught.” It is the author’s final advice to would be memoir fabulists (a fabulous label, imho): “Feel free, however, to insist that you’re telling the “emotional truth.” The details don’t matter, as long as you’re painting an accurate picture of how you felt—real truth is for stenographers.” Yes, I sense he is being snide, and although not everyone will agree with my artistic sensibilities, I actually believe feeling is able to create an equally accurate picture of a person’s life.

Haven’t we always called them fish tales? I suppose when you’re still alive and getting an advance from a publishing house stretching the truth becomes a rather serious charge. Or maybe daring to cross the trip wire between stretching and bald-face lying is what makes people upset. In my eyes some of the best storytellers were the best embellishers. Perhaps when it comes to life stories critics feel that’s where honesty counts most (or at least more than day-to-day honesty)? A dirtier crime is plagiarism but harder to do in the context of biography, although there must already be a book out there somewhere that mashes up several interesting real biographies to create a whole new imaginary person? A conglomerate constructed from questionable biographies: the intrigue of a Mata Hari, the glamour of a Alice Sheldon, the fearlessness of a Beryl Markham

Regardless, like applying a little (fake) makeup, I’m not sure I’d want to write my own personal history without enhancement. Memory is selective and who’s to say I didn’t live it as I felt it. If after I die someone calls me a fish-teller I would hope a friend would stand proudly in my defense and say, “Aye, and from a Long Line of truth stretchers and myth mongers she is too!” That wouldn’t be so far from the truth. Sometimes stories are easier to tell if they come from the heart than from the head despite the obvious difference between personal history and formal historical research (often subtly manipulated for the audience as well). Ultimately even a tall tale from a deceased loved one is worth boxes upon boxes of certificates, public records and canceled checks. My advice is to encourage yours to leave you at least one.

What you see depends on how you look

gorywoman.pngI recently visited Mount Auburn Cemetery which is one of the earliest “garden” cemeteries in the U.S. An extremely well-kept and beautiful place (thank you Karen, my photos don’t do it justice) and I’ve even mentioned it briefly in this blog before. While I was there, leaving yet another note for one of the staff I’d been trying to arrange a meeting with, I realized that my repeated attempts potentially had the effect of branding me as yet another cemetery obsessed goth chick or slightly downbeat Ruth Gordon when actually I’m closer to being Barnesian in my approach and attitude than either of those other stereotypes. In fact I’m looking forward to reading Julian Barnes’ latest book, Nothing To Be Frightened Of, since it does sound so much like what runs through my head on a regular basis. Well, the staff member never did decide to give me the time of day, and although of course I’m disappointed I can’t say I blame her. Despite my insistence I’m not morbidly obsessed with graves other than to appreciate cemeteries as rather pleasant sculpture parks, I must admit that a very early love of Edward Gorey did influence my warped sense of goulish humor and fondness for Edwardian landscapes and draped grecian urns. An idiosyncrasy that does tend to set me apart from your average Joe-anne, although from her perspective I’m likely not all that unique.