I just finished taking a class online about issues of truth in writing fiction and nonfiction. By nonfiction, this class meant memoir. The teacher talked about using truth (our lives) to color and form our fiction; we were also going to use craft strategies used in fiction to color our memoir.
Color my memory. Eek!
Which brings me to an existential crisis. It’s about me and my memory. My distrust of my memory. I’m now having a moral dilemma about writing about myself at all.
I was writing about scenes from a time in my life when I was ten years old, maybe eleven. I remember the situations happening. At least I’m pretty sure they did. And as I wrote and rewrote and added color to the scenes, sensory details, dialogue, the scenes came to life for me. Became more real to me as the writer as well as to the reader. They felt true. And then I would change it, color it differently, and a new truth emerged, nuanced with situation.
I’m not sure what truth is. Or if it even exists. And this isn’t even about politics or the news industry!
How much of what I remember really happened? How much have I created for myself to explain myself to myself? Memory is so scary. I’ve been to several lectures, heard talks and read articles about how people often see one thing and convince themselves that it’s something else entirely. Eyewitness reports are simply not reliable. People rewrite their memories. And here’s the thing: they aren’t even lying. They are creating truth.
One of my classmates kindly wrote this to me in response to my wondering if I can call my memoir writing “nonfiction”:
“I think it is nonfiction if it conveys a truth of events and their impact on your life. I think to the extent you have changed details or characters, it is still nonfiction unless the reason you changed them was to change the emotional truth.”
It’s quite possible, maybe even probable, that Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford both believed that their truths were accurate. Certainly they both seemed emotionally believable in their versions of what happened. But they couldn’t both be right. There is such a thing as reality, isn’t there?
I am so eager to hear your thoughts on this.