Thursday, April 4, 2013

Unreliable Truth, Emotional Truth, Memoir and Memory

Unreliable Truth

Emotional Truth

Memoir and Memory

The purpose of memoir is to capture the essence of the narrator rather than the factual details of parts of life.  Memoir is rarely whole or factually correct.  Memory is selective; it distorts.  It gives pleasure, it reveals disappointment.  We continually create memory from the pieces of our experience.  The stories we tell and retell are unreliable.  Who can say whether these pieces are an actual image from a specific event we remember and not from a photo?  Many people “recall” events from the childhood from looking at old photo albums. Who can say whether the emotions associated with a particular experience actually belong to it or are some feeling we have learned to express?
Memory is not false, but it is unreliable in its inclination to make a totally accurate story of the past.  The idea is to make sense of what has happened in a life and to entertain the listener.  Memories reflect our purpose and identity; a reflection of how we see ourselves.  The way we begin to tell our life story is the way we begin to live our life. What we remember is a reconstruction of image and feeling that suits our needs and purposes.  It’s an attempt by the author to narrate memories with the greatest emotional truth.  If you’re the writer, it’s your memory of the event written from your perspective – not your sister’s husband or your child’s.  Each of your family members may tell the story of a particular event differently because of their particular point of view, but that doesn’t mean that your account is untrue.

It is your job to relate your memory as honest as possible and to assure the reader that you have done a sufficient amount of reflection to write your best understanding of what originally happened.  The reader cannot expect you to remember every single detail or conversation accurately. But the reader has the right to expect that what you claim to be true will be accurate to the best of your recollection.  Memoir is about honesty, not about how you appear to others. If you write with emotional truth, your reader will care about you and the events your life. The stories we leave the next generation become the memories upon which they build their lives. Anyone can write facts; not everyone has the courage to write the truth.
Most memoirs are written in first-person.  This is your life you are writing about -- your ambitions, success and perhaps, even your failures.  Your memories are filled with people who have adorned, scarred and skewed the plot of your life. You must summon back the men, women, children and animals who have crossed your life.  To preserve the important people you have known, put them in your stories before time robs you of your impressions.  These people are waiting in the wings.
What do you remember about your first date?  Did you insist you weren’t hungry so he wouldn’t see your teeth looking disgusting?  Were you afraid to say you needed to use the bathroom?

 Who was the most mean-minded person you knew?  Try to recapture the feelings you had for that person.

Conversely, how about the sweetest person you knew?  Did that person ever fail you?

Who was the one person that drove you completely nuts?
Do you often wonder what would have happened if you didn’t:

             Take the plane ride                  Move away

            Marry that person                    Attend that college

            Go to that concert                   Take that job
Catherine Alexander

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