Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Life as a Story, and Other Thoughts on Editing


Every person has more than one narrative, actually, when it comes to relating a life story in a memoir or an essay. I have discussed copy-edits so much that sometimes I feel as I'm drifting away from those ... memories that comprise who I am.

By that I mean the the internal narrative I relate to myself, the film strip that unwinds in memory as I subjectively reconstruct what happened.

Is it a true internal narrative, at least in the sense that I mean true. The quality I am attempting to describe is more akin to remembrance. We humans are prone to back-construct a narrative, one often more dramatic, than what actually occurred.

Humans do that in an attempt to construct a history with which they can live, I think.

So, understanding all the foibles which plague us, I think most internal narratives may consist of both remembrance and amnesia. I doubt we want to include everything painful or guilt-inspiring or less-than-heroic in that internal narrative.

Obviously then, if there is an internal narrative, there is a narrative constructed from outside perceptions.

There are people I know who look through the window into the zoo enclosure where this creature named Gary Presley lives, and they glimpse a creature far different from the one shining in its internal narrative. There are windows for my wife, for my brother, for his wife, for my one-time boss -- for every person who knew me "when," those who knew me "then," and for those who see me in person or via this magic Internet.

We are prisms. No single person (call that person a "biographer" or classify that person as yourself with the memoirist label) will ever be able to construct a complete and unbiased and entirely truthful narrative of a human life.

That's why in many of the interactions I have with other writers -- and copy-editors -- especially with those with journalism training, I stress there may be One Mystic Ultimate Truth (I suppose that applies only to a believer) but there are many truths.

I think I've found part of mine, at least those I want to explore and then reveal to the world.
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