Thursday, April 23, 2009

Appearing as a Guest Blogger for Brevity Magazine

In the midst of reviewing Where Did I Leave My Glasses? for The Internet Review of Books, I stumbled upon a neurological star chart which might be useful for writers exploring the edge of the universe between truth and reality. Here is a sample:

” … computer remembers all or nothing. No in-between. Whereas the brain is filled with in-between. Think of it this way: What you put into the computer is an abstraction of your experience. Retrieve it, and it’s unchanged. What you remember is an abstraction of that experience, then a reconstruction of the abstraction, then a reconstruction of the reconstruction of the abstraction, and so on and on and on—every time you retrieve it. And of course, the more time that passes, the truer this becomes.”

I think regularly about the muddy mixture of objective fact and subjective truth as it applies to the art of creative nonfiction, particularly memoir. While I know a writer has the obligation to quote correctly and describe accurately, I also know that when we set out to explore the swamp of self, we often get tangled up in the jungle of emotions.

Ignore the book’s light-hearted title. Lear tackled the subject of memory by consulting psychologists and neuro-scientists of every stripe. It was especially fascinating to follow her as she explored the idea that our writing comes from the place where memory lives, which in Lear’s description is “palimpsest,” a tablet of layered text, each preceding layer imperfectly erased.

I love the art of memoir, in book form and in personal essay, but even pre-Frey, I approached the such works believing that the writer was telling only a truth rather than the truth. Lear’s work reinforces both my skepticism and my faith.

As a reader, I am forgiving, although not quite so cynical as Ambrose Bierce, who said truth is “an ingenious compound of desirability and appearance.”

But after reading Where Did I Leave My Glasses? I think I have moved away from the idea of “truths” to the point where I believe that “truths” are merely opinions about truths, but that doesn’t mean I will easily forgive you if you choose to lie to me.

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