Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Truth About Truth

"We all turn them into stories; otherwise, they are just events," my friend Mike said in an after school meeting.

We were talking about Rocket Boys and whether or not Homer Hickam's memory was accurate, or if he exaggerated and/or altered his experiences and interactions. Given anecdotal accounts of so-and-so's grandparents who happened to attend the same high school as Hickam, a few of us wondered how true his truth happened to be.

Then Mike squeaked out a bit of wisdom. A short comment. A matter of fact comment. A comment that bared a lot of truth.

I pondered his words about the construction of stories, and our professional learning community discussion the entire ride home. I thought about whether or not it mattered that Homer Hickam exaggerated, or if Ryan Smithson relayed his experience faithfully, or if Firoozeh Dumas really grew up enduring so many funny moments. Their messages were excellent; did their details have to be perfect?

I moved on from those writers and began wondering about myself. For some odd reason--of all of the stories I could have pondered--I couldn't stop thinking about an eighth grade softball game. I tried to recall if I actually had to run laps for crying about one of my wild pitches breaking a girl's arm. I seem to remember that occurring, but I honestly don't know if it did. At some point I ran laps for not being "tough enough," and at several points, I injured opponents with wild pitches. Did it truly matter whether or not both of those things occurred in the same moment, or did it simply matter that my coach was smacking me with the harshness of competition?

My softball incident led me to scrutinize all of my stories. While I try to honor the truth in every retelling, at some point, as I live out each of my adventures, my imagination and meaning-maker kicks in. And whether it is conscious or unconscious, through the course of crafting my stories, I must decide how to balance precise accuracy and accurate messages; I must decide what to leave out, and what to squish in.

This whole internal investigation then began to tumble deeper; I began to reevaluate my beliefs about truth. Because truth seems to be wrapped in a complicated web of events, emotions, thoughts and interactions, and draped across layers of time, I began to wonder whether or not truth could ever be duplicated. Every set of eyes zones in on different details, every set of ears hears different tones or channels in on different words, and every single brain works independently to combine present pieces with past pieces; from that mixed up mess of goodness, our minds reconstruct what is true in a particular moment--or at least what is true for us.

Maybe it doesn't matter that our truths are ego-centric. Maybe whether or not everything is entirely accurate is less important than whether or not everything builds to an idea that honors the most important parts of our experiences. And maybe, just maybe, the grayness is what makes it all so delicious. After all, true or not, in my humble opinion, stories make life better. Stories make life far more enjoyable than I imagine yellow steno pads laced with bulleted events ever could.


  1. Do you remember that Million Little Pieces controversy that Oprah started? She was upset thatFrye lied in his memoir. What she didn't account for was that memoir is creative nonfiction; we have to bend the truth a little when making sense of our realities bc reality has no inherent meaning or structure.

  2. I do!! I watched an interview with him years later. I guess he originally categorized it as fiction loosely based on his life, but his publisher wanted to label it memoir. Frye wanted it published so he was lured to lie. He later regretted it, obviously. He made some BLATANT things that sits uneasy with me. BUT, the story was still interesting and good, otherwise people wouldn't have bought it. The same was true with Greg Mortenson with Three Cups of Tea...he made the whole thing up and his lies lead to donations (so that obviously opened a whole different set of issues).

    Our conversation at school dealt more with slight variances of memory/interpretation or combinations of events/people..small things. I didn't read A Million Little Pieces or the full version of Three Cups of Tea, but the fabrications seemed pretty significant. Those books raised a lot of good discussion about the genre though! I forgot about them until you mentioned it, so thank you!