In her new book, The Art of Memoir, author Mary Karr repeatedly urges readers to dig deep to discover their true story. As a disclaimer, I’m not digging back into the volume to discuss it. This post is based on what I perceived, understood, and remember, not her specific words. My perception is my reality, my truth. If that varies from literal words in the book, that’s how memory works, and that’s part of my point.
Karr, along with countless others, myself included, have continually made the point that as you begin to edit and refine your initial story and reflect about what really did happen, how else you might look at the past, how else might you tell it, your story changes. In fact, you reconstruct history. Some give the impression that this reconstruction conveys our true essence and is truer than our initial understanding or viewpoint, no matter how long we held it.
As I read Karr’s thoughts on this reconstruction, I was overwhelmed with the certainty that these “deeper truths” are no truer than the ones we’ve lived with, perhaps for decades. Our lives may be richer for reaching them, but they NOT MORE TRUE.
What you remember on the surface is your story, the story that made you who you are. You may derive enormous personal benefit and change your life by digging, archeologist-style, into your past, but that does not diminish the personal validity of your original insights and belief, your original truth.
Early drafts of your story convey a sense of who you have been. When you begin crafting and editing that story, it remains true, but continues to develop. You continue to develop and grow. Deep reflection and insight can shape and reflect who you become. New information can change how we view the past, but it can’t change how we thought and felt before we turned that corner. We are, after all, works in progress, continually evolving as we travel life’s path, and stories change even for those who never write.
Memories do tend to morph over time. Read an old journal if you need examples. Just keep in mind that their initial form is as true and valid as whatever form they eventually take.
I bring this up in the hope that nobody will be deterred from writing or sharing stories for fear they have not dug deeply enough or their story may not be true enough on the first or second draft to be deemed “worthy” of writing or being read. I hope nobody will be deterred from writing at least a few stories from the certainty they’ll never have the time, skill or motivation to polish it to perfection.
Enough of that Inner Critic talk! All stories are worthy of writing and sharing. Furthermore, no matter how well-developed and polished, or how loudly your supporters cheer, not all will appeal to a million people. So whatever your level of skill, motivation and resources, don’t hesitate to write yours.
Do you find this concept startling, that truth can be defined on multiple levels? Do you agree? What are your thoughts and experiences? I welcome and encourage comments on all facets of this topic. Please join the discussion.