Friday, March 12, 2010

Telling truths, telling lies

Helen of Straight from Hel awarded me the Creative Writer Award a couple of weeks ago. Since then, I've read and enjoyed several other award winners. But it got me to thinking about truth, lies and fiction and where the lines between them all are. Or are there lines? Any boundaries at all? Doesn't a story change as the storyteller changes? Don't we all "tell to our audience"? Even when writing the truth in the form a memoir such as Elizabeth of Sixth in Line, I believe writing or simply telling changes the tale.

Part of that is because truth is so odd, so fantastic, that it must be explained or simplified or something to be enjoyable to read. As proof here are a few truths that read like lies:
1. I graduated from college 3 months after I turned 19, the same year I was supposed to graduate from high school. This created many problems with employment as nobody believed me.
2. I can chew my own toenails (but don't).
3. The photo above is of the first blooming flowers on the original Oregon Trail. The trail is a few feet from my home in a suburb and my great-great grandfather traveled this same trail 150 years ago. This flower is considered a weed by many people because it grows wild.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Am I right about my ideas? Wrong? And what are some of your fantastic truths? Please share.


lisa and laura said...

Oh, I love this post. There's something mind blowing about the truth being a living, breathing thing, isn't there?

Aubrie said...

What a pretty weed! Wow, that's so neat that your still connected to your family's history. Some day I'll have to look mine up :)

Elisabeth said...

In a writing class I attended once, Conda, the teacher suggested that sometimes the truth is less plausible than fiction.

She told us how she had once wanted to refer in her fiction to two girls who had been in her class, the one was called Ebony, the other Bianca.

You might have guessed: Ebony had dark hair and Bianca was blond.

All this was true but my writing mentor suggested that it would be pointless to use it; too much a of a truism. Even the truth can seem implausible when it's predictable.

Thanks for these thoughts, Conda. Needless to say, I agree with you.

We construct ourselves anew every time we write about ourselves and therefore we are in a constant state of flux.

Oh that we might stay still for just a while. Of course we will only do that once we're dead.

Dave King said...

There are so many truths. There are factual, mythic, poetic, gnomic, artistic, scientific and religious truths. No doubt there are others. No doubt, too, they all overlap. But there are differences an d they could never all be packed into one statement. Some might say that truth itself is a myth, but that would be faulty logic - so where does that get us?

Jim Murdoch said...

Meaning is the province of the reader not the writer. Often the two will overlap, the writer’s intent and the reader’s interpretation, but I can never imagine them being a perfect fit. No matter how well I know my audience I’ve never been in their head and so when I ask them, “Did you understand me?” and they say, “Yes,” who is to say what they have understood? We all colour what we read. The word ‘overlap’ in the second sentence above, what image did you have in your head when you read that? I pictured a Venn diagram. I can see it right now, presumably one I’ve encountered over the years, filed away for future use.

A lot of the time we define things non-verbally. My neck feels a bit sore right now. You’re a writer, I bet you’ve had your fair share of sore necks in your time, so when I say, “I have a sore neck,” which I do, you insert an experience of a sore neck into your understanding of this sentence; your sore neck becomes my sore neck. Is my sore neck pain the same as your neck pain? Perhaps I have a high tolerance of pain so what I call “a bit sore” might have you strapping on a neck brace.

You say that the picture is of the first blooming flowers on the original Oregon Trail. Is that the truth? Have you travelled the full length of the trail? It may have been the first flower to bloom. It may not. Are you lying or is the truth not that important? And was it 150 years ago your great-great grandfather travelled along that trail or perhaps 149½? We have become used to rounding up truths: if something’s 95% true then it’s true enough.

I’ll leave it there before I get really started.

Cynthia Reed said...

Does the story change as the storyteller changes? Hmmmmm, well of course it does (I think at the moment). What a fascinating post, Conda.

Instantly my mind went to Schroedinger and his infernal cat, about whom I read and pondered much when I was into my 'zen of quantum physics' phase. In fact, I still think about that silly cat to this day.

In very simplistic terms, something changes if only because we observe it (this is the one about the cat in the box being dead or alive, with apologies in advance for the Cat People), hypothesises Schrodinger, even if only on the molecular (or smaller) level.

So I suppose the same must be true of each of us, telling our story or truths as best we can. We must change as they can't exist in a dual universe, unchanged, because there must be a different universe existent for each version of the truth.

I am making no sense. That's the truth. Must be because my neck is sore, too, and has been for over a week now. I am sure that Jim has a higher pain tolerance than I do because I have precious little when it comes to sore necks. "She's a pain in the neck." And so on.

I have a hard time looking at my fantastical truths. I usually don't believe them so I don't. Perhaps I'd write more fiction, more successfully, if I did. Is this why I stick to non-fiction?

We're away at a dog rally in Wales and missed lunch. I think I am getting light-headed and it's time to feed the dogs in the van and go get our own meal. Then I'll think about this some more. And that's the truth.

Conda Douglas said...

Lisa and Laura, thanks and yes, it makes so much sense that the truth is alive--why wouldn't it be?

Conda Douglas said...

Aubrie, yes, it is fun to know some family history--although that's as far back as mine goes.

Conda Douglas said...

First, Elisabeth, let me apologize for misspelling your name. My mom's name was EliZabeth and it was automatic.

Speaking of my mom, she always said, "Cliches are cliches for a reason, they happen all the time."

Swubird said...


I once took a class in social psychology where we studied a case involving witnesses to a crime. There were several witnesses to a particular crime and each witness told the truth---swear to God. However, no two stories were the same. Who lied?

My uncle Bob used to say that it's all lies except for the truth. I think he was right.

Happy trails.

Conda Douglas said...

Dave, you make my head spin, you philosopher, you.

Carol Kilgore said...

Wow, Conda. Your truths tell me you're quite intelligent and more limber than 90% of us.

What is that beautiful wildflower called?

Helen Ginger said...

I do think the truth can change. You tell a truth, but I interpret it in a way you hadn't intended. That truth has altered. Maybe it hasn't for you, but if I re-tell your truth, it will be different.

Hmm. Did that make sense?

Straight From Hel

Enid Wilson said...

I don't think the pretty flowers are weeds. How much of what you said are true or lies, difficult to tell. Congratulations on the award.

Steamy Darcy

Conda Douglas said...

Jim, as usual, excellent, cogent remark--I'm reminded of Oliver Sachs observation about schizophrenics: the trouble is, they haven't signed onto the same contract as the rest of us, that a chair is a chair, that there is a stable unchanging reality.

Kathy McIntosh said...

Goodness, what a lot of philosophizing your post brought out!
My mind's whirring, my neck is sore, and I wonder what the flower is called, too! Generally I make up lies and see if I can pass them as truths, when I'm talking. Sadly, my friends, if there, save the gullible from my devious mind.

Anonymous said...

Loved this post. I also enjoyed all the comments. Truth is a fragile thing. Everyone sees things differently therefore truth to one, may be a lie to another.

Danyelle L. said...

Great thoughts! For me, some of the greatest truths I've found have been clothed in fiction. Some truths are universal. :)
Thanks for stopping by my blog. :D

Lynda Lehmann said...

Funny you should be talking about truth, Conda, when I just left a comment on someone's blog earlier today about there being no "truth," because it's so relative to the teller.

You live near the Oregon Trail! How I would love that! We recently watched a video about Oregon and it seems the state has every kind of geologic feature and terrain. I can't wait to travel there one day.

I'm glad you refrain from chewing your toenails! And certainly, don't do it during dinner or when company is visiting!

You must be a genius to have that track record with school...

The "weed" is lovely and defies that appellation.

jesse said...

I like your comment about the fantastical nature of truth. I hadn't really thought of it that way, although I do love to play the truth finding game with my friends, to show exactly how simple it can be to discover true things in the world when we see it as such an impossible task. 'There is milk in the fridge.' Yes. It's true, there is.

I've never given a great deal of thought to the 'truth stranger then fiction' rule, just found it rather irritating that it is most likely true when I would rather it not be and that at times it is cited by people who think I do not have a reason to find my life exciting because, after all, reality is always exciting.

The peculiarity for me is that I write fantasy. I have always viewed the fantastical worlds as making a nest for truth, where it can be seen more vividly and more clearly. Which makes fiction as much a lie as a house.