Two Lies and a Truth

It’s hard to tell the truth. Sometimes it’s liberating. There are moments while writing this memoir where I write something true that I had not quite realized before. I love those moments.

But the lies. Oh the lies. I lie without meaning to, and sometimes I don’t catch it from draft to draft. Last night I was reading a chapter and there was just a small detail about my walking home with a suitcase dragging behind me. Wait. I’ve never owned a proper suitcase. I am not one of those well-dressed women you see walking through the city with a wheeled suitcase bouncing over the sidewalk behind them. Nope. I am the woman whose hair is falling out of a knot with an unwieldy overnight bag slung over my shoulder walking home when I should have probably just gotten a cab.

Other lies are more subtle. I have a brain like a steel sieve. I don’t remember the exact conversations that I write about. And so I have to make it up. One of my favorite parts of the memoir is capturing my parents’ voices on the page. But are they things that each person would have actually said? Have I exaggerated for effect? Will my sisters call me out?

What do you lie about in your writing?

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8 responses to “Two Lies and a Truth

  1. I can’t think about this stuff too much. Too paralyzing. Instead I try and remember that my memory is my memory (others may disagree, and that’s okay), and I’m doing the best I can.

    Saying you were in jail for 30 days (when you weren’t) or that your girlfriend killed herself (when she didn’t) — ala James Frey — is lying. Recreating a conversation to the best of your ability, trying to capture a moment with all of your might, is an art.

  2. I have always had a terrible memory so I must lie but I don’t have a problem with it and I don’t really care if other authors lie either. What matters is if the writing is good. Take Lillian Hellman for instance. She was accused of making up huge life stories but did it matter? I don’t know. Maybe I’d feel differently if it was my life she was lifting but as a reader with no connection, I’m not bothered. I’m currently reading Maria Dahvana Headley’s THE YEAR OF YES. In her author’s note she writes, “One more thing. This book has been reconstructed from memory. My memory. Subject to vagaries, hangovers, emotional meltdowns and the occasional unrequited vendetta. Some of the people in this book are gonna be happy about this, and some of you aren’t. I’ve tried to be kind where I could be, and if I couldn’t be entirely kind while still telling the truth, at least I’ve edited out some of your bad dialogue and made you wittier than you were.” Works for me.

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