First let me note that I've been terribly ill with some flu-y thing for the past week. I have so much empathy for people who live with illness all the time. It makes it so hard to do anything, such as, oh, have the will or interest to live. But score another win for health, which has emerged victorious again. Although only after a grim battle.
Anyway. I read with interest and not some small amount of disgust about yet another writer who decided to fabricate her life and call it a memoir. (Also recently in the news was even another writer who fabricated a Holocaust memoir.) But the disgust was only partially aimed at the writer.
I mean, come on. If you can get away with it...if you are desperate enough...and if you live in our culture at this time, when it's so hard to recognize anything as the truth at all (um, hello, Mr. President), no wonder she was a little confused on the process. You can't even tell if a picture is real or not anymore, what with technological amazements that anyone can manipulate from their own computers. Reality TV? Snort. Not quite. And as for writing--well, it's virtually impossible to be able to say that anything is absolute truth, no? Who can get into the head of a writer? Or of anyone? Ask any police officer and she'll tell you that five different witnesses have five different memories of an event. Which of them is lying? One? Or all? Or, perhaps, no one was lying? Human memory is notorious for its infallibility (thank god, eh?). Perhaps that's a large part of what makes us so creative. We can fabricate stories at any time, slap them on paper (or on our blog), and call it literature.
Heck, what I write in my blog could be complete and utter fiction. I'm sure lots are. We are so good at not being what we really are, for so many different reasons. Is Margaret B. Jones really to blame for wanting to be someone else? (Even if, oddly enough, that someone was a gang member wannabe in South Central L.A.) We all want that at some point in our lives, even if very briefly and only as a moment of wild fantasy. (Come on, admit it. You wanted to be Wonder Woman and have her golden bracelets that could deflect nasty things.)
On a strictly literary level, I certainly do not approve of the actions of writers who pass off someone else's life experiences as their own. If it's a blurry memoir, where the lines of truth, reality, fantasy, and wishful thinking all cross, well then by all means call it such. The reading public can handle it. We are not stupid, and we are capable of bending our minds around the usual suspects to create new categories, new genres.
We are, however, liable to get pissed off if we feel deceived. There's not much we homo sapiens enjoy less (aside from waterboarding, philandering spouses, and unethical lawyers, that is) than having the wool pulled over our eyes, which we like to think of as being very sharp and in charge. Fool me, shame on you--and I'm also going to get even and show you who's the smart one, you smarmy little bastard. (Hey, I just call it as I see it. We do not like being duped.)
Ah, who knows what went through the heads of people like Margaret Seltzer (dba Margaret B. Jones, lol and hardy har har), JT Leroy, James Frey, Misha Defonseca , Kaavya Viswanathan, and others as they penned their fake masterpieces? They probably didn't really plan it. It wasn't really murder, officer, it was more a literary bookslaughter. Things just sort of--got out of control. All of a sudden, I had a big book contract, a book tour, people asking me to sign copies, saying in awed voices, "All that really happened to you? And you had the guts to relive it and write it down? Cool." Yeah, what was I supposed to do then? Admit it was all a fake before it went any farther?
Um, in a word: Yes.
Well, yeah. I know, I know. Easier said than done. But still. As a writer, who is very clear when I write either fiction, or a literary essay (which should be pretty clear by its label that it's not cut and dried nonfiction, dredged up via hypnosis from the still whimpering depths of my traumatized soul), etc., I am offended. I have not written anything that should have been fiction (or blurry nonfiction), had it published as something else, and whirled off on a tour. And I'm not going to.
But again, I am offended at both the individuals as well as our own culture, which fosters such behavior through means both obvious and less so.
Elders, wake up. Young people, wake up. Everyone, wake up. What are we doing, when we allow such untruths to be circulated and homaged as gritty (or pretty, depending on the case) reality? Where does it end? How close are we to slipping our hold on the true reality of our lives and letting just anything go? Boundaries are there for a reason, believe it or not. And I think we should abide by them, because otherwise it is a strong and clear nod to anarchy.
I know, I know--you'll accuse me of the slippery slope argument. But take a closer look. Really look. Really use your own, uncluttered judgment on this one. And decide for yourself.