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The Truth

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Dec. 20th, 2012 | 05:42 am

Des passes me the dish of julienned beets, “They are fresh, not from a can,” she assures me. “Have you had them before?”

“I’m sure I have sometime, I’d love to try them.” I take a tiny spoonful.

My boyfriend says, “You’ve had beets before, haven’t you?”

“Yes, I think so. I’ll see.” I nudge him sharply under the table as he starts to go on about whether or not I’ve had beets.

I tell him later in the car, what I meant was, I dislike beets. Unless they’re pickled. I’ll see if these are pickled. What I meant was to be polite at a dinner given by his first girlfriend, now a music teacher with a terrific husband, a darling child who loves my American accent, a lovely woman who welcomes me and is sweetly and energetically committed to being unthreatening.

Social lies. Or perhaps, social truths. Self-censorship.

I have party stories. The time I faced down a traffic mob in Calcutta. The time I jumped on a car hood to stop the driver honking in Montenegro. The time in Croatia when I kicked a kid and acted like I hadn’t. I did these things. I tell them with the benefit of hindsight, of knowing now that traffic mobs often kill the driver they deem at fault, that the police never came, the kid blamed his friend and his mother didn’t catch me.

My friends were there, they know the facts. What I tell is feeling. (Frustration, in all three cases.) My friends who weren’t there get the facts, organized, with the details phrased nicely and me cast as the anti-hero, a role I’m comfortable in, told with flow and creating feeling.

It’s still the truth.

I journal, privately. I journal online. Once, years ago, I find out in public that my then-boyfriend is dating my employee, and I write:


I am hot, I am cold, I am shaking, but Writer Brain takes over and like my ideal mother takes my hand, turn away, don’t look, come over here and we’ll sing a song together, play a game, and that’s the part of me sane enough to catalog reaction, note the increased pulse, the urge to vomit, the mindless chatter.

…Writer Brain slaps me, soothes me, bites my tongue, trots out the metaphor parade, analyzes the sentence structure and corrals this horrorshow into words. Writer Brain rummages the files and chooses poems to quote, past incidents to mention, parallels to draw. But underneath the poems and the past and the parallels my blood is one long icy scream and even when the others head for their own rooms and only C. is left to hide my feelings from, I am cold enough even under blankets to turn on the heat.


And transfer it to the Internet, unedited. In my notebook, it blew off steam, processed feelings, armed me against the devastation of betrayal. Online, it garnered sympathy, and a fair number of “serves you right” comments from people who’d been reading my honest, anonymous blog, and seen the shit I’d been up to myself. Self-censorship would have protected me. Rawness let me write. Craft was the tool that made it worth reading, more than an angry, bitter woman bitten by karma raving the venom that only her friends should hear. Craft let me analyze without self-judgment, receive the serves-you-rights with rueful acknowledgement, get over myself and, eventually, over him. Craft is the therapist who’s always there.

My father died. That’s a fact. My feelings are that I was glad I was the favorite, and I can tell that in a proud way that’s a little mean or a humble way that’s a little ashamed. These are alternately and sometimes simultaneously true. Must I always present them both? Is it self-censorship if Tuesday I admit to one, and Friday I write an essay about the other? Is it hiding my real self if I think about those feelings for a long time and do a rough draft first? How much concealment comes with good structure, with choosing a way to tell the story, polishing the voice? Is craft also distance? Or does it open up our veins, cut cleanly to the quick, let us tell the truth as truthfully as we can?

Words are my makeup, my manicure, my designer frock. Sometimes the model is elegant and icy, coming down a marble staircase. Other shoots are in an alley, Gaultier tulle flowing into the garbage can as the model steadies herself, pulling the heel of her Prada stiletto out of her hem, liquid liner halfway down her cheeks. Underneath is a nice Slovenian girl from a good home, with seven years to make all the money her family needs for life. Underneath she is an ice queen, she is a trash girl, she just wants to go home and eat dumplings again. The practice of these faces as effects does not remove them from her heart.

There is a me that is raw. I write her. There is a me that is studied and careful, and I write her. There is a me that wears rubber gloves to do the washing up and remembers how my boyfriend likes his coffee. And when I can make her interesting—though perhaps, by virtue of mere contrast, she already is—I’ll write her, too. All of these girls are worthy, are my self, are my soul. All of these girls deserve my best words, my most careful structure, my cleanest voice, not to hide behind, but so that you can know them, know them as well as I know them, know them as well as you know the me that you already know.


_______________________________________________
Are we real friends or polyester?


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Comments {21}

Kizzy

(no subject)

from: xo_kizzy_xo
date: Dec. 20th, 2012 11:59 am (UTC)
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It must be the time difference, but I just woke up, so I need to have coffee, reread this, and get back to you. But two quick things:

1. My college advisor once told me that, no matter how compelling a real life event might be, it needs to be translated into what he called "Story Land". That is, people may like to read the cold, brutal truth, but if it's continually cold and brutal, they will not continue reading, so you, as the writer, have to change things up, whether it's fictionalizing part of it or mashing the plot or whatever.

2. I used to bristle against #1 like nobody's business because it was MY angst, MY real life story, MY whatever. It wasn't until my advisor made me rewrite the same story a half dozen times that I finally understood what he meant (the story, btw, is the highlight of my undergrad thesis).

I need coffee. I'll be back.

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Kizzy

(no subject)

from: xo_kizzy_xo
date: Dec. 20th, 2012 12:58 pm (UTC)
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Ah, I feel more human now :)

I'm very much a fan of rawness in writing. I love the immediacy, love being thrown into the thick of things where I'm part of the protagonist's brain and so much resonates with me that I can cry out, "I GET YOU! WHY DOESN'T ANYONE ELSE?" It's writing that moves me so much that I either actually cry or want to throw something across the room (the mother in Bastard Out Of Carolina, for example, made me feel both simultaneously. I haven't reread it and I don't need to because THAT'S how much of an impression she made on me.)

OTOH there's a lot to be said for craft itself. There are some writers who can extract what they want to say with an x-acto knife, whether it's via structure, word choice, or something else. They're masters at precision. They know how to craft a piece to maximize its effect on the reader. There are some genres which demand this more than others, and I think it's one of those gifts that has to be constantly honed in order to master it because, as off-the-cuff storytellers, it's not natural to think of all those things.

There is, I think a thin blending of raw AND precision. Too much raw, you have the potential of alienating your readers. Too much precision, you lose the rawness. How to balance both? I don't know because it's something I know I need to work on.








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Holly

(no subject)

from: minnesattva
date: Dec. 20th, 2012 01:17 pm (UTC)
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I think there is a pernicious tendency in western thinking going back to Aristotle, that things are this or that, one or another, man or woman, gay or straight, elegant or scruffy, polished or raw; never anything more complicated than that. And anything that defies that dichotomy is greeted with hostility, blaming the person who brought such a juxtaposition to our attention, lest it challenge their assumptions. Thus as a bisexual I'm told with increasing vehemence that I must be "really gay" or "really straight"; people are attacked and killed for not being a gender someone thinks they look like, and you're treated like you're lying for being either the writerly crafted you or the low-level-emotion you; the humble you or the smug you. On different levels of importance, we are always seeing dichotomies that probably aren't as clear-cut as our culture would have us believe. And yet like Uncle Walt, we are large, we contain multitudes. One version of us doesn't make others any less real or worthy.

I have long recognized that I have a Writer Self too, but have never been able to articulate the effects of this as well as you did here; that'll be useful to me and delights me, thank you.

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SuperCAILEfragilistic

(no subject)

from: caile
date: Dec. 20th, 2012 03:00 pm (UTC)
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I looked for a button to like this comment, because I love what you've said about false binaries.

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blahblahblah, whatever

(no subject)

from: kathrynrose
date: Dec. 21st, 2012 12:36 am (UTC)
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Seconding the loving this comment.

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SuperCAILEfragilistic

(no subject)

from: caile
date: Dec. 20th, 2012 03:05 pm (UTC)
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Writer Brain is what cajoles me and consoles me by saying, whenever something wildly unpleasant happens, this will make a good story. I got called on it once, when an old friend from school was talking about her work with First Nations kids in Northern schools, and I said, "You must have lots of great stories!" And she said, "It's not stories, it's my real life." And my Writer Brain whispered, what's the difference?

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drwex

I'm all about the stories

from: drwex
date: Dec. 20th, 2012 03:08 pm (UTC)
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I don't write professionally (anymore) but I'm very much about stories, I tell stories, usually about myself, a lot. There's a lot that goes into crafting a story and part of that craft is the telling itself.

When I wrote, I used to write everything first with pencil and paper. Copying onto the computer became my first edit pass. I did my entire MS and PhD this way. It's possible I'm insane.

There's another lot to say here about modernist writing and its fixation with the personal and first-person and how that's warped our senses of self and of storytelling. I'm probably not the right person to say it, as I hate almost all modernist writing.

What I do a lot nowadays is take pictures. Usually of people, at events. I struggle with the process of selecting and editing down photos. When I find I only have one picture of someone from an event, and it's a bad shot or I want to edit them out to make the shot better it's like erasing the fact that they were there. The relationships among facts, stories, and images fascinate me.

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(Deleted comment)

blahblahblah, whatever

Re: In the words of Walt Whitman: "

from: kathrynrose
date: Dec. 21st, 2012 12:38 am (UTC)
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Is there a "not" missing in that sentence?

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Ellakite

Re: In the words of Walt Whitman: "

from: ellakite
date: Dec. 21st, 2012 12:45 am (UTC)
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Quite right. My bad. Sadly, the fact that you made a comment on my comment will prevent me from fixing it...

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blahblahblah, whatever

Re: In the words of Walt Whitman: "

from: kathrynrose
date: Dec. 21st, 2012 12:47 am (UTC)
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Sorry bout that. I just wanted to make sure I understood what you were saying, and it made eversomuch more sense with a "not." :)

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Ellakite

it's OK

from: ellakite
date: Dec. 21st, 2012 12:52 am (UTC)
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I just reposted my comment, with the appropriate edit. Thanks for drawing the matter to my attention.

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blahblahblah, whatever

Re: it's OK

from: kathrynrose
date: Dec. 21st, 2012 12:59 am (UTC)
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sure thing. :)

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biffjoanes

(no subject)

from: biffjoanes
date: Dec. 20th, 2012 05:15 pm (UTC)
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Is it hiding my real self if I think about those feelings for a long time and do a rough draft first? How much concealment comes with good structure, with choosing a way to tell the story, polishing the voice? Is craft also distance? Or does it open up our veins, cut cleanly to the quick, let us tell the truth as truthfully as we can?

I don't think it's concealing at all. If it's truth, what matter is it how you craft it? I guess the difference is who the intended audience is. When you write in your personal journal, you're writing to you, and you talk differently to you than you would to people reading your public journal. Does that make the truth any different? Not the way I see it. The essence of the truth doesn't change.

Then again, Neil Gaiman said, “Writers are liars my dear, surely you know that by now?”, so what do I know? ;)

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blahblahblah, whatever

(no subject)

from: kathrynrose
date: Dec. 21st, 2012 12:39 am (UTC)
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Then again, Neil Gaiman said, “Writers are liars my dear, surely you know that by now?”

Love that.

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writerdoc

(no subject)

from: writerdoc
date: Dec. 20th, 2012 09:49 pm (UTC)
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I really love this. :) I have nothing to add!

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blahblahblah, whatever

(no subject)

from: kathrynrose
date: Dec. 21st, 2012 12:44 am (UTC)
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I am hot, I am cold, I am shaking, but Writer Brain takes over and like my ideal mother takes my hand, turn away, don’t look, come over here and we’ll sing a song together, play a game, and that’s the part of me sane enough to catalog reaction, note the increased pulse, the urge to vomit, the mindless chatter.

I love this, and I think there's a connection there to me writing what I did about the shooting. The idea that it was the right time for me to write it but the wrong time for people to read it, made me wonder why I'm so "off" the norm (you know, like that's new).

Writer Brain says, "You've been steeping in this tragedy for days. Set it down over here with these other thoughts so it won't be in your way, and you can finally sleep." It's not that I'm a horrible ghoul. That's just the way I processed it.

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Ellakite

In the words of Walt Whitman:

from: ellakite
date: Dec. 21st, 2012 12:49 am (UTC)
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"I am large, I contain multitudes. "

You can honestly be all the people you describe, have all the attributes you list. That does not make you a hypocrite; it merely makes you human.

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medleymisty

(no subject)

from: medleymisty
date: Dec. 21st, 2012 01:13 am (UTC)
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*hugs*

You're awesome, you know? And we have different styles, but I can totally relate to this.

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dragon

(no subject)

from: dragonwrites
date: Dec. 21st, 2012 06:08 am (UTC)
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why did you kick a kid???

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Dec. 21st, 2012 11:35 am (UTC)
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I was in a Fornetti shop in Croatia, which is a bakery that sells little sweet and savory pastries by the kilo. They're awesome--they come right out of the oven and there's a bunch of flavors. Chocolate, raspberry, apricot, cheese, pizza, sausage, totally yummy. And you just look around and point at what you like and they weigh them out and hand you a paper bag of hot deliciousness.

I can't read Croatian well enough to see what the pastries are that are currently available, so I have to look in the pastry case. And these two boys of about seven or eight are leaning their whole bodies on the glass front of the case and screwing around with each other, and I'm trying to look around them and they just will not move.

So I kicked one of the kids sharply in the ankle while looking over his head and slightly in the other direction and acting like I wasn't paying attention to him at all. He looked at me (still looking away) then decided his friend had kicked him and the two of them started fighting about it, so the mother sent them out of the shop, thus making it easy for me to choose and purchase pastries.

I think of this as a happy story :)

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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

(no subject)

from: halfshellvenus
date: Dec. 28th, 2012 08:23 am (UTC)
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The thought of any form of beets makes me shudder, so I'm unsure if pickled beets are what Americans normally eat or something else entirely that I've never tried.

I liked most here the idea that all of the facets you write and present are still you, and no matter the 'slant' of the moment, you're still searching for the truest representation of this aspect of you. The honesty in that goal is one of the things that makes you such a good writer. You're willing to be raw so long as you are also honest, and yet the presentation of those 'raw' moments will be crafted in the utmost for clarity, impact, and beauty. Merging those contrasting things doesn't even occur to most people, but I see the proof of its power in your writing.

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