Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Telling the Truth

This is a work of fiction, all of it, even that which I alleged to have done just today.  Do you feel betrayed?  I don't mean to betray you.  I just want to expose the truth that no matter how hard I try, I can't tell you the truth.  I don't know the truth. 

My sister and I had an argument once.  Oh, we weren't yelling, but it was vehement, nonetheless.  I said that my father had died at 4:15pm.  I know.  I wrote it in my notebook the next day.  I know because I was there with him in the room.  In our argument, I don't say that to her.  I don't want to rub it in.  She said that he died at an entirely different time.  I don't remember what time she said.  I didn't want to sully my sense of 4:15 pm.  Once in a while, I look up and see that it's 4:15 in the afternoon, and I feel an ache, an emptiness, occasionally a clarity in the void.  Sometimes it feels as if I'm trying to remember something I forgot.

The important thing isn't what time my father actually died.  It's in what my sister and I do with that time of day.  It's how our lives have curved around that specific memory. 

Here's the first thing I've begun to realize about time and memories - There's a time warp between the inside of my house and the bottom of my driveway in which I lose five minutes every time I pass through it in the leaving direction.  Either that or I become catatonic for five minutes every time I try to leave my house.  After reading a bunch of Oliver Sacks books, this may be more likely.  I've read few books about the physics of time warps, so I'm really not sure about time itself.  I'd like to say I had, but I have yet to read anything by Stephen Hawking.  Learning about time and space is on my agenda, but I'm feeling pretty slow to get to it.  So, let's go with the catatonia.  Is that even a word?   I'm not sure, but I'll look it up later.  I believe that I freeze up like the characters, the real people, in Oliver Sack's book 'Awakenings.'  I stay that way for five minutes, then, without realizing I've missed a step, I go onto my ordinary day.  The kink in this explanation is that Nick has never noticed this when I'm also struggling to get him through that time warp and onto his next activity.  I might propose that my house clocks are different than the one in my car, but nuclear time has put an end to that.  I'm also more likely to check my phone for the time in either case.  Still, I stand by my opinion that there is some kind of problem with time at that location.

The second thing I'm learning about time and memories is that when I bend back to look at my memories, I change them.  Times that may have been frightening become funny, or times that were funny lose their humor.  I've kept a notebook since I was twelve and seldom has my recollection of a thing matched what I wrote about it back then.  To tell you the truth, I was an awful writer and I never managed to place myself in time and space for the reader.  That wasn't writing that was intended for entertainment, in my defense.  It was a relief to tell the truth, merely a valve.  I have to tell you that it's still a valve and because I'm in my own skin, I have no idea if any of this is even worth reading.  I'm telling you, that I can never tell what will be well-liked and what will lie flaccid on the carpet by the dog when I get done writing it.

The funny thing is that when I take a stone that I call a memory, I begin to look at it more closely.  My fingers, in turning it over and over, begin to polish it.  They might knock off some crystals that I didn't see.  Sometimes it seems as though, when I look at a memory too long, it becomes the story instead of the memory itself, a horror flick in which all my real memories are replaced with stories, little plastic representations of themselves. 

Then, I must admit to you, I occasionally change details.  Yup, it's true.  If the story will be better if I make up a little bit, I make it up.  I try not to let it affect my memory, but it does.  Every time I tell a particular story, write it, or even read what I wrote, it gets a little smoother and less like itself. 

Here's the last part about my stories - we all are distorted in them, we characters in the story.  Who wants to make themselves out to be the bad guy in the story?  I don't.  Ugly parts are omitted.  Blame is shifted onto another person and they, seeming pretty realistic, take on a twist they may not have had in the original.  It feels like a fun house mirror, only the changes are much so more subtle. 

There's  something you can do to illustrate what I'm talking about.  Take a photo of your face straight on.  Then cut it down the middle along your line of symmetry, nose divided, an eye on each side, lips divided.  Then take a mirror to each half.  Neither one looks like you, does it?  Oh, you could be sisters with these people, but you aren't the same.  That's what happens in my stories.  I take down details.  Each time, I may draw what looks like a complete character.  Over time, over many of the stories, you might even see tiny freckles and hairs growing.  It looks so complete, so real. 

But it isn't. 

In all of this, I am most sorry for Nick.  He seems to take the brunt of my stories, looking like himself the way his character does and being the age he is.  We struggle, Nick and I, and it's difficult to tell you, but I'm wrong in my approach to him so much of the time.  Mike gets a little of this distortion too when I portray him.  I'd hate if people actually thought they knew him from these stories.  I love these characters, but they aren't my true family.  They are simply characters in a story.  Even I am not me in my own stories.  But then, I can't look at myself from outside of me, can I?

Do you like surreal art?  I'll admit that it isn't my favorite.  I like the drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci.  I like Andrew Wyeth's picture of the tired dog lying on the bed.  I like Monet.  Who doesn't like the peace which comes with looking at a painting by Monet.  There are no weeds in a Monet.  I like the light on the lips of the Girl with the Pearl Earring.  I love Ansel Adams photos.  That's real, isn't it? I even like the cave paintings, the hand prints, the horses.  It all makes me breathe differently.  Surreal artists don't usually give me that same feeling, that my breath can be altered, eased in looking at their work. 

But they do make me think.  A painting by Rene Magritte has stuck with me for over fifteen years since I first saw it.  'This Is Not a Pipe'  Do you know the one I mean?  It takes some thinking.  It's not a particularly beautiful painting.  Okay, it's not beautiful at all.  It's a message.  This representation, though realistic in its presentation, is not the thing itself. 

Life is funny that way.  My grandpa used to repeat the saying - you can never look at the same river twice.  I had no idea what he meant when I was little.  I guess you have to spend some time trying before you can see that it's true.

Thank you for listening, jb

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