"Reality is not only what we see on the surface; it has a magical dimension as well and, if we so desire, it is legitimate to enhance it and color it to make our journey through life less trying."— Isabel Allende (Eva Luna)
Over lunch with my writer friend Zee early this week, we talked about truth and fiction and the limits of memory. How it's possible to write memoir with perfect veracity and yet still lie.
A couple of years ago I wrote a story about a trip to the beach I took with my family. I was struggling with the conclusion, worried that I didn't remember whether it was my mom or dad who waded out to the sandbar to collect sand dollars. The details I remembered and wrote down evoked the experience well for me, but my memory lapse forced me to fictionalize the conclusion. It was a true reflection of my parents and me at the time, even if it wasn't a literal version of events.
I value truth-telling, but I think there are a number of narrative ways to accomplish it.
After all, no two people experience reality the same way, and our own senses imcompletely take in what's going on around us. My own carefree experience of that beach trip and the magic of finding dozens of sand dollars differs from that of my mother, who bore the responsibilities of packing up all of our food and camping gear and keeping the tent clean and feeding our family of five.
And there is of course the weakness of my own memories in recalling events from the past in all their technicolor detail. Journaling helps with this, though I have to confess that I am an inconsistent recorder of daily events and observed details.
For me, taking my camera along and focusing it on something I might not otherwise pay attention to opens up a whole new level of awareness of a hike or other experience. By looking at the photo below, I can remember that moss-covered drum of a stump and the kernel of a story about who might be gathering around it on a moonless light, and for what magical purposes it might serve.
That's why I like Isabel Allende's take on reality, that of going beyond the surface truth to tease out the mystery and magic in the mundane. It transforms life, as we live it and recall it, into poetry and essential truth.