Saturday, August 13, 2011

Is this really me?

Last night I trawled through photos which one of my brothers has collected onto a CD, photos that cover the span of my mother’s life from her birth in 1919 until she turned eighty five.

I went back to 1952 in search of photos that mark my birth. There is one photo underneath which my older sister has written my name. I recognise my sister’s handwriting, but I fear she has it wrong.



Is this really me, in the first with my mother,in the second with my older sister and brother, or is it another brother, who was born some seventeen months earlier? He and I were the first two of our parents’ children born in Australia. My mother has described this brother's birth as difficult. The hospital was crowded and they left my mother outside on the veranda. When she felt the need to bear down no one heard her cries for help. Not until he was nearly there.

Several years ago when I was raging against my mother and reluctant to acknowledge our connection, I still wanted to know something about my birth, so I disguised my interest under a curiosity about what all her births were like and my mother obliged me by writing up her memories of each one of our births.

Given there are nine of us my mother's memories must become confused and conflated, but mine she remembers as a forceps delivery.

I check my forehead for bumps, for signs of the imprint of those metal clamps on my head. Forced into the world, dragged into life. I want some evidence of what it was like and can find none.

When you have spent several years in analysis probing the deepest recesses of your mind you become acquainted with the notion of your internal baby. Still I look for external evidence and there is almost none. It annoys me that I cannot lay claim to this image with any certainty. I want to look into the eyes of my baby self and see myself there, but I cannot. I can only imagine and even then I may be looking into my baby brother’s eyes.

On the other hand there are numerous images available from my life as a ten year old, twelve year old and fourteen year old. These I recognise as me, though you may not.




I thought I was ugly as a child. I look now and think not so, not so ugly at all. Why then did I feel I was ugly. Was it simply by virtue of contrasting myself to my two younger sisters who were always considered the pretty ones? Or was it something else, some sense that the way I felt inside, all the badness I carried with me in those days should be translated directly onto my face, to turn it ugly overnight?

I thought of myself then as like a gargoyle, those ugly creatures that clung to the edges of roof tops in the ornate houses that surrounded the streets where we lived.

I am about to start work on a paper about autobiography as fiction or in excess of fiction. What is your take on this? When I write about myself as in autobiographical practice is it necessarily fictional to some degree or is it necessarily the true story of my life?

Why do I even bother to ask the question? We all know the answer. It’s one of those horrible endless questions some of us agonise over. Like the nature/nurture argument some of us battled over at university: Is it your genetic make up and hereditary or is your environment, your education and upbringing that determines how you turn out?

Why do we get into such artificial polarised debates? Of course, the answer is neither one nor the other. Of course, the answer is both and more besides, but our perspective affects the degree to which we might favour one or the other.

In the argument over autobiography as fact or fiction, I tend more towards the fictional side of things, even as I use the stuff of my life as it ‘really ‘ happened in my memory as my building blocks.

The way I recast the story of my life, the way I re-remember events, even as many of these events can be corroborated by others, including my siblings, I still do not regard them as the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

I’m comfortable with a certain level of truth in fiction, emotional truth I call it, universal truths that lie in the stories we tell one another about our lives. These are distinct from outright lies and fabrications, falsehoods and distortions. I’m not interested in those, but more often than not such falsifications can be seen through. At least I hope they can be seen through.

Maybe authenticity is a better word. Authentic accounts of lives lived rooted in the past but brought into the present in our fictional interpretations of our memories. The blogosphere is full of it.

68 comments:

Heidi Windmiller said...

This is a very touching, thoughtful post. It recalled some of my own childhood "truths" for me.

Linda said...

I also thought I was ugly when I was a child. I wasn't by any means and think it was something inside that spoke of not being good enough. I like the idea of autobiography as fiction, or at least somewhat. It would certainly be easier to write.

It seems to me babies are born with an innate personality that continues throughout life and has nothing to do with nurture.

oceangirl said...

there are times in my blogging life that i would really like to write like you. but the fast is, you have lent us your voice. thank you elisabeth.

you were an adorable baby and a very pretty little girl, but your fragility did come through the pictures.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

In his memoir, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed (a fun read), Alan Alda describes falling asleep on a cushion while traveling on a train as a little boy and waking up with the pattern of the cushion cover's weave imprinted on his cheek. Later, he says there's no way he could remember that since there was no mirror to look in at the time, yet he has no trouble picturing the red and patterned skin - no trouble believing that's just how he remembers it.

Ellen said...

Not knowing our past early years, not being given the story of ourselves is potentially frustrating. We see who we are today.....our images of those young years can be harsh or critical because of what we were lacking. Maybe family, maybe friendships.

Like you I look at the old photos and draw huge question marks as well as curiosity.

Ann O'Dyne said...

Your mother looks so pretty in the top image, and I note her wedding ring was fitted when her fingers were much thinner. The war deprivations far behind thank god.

Jim Murdoch said...

I am busy doing research on the writer AS Byatt at the moment for a review of her forthcoming novel, Ragnarok: End of the God, which is a retelling of the Norse myths bound up in some semi-autobiographical writing about her earliest encounters with these stories. During WWII Antonia and her family were evacuated to the country and they spent their lives there in relative safety away from all the bombing; she was three when the war began. Sometime after her fifth birthday her scholastic mother gave her a copy of Asgard and the God not, I have to say, a book I would have given my daughter at that age but clearly the girl was advanced for her years. She has written about this time more than once I’m now discovering and some of her comments are interesting.

A small girl is the narrator of her semi-autobiographical story ‘Sugar’ (Sugar and Other Stories) in which she sets “out to write about her paternal grandfather [but] finds she must describe her father’s death, her mother, her other grandparents, and family history as it has been received by her, and she traces her imagination’s involvement with myth from the family myth to her favourite childhood reading, the Norse myth of origin and destruction.” Discussing this story Celia Wallhead comments: “The figure of the returning hero [her father], in his officer's uniform with his gold-winger buttons, has become a sort of icon for the daughter. She hopes to emulate him, at least in the parts that a female can, such a writing a book. But it is the mother who has bequeathed to her a love of reading and powers of narration. The mother's stories have created a composite myth which comes to form the narrator's sense of self and origins. The knowledge that it is partly myth and not fully truthful is what unsettles her.”

We all are familiar with the expression “family myth” as an expression we use freely and flippantly but I think it might be a word you’d want to dwell on when you look back on how the story of your family has evolved. Myths were not always hundreds of years old; once they were truths but have been “flattened” and the characters reduced to two-dimensions to fit the page. I think with time there is a desire to simplify. Only close up can we see all the blemishes and scars; the father we travels the more and more like stick people real people become – I’m talking in linear terms – only the most prominent features are observable.

We have, of course, covered this ground before. I am not totally against trying to paint a ‘truthful’ picture but it’s all a matter of perspective. It’s like what the Alan Alda character in Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanours says, that ''comedy is tragedy, plus time'' – is a tragedy ever funny or does it just seem funny because we’ve lost perspective? People often say things, as the tears are streaming down their faces, “Someday we’ll laugh about this.” And that is us there in the middle of a crisis acknowledging that our experiences of the moment cannot be wholly trusted. We will never be that person again and no sooner has something been seen than it begins to be forgotten.

That is why I prefer fiction to fact. In fiction you can present believable things, authentic even, but only accurate and truthful in relative terms.

cheshire wife said...

I think that we can all suffer from selective memory at times and sometimes it is a good idea to do so.

erin said...

i think there might be a tremendous difference between who we are, who we think we are, and who we say we are. those are the cagey things to understand, the things that are always in movement, however, who we are (and i was just trying to bring these thoughts into existence this morning) may be more concrete.

i was watching a show with stephen hawking the other day with my children on the existence of god and he spoke about how it is that anything can come into existence. he spoke of the need for negative space and gave an anology, there is a man in a field and he wants to make a hill. in order to create a hill he must scoop soil and build one shovelful upon the other, thereby digging a hole as well. by creating one thing he creates another. from all creation (in this respect, the creation of the universe) two equal and opposites are created. i have been using this to see how i have been created, the events in my life both scooping into and laying onto me rises and valleys. i become this more easily understood landscape, however what is complicted is that the negations are as real as the creations.

now the question remains, how do we lay that down as a story. we are so addicted to story and we also have this beating thing of ego which influences us in all sorts of ways. we are animate, not the field. and so i'm not sure that there is any one truth in relation to story for energy (according to Stephen Hawking) also has to be introduced. it is just this animation which is cagey. damned thing won't hold still. and who can trust it to speak the truth? and also, what exactly is truth? there is no one truth.

or so i'm thinking this morning over coffee.

xo
erin

Me said...

Excellent

Zuzana said...

Dear Elisabeth, I am back online after an extensive summer break. It is always a pleasure to visit you or the part of you, which you let us see here.;) I think mo matter what kind of childhood we have had and what kind of life we have lived, we can never be fully objective when it comes to it. But perhaps therein lies the allure of the stories we tell or write, as we see them from within, looking out. Ultimately the way we see ourselves and our past shapes us into who we are and will become.
I too think you were a beuatiful girl. And you still are.;)
Have a lovely weekend,
xoxo

ellen abbott said...

The problem is perception not truth. It is how we perceived the things that happened to us rather than the facts of what happened to us that constitutes our memories.

jabblog said...

We can only know the whole truth if we know everyone else's truth and the fact is that all truths are coloured in different ways to reflect what people think they remember or care to forget. I don't believe there is any such thing as absolute truth - and what a dull, pedantic world it would be if absolute accuracy existed.

Leslie Morgan said...

Well, once again you have set me musing. My life is currently a rollercoaster and my personal celebration of that day in 1952 looms - just a little over a week now. It was a very good year, eh, Lis?

You know I write autobiographically. To my surprise, I learned some time ago that friends and relatives don't always recall events precisely as I remember them. I have adapted that to my autobiography as being "my truth". It doesn't have to be anyone else's truth. It is mine. My property.

A comment on how we perceive ourselves. You thought you were ugly. Now you can look at the photos of that perfectly lovely young girl and see nothing ugly whatsoever. I think that is a most wonderful illustration of what our heads can do to us at different times during our journey.

As always, I thank you so much for making my head and heart work.

The Weaver of Grass said...

You are absolutely right Elizabeth - our version of the past, the events which took place in our lives, is almost certain to be different from everyone elses. It seems to me that we often remember what we want to remember - and if that applies to everyone, then all our memories will be different.

Kath Lockett said...

I agree with both you and Ellen, the above commenter - emotional reality, authenticity and perceptions.

It might seem real or true to us, but as your photos show, you were a beautiful young lady, yet you didn't believe you were one.

Art Durkee said...

I've come to regard both memoir and fiction as forms of storytelling. They can overlap, they can interpenetrate, but I think your criterion of authenticity is very important. There is the truth of experience and memory. There is the truth of verifiable facts. I think one needs to keep all of those in mind.

But the questions you're asking are not new questions. When "the new journalism" appeared in the 1970s, practiced by writers such as Tom Wolfe, there were sections of fiction in amongst the reportage. Basically, scenes reconstructed as though they actually happened. The writers did their best to keep everything accurate and authentic, but some scenes were still made up. A great example was Wolfe's "The Right Stuff," about the early days of the US space program. Wolfe would put thoughts into the minds of his protagonists. So is this fiction, or reportage, or creative nonfiction, or something else?

I spend a lot of time with what is no called creative nonfiction. Writers like John McPhee, Barry Lopez. What creative nonfiction and the new journalism have in common is the application of literary style and literary creativity to nonfiction material. McPhee is incredibly readable. There are times with Lopez when you can't tell where he stops reporting on anthropological or natural history facts and crosses the line into archetypal myth—but his stories have a ring of authenticity and beauty that is very remarkable.

I think you can do whatever you want, at this point. You have these precursors if you need to justify your choices. The questions you ask are good ones, but they're not new ones. Maybe they're new for each writer who encounters them. For me, like I said, I think you're right about authenticity, but I don't mind when memoir and fiction cross over each other. As long as there's some clue of what to expect, as a reader, I don't mind at all.

aguja said...

There is always both pain and beauty in childhood; each to be treasured in its own way as it has been the making of us.

Kirk said...

I was a skinny, gawky kid (one reason why Jerry Lewis, circa the 1950s-early 1960s, was an early hero of mine). Some 40 years later, I continue to think of myself as a skinny, gawky kid. Imagine my surprise when my doctor recently informed me that I was 20 pounds overweight.

My mother used to tell me all sorts of what she considered hilarious stories about my first five years of existence. Since I don't remember those years, I could hardly defend myself.

I'm always impressed by how objective you are about yourself in your autobiographical musings. You come across as neither a heroic nor tragic figure, but rather one full of compexities and contradictions, as we all are. That you can maintain such objectivity while employing fictional devices is even more impressive.

Laoch of Chicago said...

Elegantly expressed.

Anthony Duce said...

Looking through the old family photos causes the reliving of a life. And all those questions now want confirmation. Your writing here pulls me back with you, and has me reliving the past, even where the photos were never taken. Thank you

Rob-bear said...

Lives remembered are not necessarily lives that were lived. In my wife's family there are different recollections of events.
Autobiography, selective memory, interpretation, authenticity, and more. Fiction? Hmmmm.

Elisabeth said...

I'm glad you found some childhood 'truths' in this post, Heidi. I find one of the most helpful things in writing is when others can recognise themselves in it.

Thanks, Heidi.

Elisabeth said...

I agree Linda, babies certainly are born with something innate. From the word go we can detect different personalities but then it's hard to know how much we read into these personalities as well. Winicott is known to have said there is no baby without a mother, by which I think he he meant that at birth the two have trouble distinguishing one from the other.

Over time of course the process of separation begins and real personalities evolve out of the mix, but in the beginning it's hard to see.

I sense a personality in my four week old grandson. My daughter tells me he is noisy and sensitive. What does this mean? I wonder. Time will tell.

Thanks, Linda.

Elisabeth said...

Pictures of children often have a fragility, Ocean Girl. And I'm flattered that you'd like to write like me. But as you say you have a voice , too. You have your voice as I have mine and our many voices can come together in blogland and form a vital conversation. To me that's the point of it all, many voices raised in conversation.

Thanks Ocean Girl.

Elisabeth said...

I enjoy that image from Alan Alda's memoir, Glenn. I've already quoted it elsewhere. I agree with you. It's one of those odd things that some of our deepest most heart felt memories we could not possibly remember in reality. we construct them somehow but they come out of some essential truth. How we imagine ourselves then and now.

Thanks, Glenn.

Elisabeth said...

Those old photos make us so curious Ellen, as you say they draw out huge question marks. If only there were someone around who could answer truthfully what it was like then, but that's the joy of it, too. we can use our imaginations and try to remember.

Thanks, Ellen.

Elisabeth said...

Those old photos make us so curious Ellen, as you say they draw out huge question marks. If only there were someone around who could answer truthfully what it was like then, but that's the joy of it, too. we can use our imaginations and try to remember.

Thanks, Ellen.

Elisabeth said...

I've always considered my mother was very beautiful, AnnODyne. In some ways she still is, even at 91.

You are a close observer there, to notice her wedding ring. At least by then my mother was beginning to fill out again post war. All those babies as well you know.
Thanks, AnnODyne aka Helena.

Elisabeth said...

I agree with you Jim here, in your reflection: ' The knowledge that it is partly myth and not fully truthful is what unsettles her'

It always unsettles me. and as for family myths, I recognise so many of mine.

The thing I'm intrigued about in relation to AS Byatt is that she's Margaret Drabble's sister. The two have a sisterly connection through their writing.

Given your review of Byatt's book, you might be interested in this quote I found recently from the Guardian. You might already have seen it:

'The rivalry between half-sisters Byatt and Drabble is well-documented, although its precise origin is unknown. Drabble has said that the rift is due in part to her guilt at the survival of her own children following the death of Byatt's son in a car accident, while Byatt was angered by Drabble's depiction of their mother in The Peppered Moth. Drabble was initially the more successful of the two, but Byatt's Booker win for Possession in 1990 positioned her firmly in the public eye. Drabble is also married to biographer Michael Holroyd.'

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005/apr/04/news.sarahcrown

Fascinating stuff. What myths exist in that family, I wonder.

As for the links between tragedy and comedy I couldn't agree more. So often it's a way of coping. To think that terrible events and experiences pass is one of the greatest comforts for us all. And then to go back and write about it later, for me is an even greater comfort still.

Thanks, Jim

Elisabeth said...

I'm sure selective memory is essential, Cheshire Wife. Otherwise as you suggest, we might well be overwhelmed with too many contradictions.

There's only so much a person can bear, only so much by way of personal truths about oneself, and one's loved ones.

Thanks Cheshire wife.

Elisabeth said...

Following on from ellen, erin you take up the theme of who we are quite beautifully. I'm interested in the concreteness of ourselves, al your thoughts on Stephen Hawking.

As you write : 'by creating one thing he creates another', the stuff of creation and of opposites. That's very postmodernist as I understand it. The notion that in the process of selection you also omit.

Selection and omission create perspectives that can change depending on what's added to or taken away. Hence the power of the media, among other things and perhaps one of the reasons why family members often conflict over one individual's memoir from that family. We all see things from different perspectives. Thanks Erin.

Elisabeth said...

Such a single kind word, Me. Thanks.

Harry Kent said...

I've come to think that the narrative called "Me" we each construct about our own personhood is not so much a novel as it is a staged drama.

There are many differences between the two creative forms that everyone can readily point to but the one i've stuck by recently is that while, on completion, a novel gets archived on the shelf to indefinitely gather dust, a play comes to distinct end when the audience files out with just a another memory.

Our lives are performances that are observed by the onlookers about us as ephemeral disjointed scraps of narrative. We, inside our role performances, imagine the thrust of the action to be the plot of some kind of a novel.

While audiences expect that one day the curtain will come down on the actors, we inside our narrative tacitly assume that the book of our life will be preserved in some library somewhere.

It comes as a shock to realise we don't get shelved. We only get to be a fading echo in an empty auditorium.

Marja said...

Beautifully written and yes there is some "truth" in every story you read Nice cute pictures and you look very much like one of my daughters friends who happened to be here today

Elisabeth said...

Glad to see you back, Zuzana. I hope you enjoyed your summer break. Strange to think that soon you'll be marching into autumn, or fall, as you call it, and we'll back into spring. We already are into spring judging by the blossoms on the trees, despite the cold.

I'm glad you recognise the multiplicity of persona each of us adopt, and I certainly agree with you we can never be objective when it comes to writing about ourselves, and not even when it comes to writing about others, come to think of it.

Thanks, Zuzana.

Elisabeth said...

I agree, maybe we should exchange the word, 'truths' for perceptions, Ellen, then people, myself included, might fuss less.

Thanks, Ellen A.

Elisabeth said...

You share so many of my thoughts here, Janice, and those of others, especially when it comes to the certainty that there is no certainty when it comes to 'truth'. As Ellen above says, it's all based on perception and certain facts perhaps but even those facts can be viewed differently through different lenses.

Thanks, Janice of Jablog.

Elisabeth said...

It is a memorable year, Leslie and I'm glad we share it. I'm glad too that you have chosen to write autobiographically as your truth, and no one else's. however else can we write autobiographically, without acknowledging the products pf our own individual minds and voices, however much they may be influenced by others.

Thanks, Leslie.

Elisabeth said...

I think it's called selective memory, Pat, the fact that we remember almost as we choose to remember, though sometimes we can be driven by forces beyond our conscious control, particularly when we are traumatised and cannot bear to remember.

Other times it's a simple case, or at least seemingly a more simple case of wanting and maybe even needing to remember or forget.

Thanks, Pat.

Elisabeth said...

There can be a clash between the
facts' as recorded and the remembered facts, Art, which is where the business of authenticity comes in. I recognise that these arguments between fact and fiction are not new, Art. It's good though, to be reminded of the history of New Journalism and what has both followed that trend and eve, preceded it. I'm sure the battle over what is true and what false has been going on a long time.

I relish the 'fact' that at this moment in time, at least in contemporary western society it seems we can do almost whatever we want, though with certain restrictions.

Despite the muddle of genres, readers still have expectations and there continue to be certain unspoken and in some instances spoken rules to writing autobiographically.

In some ways, despite our advances, the area can still be a minefield.

Thanks, Art.

Elisabeth said...

As you say, Kath, those three notions, 'emotional reality, authenticity and perceptions' cover most of what we grapple with here.

Thanks for seeing my old self as less ugly than I had once imagined. It's funny how those perceptions can change.

Thanks, Kath.

Elisabeth said...

There is such a wealth of pain and beauty in childhood, as you say, Ajuga. I'm glad you see it ,too.

Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

I know what you mean, Kirk, about seeing yourself today the way you saw yourself in the past, despite all the obvious changes both inside and out.

Even my 91 year old mother feels like a fifteen year old school girl much of the time. We oftentimes remember ourselves as much younger than we are.

Thanks for your kind words, Kirk.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for the 'thumbs up', Laoch. I'm glad you found this post worthwhile, assuming that's what you mean by the word elegant, here used as an adverb.

Elisabeth said...

I'm pleased that this post resonated for you, too Anthony. As I think I've said earlier here, it's always good when your writing reflects other people's experiences.

Thanks, Anthony.

Elisabeth said...

I revisited the definition of the word 'fiction' , Rob Bear, and found that it refers to the notion of shaping, in part. To me this is what I'm on about here. We live these lives. How we communicate aspects of that living depends in large part on how we shape our communications, and there's many ways to do that, as you'd know.

Thanks, Rob Bear.

Elisabeth said...

Harry, you put it so beautifully:
'Our lives are performances that are observed by the onlookers about us as ephemeral disjointed scraps of narrative. We, inside our role performances, imagine the thrust of the action to be the plot of some kind of a novel.'

But as you say it's less a novel to be shelved after reading, and more a play to be enjoyed however briefly and then remembered and in time treated as a fading memory, until forgotten.

One day the curtain goes down and we are left to pick up our lives, if our lives go on beyond the public performance. It's rare that our writing and performance will outlive us, but at least we can dream.

Thanks, Harry.

Elisabeth said...

It must be the Dutchness of my visage, Marja that you also recognise in one of your daughters. I see a certain Dutchness in your profile, too. To me there is a look that is uniquely Dutch, at least I like to think there is, at the risk of being nationalistic .

Thanks, Marja.

Eric W. Trant said...

Have you read Boy's Life by Robert McCammon?

He calls it his fictography. It's a fictional autobiography.

I wrote one of my own, my fictography. I split myself into two characters, and turned my brother and me into whores living in Beaumont, Texas.

There was a ton of fiction in there, but I kept the dogs, both of them, changing only their names. I kept the house, the pasture, the woods, and the creeks. I kept the church and the graveyards behind it.

I kept the ~feel~ of the story of my life, even though I killed off my pop and let my mom run off with another man. That never happened, but that wasn't the point.

I haven't published it and I may never do so. That story was for me, not the world.

- Eric

Rachel Fenton said...

A thoughtful post.

I think we all edit our own memories to tell our stories in the most interesting way - cut out the dull bits for the reader - and this naturally bridges any gap between strictly factual and fiction. But I think, however you choose to tell them - your memories, your stories are your thruth.

An interesting post.

I think you were a beautiful child, by the way.

Phoenix said...

I don't think there's a single child out there (especially girls, since the onslaught of beauty expectations comes early on) who does not think he or she is ugly. We measure beauty by trying to find people in our life that we think are beautiful, and then ask ourselves, Do I look like that? And as a child, no, we don't look like anyone that we think is beautiful, our mothers or fathers or teachers. We just look like us, still growing, a bit awkward, and we are unhappy with the unfinished product.

I think all autobiography is authentic fiction. After all, if you're writing YOUR autobiography and it did not happen to me, it might as well be fiction because I have not gone through what you have, so I will be using my imagination, much like I would with any story. And if I'm writing my own autobiography, my memories will be flawed and skewed towards my own perspective, thus rendering it black and white fiction in a gray world.

But it is never un-authentic, if it comes from the heart.

Elisabeth said...

I haven't read 'Boys Life', Eric but thanks for the recommendation. This term 'fictography' reminds me of Gerald Murnane's description of his writing as fictional autobiography, to some a misnomer to me perfectly acceptable and much like your book by the sound of things.

Real life experience becomes the raw material of so much fiction. After all we can only write what comes out of our heads, our minds and our imaginations. And all this is informed by our experience, as well as what others tell us.
Thanks, Eric.

Elisabeth said...

We need to paper over those gaps, as you suggest, Rachel, otherwise it becomes terribly boring. To say to a reader, sorry I can't tell you this, I can't remember it, would become very boring in no time at all.

And to paper over the gaps requires imagination, fictional techniques etc.

Thanks, Rachel.

Elisabeth said...

There's a TV program on here tonight, Tracy of Phoenix fame, about facial reconstructive surgery -not for deformed folks but for those who'd like their noses flattened or their eyelids made more 'western', To me it's scary stuff and yet it's all part of the so-called Beauty Myth.

All this is to say, I agree with you Tracy on the pressures exerted on young girls and women to be beautiful and to reflect a certain narrow conception of beauty. It's tragic and goes back a long way, including during and before my childhood.

I also agree with you on the importance of authenticity, the stuff from the heart.
Thanks, Tracy.

Eternally Distracted said...

It always surprises me that my families truths are never even closely linked to my memories... I figure there must be a balance to be found somewhere

Unknown Mami said...

You are a beautiful and thoughtful person. I suspect you've always been so.

who said...

I liked the term you used, authentic. Especially when you are sharing more then just a story, but your story.

I don't see anything wrong with fictional stories. In fact some of my favorite stories are fictional, with one foot still inbounds on the field of author's life.

sometimes these are exciting tales that many readers describe as drawing tears of sadness one drop and the next tear being of joy. Some readers crave stories that invoke a nearly complete spectrum of emotions from across the board. The story is like a perfectly seasoned dish that hits every taste bud and satisfies the mind as apposed to the taste that is good, not bad in any way but it's just missing something.

I can certainly understand all kinds of different styles and flavors of stories and each unique type of story being an individuals specific kind of favorite.

But as a reader, I know that my favorite stories are the ones that are peoples stories. And while I love every minute detail that some people try to define as fact (like dates, times, geo-location and weather) those details are NOT what make a person's story my favorite kind.

What makes a story one that I won't put down until the words stop coming are the details of author thought. The sharing of mind. The thoughts that trained through, during the secondary "facts" of place and time that the author experienced the thoughts either creating each bit of history's "nows" (the thoughts in front of time)or a reaction to every second of instantaneous life (the thoughts exactly after or behind the wave, behind time) that passes like one of Einstein's slow, or quickly moving relatives.

When an author can share, as in let the reader know those thoughts that their mind now shares because of writing. That is a living story in words. Those are the books that are lived by a reader more so than read.

and the few books that I don't put down until the words stop, that magic for me only comes from authentic words. It doesn't happen when I an author attempts to lead or persuade, but rather from living and doing nothing more than attempting to lend the mind that lived that story to the reader.

sharing thoughts, and when the points are accidental and after the fact. Because that is when the magic happens (for me anyway)

Stories are read after the fact, with intent to share, and less so to impact (although they sometimes do)

you do a good job at sharing your mind. I'd like to read a book where your stories are the ones you lived. Each of us knows when we are writing with a purpose other than to share with those who genuinely want to know how life felt.

If a author can't admit an underlying purpose (at least to themselves) when there is one, then the words begin to rot and die and it often reads just so.

Your authentic words will live when you write them, what page are you on?

Elisabeth said...

I, too, find an enormous disjuncture between certain members of my family's memories and mine, Eternally Distracted, but if we ever really sit down together and tease things out we can sometimes find connections.

I recognise, though that there are families in which such shared connections are nigh on impossible and yours might be one.

Thanks Eternally Distracted.

Elisabeth said...

You are too kind, Unknown Mami, but I'm grateful for the affirmation.

I'm sure there are others though, who know me, or at least imagine they know me, in real life that is, and maybe even within the blogosphere who might disagree.

Thanks, Unknown Mami.

Elisabeth said...

Well, Dusty Who, thanks for your heartfelt comment. I, too enjoy writing that includes a writer's innermost thoughts. It gives us access to other worlds that we would otherwise not be able to share.

But even as we write about our innermost thoughts, I think it's important to write in such a way that we do not hector readers to see it our way, and that we put in enough of the sensuous details - the tastes and smells and colours for instance - to allow readers to decide for themselves what sense they make of this narrator who is telling them a story.

I also agree with you that most of us write to share our thoughts. When I write I have an audience in mind, and usually to begin with that audience exists in my imagination, almost as an aspect of myself but one I lodge in others outside of myself .

Usually it's an audience of one or two close friends. I can't fathom writing to hordes of people, people are all so very different. So for me it's better to focus on my best and most honest friends, the ones who will judge me fairly and compassionately.

I have found a few such friends within the blogosphere, friends like you, and I enjoy our conversations about writing and the writing process immensely.

Thanks, Dusty.

little hat said...

Authentic. I like the notion. For me it means being true to yourself rather than 'the truth'.

I am in the process of writing my memoir - an exciting and taxing task and am also working thriough the truth versus the good story question. Occasionally i get on a roll and decide to run with a good storyline which I don't have the facts to back-up but invariably I decide to check the date or the name or the outcome as i know my extended family will one day read it and expose me. Equally importantly I am comfortable with the idea that this is my version and there will be others.

Did you watch the book show on 'Memoir" last week on ABC? Interesting.

I loved your piece on the priests. (Assumpta etc). What a great and enduring obsession.

Frances said...

"The newspapers shit me," you said in your last blogpost, exhibiting not only a rejection of the standards your education tried to teach you, but an indifference to all outside your own comfort zone, from the hunger in Africa to the appalling cruelty inflicted on our exported animals.
You have many admirers here, Elisabeth, but I do not admire what now seem to be your values. You have deeply disappointed me.

Elisabeth said...

I did not see the program on memoir, Little Hat. I'm one of those strange creatures who lives without a TV, and s a consequence I miss out on much that is wonderful but I also find it easy to resist the temptation to watch much that is banal. I prefer to be able to control the flow of my movie style content and watch DVDs on my computer. It's not ideal but it works well enough for me and mine.

I know how hard it is to struggle through writing memoir in such a way as to stick with the essence of the truth even as you try to make it worth reading, hence the need go not be controlled entirely by the 'facts'.

Thanks, Little Hat.

Elisabeth said...

Frances, it's hard to know what to say in face of your disappointment with my values. Maybe my use of the word 'shit' offends you. I put it in quotation marks, but even so it seems you have taken it literally as a measure of something. I'm not too sure of what.

It is colloquial granted, but it's not the first time I've used colloquial language on my blog. Maybe there's something deeper that bugs/disappoints you, though I'm not sure what it is. I can only guess.

In any case, thanks for your honest thoughts, Frances. It's never easy to accept negative criticism, but I suspect it's better that you voice your criticisms than remain silent.

Frances said...

Elisabeth: Your response suggested that you either had not read, or, more likely, perhaps did not comprehend, my post.
Suggesting that it had something to do with your use of the word "shit" was simply bizarre.

Elisabeth said...

Perhaps you could be more explicit, Frances, or email me.

I've re-read your comment and I think maybe it's not my use of the expletive now that may have offended you, so much as your sense that I am saying I'm not interested in certain people's struggles as reported in the newspapers.

If that's the case, then I need to qualify my comment as one based on the way in which certain journalists in certain newspapers go for the extreme reaction: the shock value, as if they seek to arouse intense anxiety.

I had in mind more of the doom and gloom about the economy that is reported every day. It rises and falls like night to day. I was not thinking about the real and genuine horrors of the world at large, like the plight of asylum seekers, and starving people in Africa and the riots in England, which most often make page three or four if we're lucky, unless of course they are at fever pitch.

Perspective is powerful, Frances and I'm sorry if my perspective in that one particular post led you to believe that I do not care about the world's 'real' crises.

Please, if I have read you wrong again, let me know.

The Unknowngnome said...

Hola Elisabeth, I comment here on this particular post because of two coincidental dates mentioned within, my mother was born in 1919 and I was born in 1952.

It is just by pure chance that I am here commenting. Having read your comment on Dave Kings post today there was nothing I could add but state my agreement with you, and you being so kind as to visit and follow my little blog, has led me here.

I consider myself most fortunate for chancing upon you. You write marvellously and it's a great pleasure to read such quality. As time permits I will be stopping back to read and comment further. You have quite a bit of history here that will be well worth the exploring.

Here now again I must state my agreement with what you have written in this post; Yes to universal truths rooted in the past blooming in the present.

Your newest follower,
TUG