Two eye-witnesses, two conflicting stories. Happens all the time. Right?
Having watched endless courtroom dramas, either live or via Hollywood, we’ve all heard that witnesses often interpret what they’ve seen in different ways. Defense attorneys love it when witnesses can’t agree on details. Prosecutors hate it. The reverse is true when a single witness sticks to his story like a pit bull on a pork chop. I’m all for anything that’ll drive an attorney nuts, but when it comes to memoir writing, I hate to see writers get “the cringe.” That’s a condition in which the writer suddenly becomes concerned about what dear, old, Aunt Dilemma will say, or they’re convinced one or more siblings will escalate to DefCon 9 (launch mode) when they read the document currently in the works. Hence, the cringe. It’s understandable.
A slightly different version of the affliction is based on the fear that what one writes may upset someone else who’d prefer to keep that particular piece of business out of the spotlight, for you know, just a little longer–like say, oh, the next thousand years, give or take an ice age. These folks–and I’m NOT talking about the writers–must surely have a guilty conscience. Either they did something they shouldn’t have, or they failed to do something, say something, or be somewhere as promised. They broke a trust, and they’ve managed to skate by without much in the way of consequences, and now, suddenly it seems, they expect the injured party to keep quiet. Right? Hey, seems perfectly okay to me.
So sure. No problem!
Except, it is a problem. I know everyone quotes Ann Lamott on this topic, and I can’t see any reason not to join her chorus. To wit: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” ― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Couldn’t have said it better myself. Even if the memory in question doesn’t involve someone’s shortcomings, there’s always the chance that two people may not share the exact same recollection of a particular event. At football games, for instance, I’m quite sure I spend more time watching the cheerleaders than my bride does. On the other hand, she’s guaranteed to have a better idea of who’s wearing what in the seats around us. Unless it’s blinking neon or smells of burning creosote and/or last month’s Catch of the Day, I’m not likely to notice. That’s probably what makes us such a good match.
There’s no reason to fear the truth when writing a memoir, even if your truth varies a bit from that of someone else. Your story evolved through your eyes and your experience, and as Ann Lamott so adroitly points out, you own it. Therefore, you can relay it in any way that suits you. You’re the only one you need to satisfy.
So, don’t worry about crazy old Uncle Naboo. What he says or thinks doesn’t matter. If he feels that strongly about it, he can always write his own narrative. But just between you and me, his won’t be as good as yours, ’cause you’ve got me as your coach!
Keep writin’, dang it!