Fact or Fiction?

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Published on January 10, 2014

Author: karenpilarski79

Source: slideshare.net


I wrote this blog post about my love of memoirs. I question how accurate people can recall their pasts.

Fact or Fiction? By: Karen Pilarski I love reading autobiographies and biographies. There is nothing more entertaining than reading another person's life story in flashbacks and humorous antidotes. Last night I started reading a book about a comedian/actress. Some of the stories seemed a bit out there. Don't get me wrong, the tales gave me a chuckle and it was well written. Something irked me though. The stories of her grade school years seemed a bit outlandish. How many older individuals can remember life as a five year old? I often remember vignettes or small fragile memory pieces cracked with time. In grade school I wasn't fond of a jerky classmate. In all honesty I don't know how he ticked me off. I had a few brothers by then and maybe I grew worn out by boys. It was early spring and he took off his winter coat during recess. I picked up that moldy smelling coat and swung it into an icy puddle. Splash! It was soaked. That is where the memory fades. Perhaps I'm blocking out his response or teacher’s punishment, if there was one. My second grade teacher, Mrs. Burnheart was awesome. I can't remember what she looked like, but the name sticks in the brain as noodles stick to a pot. During reading time each student had to go in the hall and read to her. I was reading a ridiculous book about a bird. The sentence went something like "The baby bird asked mama bird to help her fly." I didn't read it as ‘ask’. I read it as 'ass.' Oops? The strange thing is I remember the teachers I have had (good and not so good). When looking into the mirror of the past, I remember other embarrassing things too. Those humiliating moments stay etched in the psyche. It was hat day at school and my family was too poor to afford to buy a cool hat. My mother's solution was to create one out of supplies at home. She made a hat out of a paper plate, ribbon, and yellow peeps. The concoction wasn't a hat. It was a flimsy Easter basket on my head! The thing was adorned with plastic grass and jelly beans. The ribbon was tied under my neck. Perhaps it was supreme humiliation that was chocking me. Don't ask what happened to it, I blacked out after sitting in the hot auditorium wearing it. The earliest figment of time I can remember is kindergarten. All I remember is the bubble alphabet characters. That is it! I remember the nasty teacher I had for first grade. I had horrid penmanship and she would rip the paper out of my little fingers. Then that evil demon would bunch up my paper in a ball and toss it at me saying it was 'garbage.' She also once dumped out my messy desk on the floor and made me clean it up. I was in a bookstore today with my husband and kids. Engrossed in the biography section I was skimming titles and flipping eagerly through pages. A question occurred to me. How true are these recollections? This is not to say people live dull and uneventful lives. How much of the biographies are 100% accurate depictions of what was? I suppose family members and friends can fill in the holes with details. Possibly a diary or journal was kept. As a writer I'm ashamed that I never wrote in a diary. My family would remember only the embarrassing or unflattering details. The probability of them not even being able to recall is actually high.

Other people may remember things differently but it can be a good thing. There are variations of the truth and there needs to be deeper research to uncover the details. Maybe after reviewing some of my past I can understand why 'creative editing' might be a good idea when writing a memoir. For example I would edit the memory of racing my sister in a store and doing a face plant into a moving shopping cart. I would make it her fault by denying it was my idea or pretend as if it never happened.

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