This is a meta-entry; I’m going to weblog about weblogs.
What is truth?
I have this memory:
It’s the spring of 1985. I’m a sophomore in high school. With the rest of the FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America), I’m attending the state leadership conference at the Hilton in Portland. I have a Gumby. On a whim, I dangle Gumby from the window by a piece of string, causing him to hang precariously several stories above the ground. Then somebody in the room below opens a window, reaches out, and grabs my Gumby. I race down to confront the kidnapper, and it is in this way that I meet Angela Demitrakikes.
What’s wrong with this memory?
There is a distinct possibility that it was actually Angela who was doing the dangling, and that it was me who reached out and captured Gumby.
That’s how memory works for many people (myself included). An event becomes a story, and at some point the story attains a sort of mythic quality. The details become less important than the event itself. Who dangled Gumby? Does it matter? The key point of the story is that this is how Angela and I met; the question of who dangled Gumby is irrelevant. This story integrates with the larger mythos of my life, a mythos in which I eventually date Angela’s sister, Denise. (And, twenty years later, Denise stumbles upon my humble weblog and we’re able to reconnect after a decade of lost contact. See? Even that is not factual. It’s only eighteen years since the Gumby incident, but twenty years has a better feel, doesn’t it?)
Our book group selection this month is Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl. It’s a rather inconsequential book except for the author’s note, which is an absolute gem.
Storytelling, in my family, was highly prized. While my father walked home from work he rearranged the events of his day to make them more entertaining, and my mother could make a trip to the supermarket sound like an adventure. If this required minor adjustments of fact, nobody much minded: it was certainly preferable to boring your audience.
The good stories, of course, were repeated endlessly until they took on a life of their own. One of the stories I grew up on was a family legend about myself. Its point was to demonstrate my extraordinary maturity, even at the age of two. This is how my father told it:
“One Sunday in early fall we were sitting in our house in the country admiring the leaves ouside the picture window. Suddenly the telephone rang: it was Miriam’s mother in Cleveland, saying that her father was gravely ill. She had to go immediately, leaving me alone with Ruthie, who was to start nursery school the next day.
“I, of course, had to be in the office Monday morning. Worse, I had an appointment I could not cancel; I simply had to catch the 7:07 to New York. But the school didn’t open until eight, and although I phoned and phoned, I was unable to reach any of the teachers. I just didn’t know what to do.
“In the end, I did the only think I could think of. At seven I took Ruthie to the school, sat her on a swing outside and told her to tell the teachers when she came that she was Ruthie Reichl and she had come to go to school. She sat there, waving bravely as I drove off. I knew she’d be fine; even then she was very responsible.” He always ended by smiling proudly in my direction.
Nobody ever challenged this story. I certainly didn’t. It was not until I had a child of my own that I realized that nobody, not even my father, would leave a two-year-old alone on a swing in a strange place for an hour. Did he exaggerate my age? The length of time? Both? By then my father was no longer available for questions, but I am sure that if he had been he would have insisted that the story was true. For him it was.
This book is absolutely true in the family tradition. Everything here is true, but it may not be entirely factual. In some cases I have compressed events; in others I have made two people into one. I have occasionally embroidered.
I learned early that the most important thing in life is a good story.
To further belabor this point (because it’s an important one, perhaps the most important point in relation to personal narrative), here is a bit from the Simon and Garfunkel FAQ (yes, I read the whole thing) in which Art Garfunkel describes his contributions to the duo’s songwriting process.
A. I wrote some of the lines. Never took a writer’s credit because in
spirit it was really a small two percent factor. But there’s some of my
wanting in there. In Punky’s Dilemma, I wrote a verse. [Sings] Wish I
was an English muffin, ’bout to make the most out of a toaster, I’d ease
myself down, coming up brown.” I wrote [Sings] “I’m not talking about
your pig-tails, talking ’bout your sex appeal” [for] Baby Driver. I
Q. Didn’t you have any desire to have credit?
A. It does work that way and you don’t ask for credit when it’s happening because in truth, in spirit, Paul’s the writer. Yeah, I wrote a little of that stuff, but that’s just technically true. In spirit, and in essence of the truth, it doesn’t matter. So I don’t know, maybe I’m being foolish for not being technical. Yeah, I wrote a certain portion of the things
Art Garfunkel is a man who understands truth.
Personal narrative—and in this I include weblogs—is about truth, but it’s not necessarily about facts. It’s about what things mean, not about what they are.
Yesterday, for example, I wrote about sitting, contemplative, staring at the falling rain. At one point Simon came to the door and asked to be let inside, so I got up and let him in. Only that never happened. Kris let him in. Why didn’t I write that Kris let him in? It didn’t fit with the tone and the theme of the piece. I was writing a personal meditation about what it was like for me to watch the early autumn rain. I chose to leave out the fact that Kris kept interrupting me (Laughing!—look how bothered J.D. is at being interrupted while he’s writing!) with questions, that she let the cat inside. My version made for a better story. It was not factual, but it was true.
Kris has been aware of this dichotomy for some time. I think she was a little disconcerted the first time she noticed that I misattributed a quote or an action in my weblog, the first time she noticed a compression of events, but she didn’t need me to explain the necessity.
Tony Pierce, on his weblog, has adopted the tagline “nothing in here is true”. I think his intent is to acknowledge that the details of his stories have been embroidered. And you know what? I don’t care. He has one of the best weblogs on the internet. His stories are good, and that’s what is important. I don’t care a whit whether he’s changed a detail here or there.
I’m tempted to adopt the tagline “everything in here is true” because, you know, it really is.
It’s been several weeks since the foldedspace.org redesign. You’ve had some time to become accustomed to the changes. How do you feel about them? Which of the sidebar gizmos do you use? Which do you never touch? Do things still feel too crowded, too busy? Do you prefer the previous one-sidebar design?
There are certain components that I’m not inclined to remove:
- The calendar/archives box has utility for infrequent visitors.
- I use the search box to locate old topics.
- The miscellaneous flotch section provides a place for me to share the neat links I glean from daily surfing without having to dump them in the main weblog area.
There are also some gizmos to which I am less attached:
- The elsewhere section seems superfluous. I already list these sites on my links page (which is actually my default home page). Does anyone ever use these elsewhere links?
- The greatest hits section is meant to be a starting point for new visitors, but maybe that could just be tucked into the “about this site” page.
- I love the referrers log, but, as Dave has noted, it slows the load time of the page.
If you have any comments, I’d love to hear them.
Lastly, a couple of you have expressed an interest in starting weblogs of your own. I’d be happy to help with such an endeavor, and might actually be willing to host your weblogs either at foldedspace.org or at some yet-to-be-determined location.
The advantage of hosting other weblogs at foldedspace.org is that I have the know-how to then create a sort of composite page from which info about each weblog can be viewed (sort of a very-scaled-down ORblogs). The disadvantage is that I’m rather miserly about my hard drive space; my hosting plan only gives me 100mb, and I’m already chewing up 60% of that.
The advantage of hosting at another domain (either one I own or an entirely new domain) is that there would be plenty of space for whomever wanted to write. The disadvantage is that creating some sort of unified page is more difficult. (Actually, it may not be more difficult, but I don’t know how to do it off the top of my head, whereas I do know how to pull together multiple weblogs from a single hosting account.)
First things first: is anyone actually interested in starting a weblog?