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the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.
SEP
09

Our Version of Truth

A fan of Ira Glass and his weekly This American Life broadcasts (LaDonna, anyone??), I haven't been able to shake the story told in last week's How I got into College episode. The one about the Bosnian student who believed a certain teacher's reaction to an essay he wrote was the catalyst for the series of occurances that ultimately led him to success. Listening to the student's version, it's a great story. One that makes clear not only the gratitude he has for her impact upon his life, but also pinpoints the exact moment, the specific thing, that started the chain reaction. In this case, the essay. In the student's mind, if he hadn't written that essay, if his teacher hadn't read it, if she hadn't then told him he needed to get himself to a better school and then created the opportunity for him to do so, then he wouldn't be where he is today. It was the essay, see. The essay was the thing.

Interestingly, when they tracked down the teacher years later, she debunked the student's theory, assuring him the essay had played no part. She'd been watching him for months, she says, observing his talents and capabilities and determining he needed more than their school could offer long before he'd ever written the essay. You could tell from the student's reaction that he was having a hard time accepting this. He kept trying to bring the essay back into the conversation, even suggesting that while not the main driver then, it at least contributed to her determination that he needed a new school. Sounding almost frustrated, as if she'd realized he was twisting the story to his own end, she wouldn't even give him that. The essay was not the thing.

The teacher further claims that she can't take as much credit as the student gives her, in that she knew he was bound for greatness and fully believes he would have achieved it even without her help in getting admitted to a new high school. And it's a rather tragic thing, to watch (or in this case listen to) a person's core belief dissolve right in front of them. He'd counted on this. He told the story at every dinner party. It was the reason he had succeeded. 

The interviewer asked the student toward the end of the episode if he was going to start telling it differently now that he knew the truth, but he said he wouldn't. To him, it was reality. It was how he had observed a very significant series of life events. And this may seem sneaky, but the thing is, I kind of get it. Not having the full background, he built this memory around how he perceived what happened, (he wrote an essay, his teacher suggested a new school) and knowing nothing else, it became his doctrine. His truth. It's a reminder, not just of how fragile and shakable our memories can be, but also of how powerfully the most important ones can be rooted into our very being. To the point where we need them preserved, intact, and whole just to survive.

 

MAR
25

Adolescence and Memory

As a writer of memoirs, I mention a lof of people in the course of my writing. As a no-name author, I've been able to do this with very few of these people even knowing they are mentioned. I have a very small readership, see. And while nothing I write is vindictive and most of the interactions I mention in my books are positive (I remember my dad saying after my first book came out that he wished he were mentioned more), I do have a relatively constant worry that people I have mentioned will discover they are mentioned and be upset with me for mentioning them. 

Recently a girl I went to high school with contacted me to say she was reading my first book and loving it. I reveled in the compliment, but only for a moment, because this girl is mentioned in that book. She's mentioned most notably for hurting my tender adolescent feelings in a rather humiliating way as we began our sophomore year. I waited rather tortuously for her to get to that part in the book and scold me for outing her cruel slight, but the scolding never came. Instead I got a long and heartfelt apology from this girl for putting herself and her budding popularity ahead of loyalty and friendship. 

Of course, then I felt bad for making her feel bad about this silly thing that happened twenty years ago. I'd included it because the whole point of my first book was to make it a study of the things we learn from our school years that have nothing to do with textbooks. And being an adolescent girl is a study in itself. Her slight only affected me so much because I was fifteen, acutely aware of my own lack of popularity, and vastly influenced by the overamplication of any shred of it I gained or lost. So here was this girl, my friend, apologizing for this thing that had meant so much to me then, but now hardly seemed worth mentioning. I mean, what's the protocol for that?

I told her it was ok, because it was, and that it had been a long time ago, because it had. I'd made it through high school just fine, and my life had unfolded quite nicely despite her decades-old diss. So the only thing that really mattered now was that we were back in touch, bonded not at all by circumstance--our lives could not be more different--but by the shared memories of where we were raised, the people we had known during this time, and the uncharted paths by which we each navigated our adolescent selves, hoping for acceptance. 

The simple answer here is I really should be writing fiction. And believe me, if I could, I would.