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the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.
SEP
29

And....it's Out!!!

At long last, my new book is officially out! I've said this before, that it's strange to think that this thing that has taken years of effort and preparation can be read in a matter of a few hours. But I suppose that's the point, and I hope for anyone who reads it that those few hours provide opportunity for you to look back on your own life adventures, be it moving to a big city, changing career paths, or going after that long-held dream.

Dreams are why I like this book so much, because it reminds me that I did it. I went "all in" for a dream. Not because it was a guarantee or because I had any idea if it would work. In fact, having given up so much to try and make it happen, I spent a fair amount of my New York City time worrying over whether I'd made a terrible and irreversible mistake. But that's what dreams require of us. And how often can we say that we've done it? We've gone after them? We've made sacrifices for them, taken risks for them, worried over them, bettered ourselves for the chance of them?

I used to live in Cleveland, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is one of my favorite things in that city. It's so full of dreams, the evidence of dreams achieved, as well as those gone wrong or cut short. Amidst all the things inside, my favorite was a wall with a picture of Billy Joel at the piano. Below the picture was a quote from Billy that has never let me go: "If you are not doing what you love, you are wasting your time." I wrestled somewhat with the quote, because, come on Billy, we can't all be rockstars. But on the other hand, I can honestly say that this quote is one of the things that most inspired me to quit my job and pursue gemology. Because maybe we can be rockstars. Maybe we can each get at least a little closer to actually paying the bills with those things we are most passionate about. That is why I like this book so much. And I hope you will too.

SEP
08

Newbie in New York

My new book launch is next month, and after all the years of work that go into writing a book, it's hard to believe it's so close now. It's also hard to believe, and sometimes a bit frustrating, that this thing that took multiple years of effort can be read in a matter of hours. It's sort of like why I hate cooking. All that time and effort for something that is eaten in a matter of minutes. But that's the way of it. The goal, in fact. To provide a few hours of entertainment, escape, retability for my readers. 

This picture was taken in Central Park, where I got a chance to do a final read-through of the proof copy of Newbie. It was wonderful to be in New York City while reading it, because the book is about my time living in New York, and so many of the places I love and remember featured into the trip. I'd pause and smile when passing the International Gem Tower where I studied gemology, or think back while at a particular restaurant or park to the last time I had been there. It's a phase of life I'm so glad I got to have, and it's a book about doing something I'd always wanted to do in a place where I'd always wanted to live, and I can't wait to share it with you.

AUG
18

Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

While in New York City last week, I posted on social media about the world feeling heavy right now, about the Mrs. Maisel pop-up exhibit at the Paley Center for Media reminding me how refreshing it is to laugh. In response to this, I had a friend ask me if everything was OK, as if perhaps I had hinted at some sort of life meltdown or tragedy by posting such a thing. But I'd been referring to the world in general as being heavy. Headlines, almost all of them, seem too much to bear on most days. And it can't be ignored. So what are any of us to do to feel happy?

While pondering this question I thought about, well, Disneyland, but I also thought about television, about how TV shows can serve as an escape for 30 or 60 minute intervals. And yet let's consider many of today's popular shows. I'm currently in season 6 of Game of Thrones. A great show, and I'm invested, but it's so violent, and so intense. Or how about Killing Eve? Also a good show, a great one, but equally intense, and downright disturbing. And speaking of disturbing, there's Handmaid's Tale. So, see, even the shows we turn to for an escape provide situations and circumstances that are just as heavy. 

That's why The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is so treasured. It's light, it's funny, and it reminds us of a simpler time. And what I find so enjoyable is that it's not as if there aren't crappy things happening, because there are. But it's the way the show and the characters carry on, navigating uncharted waters and doing their best to go after what they want. The Paley Center's exhibit is worth a look if you find yourself in Manhattan in the next few weeks. It will make you smile, laugh, and stay in the center's auditorium watching episodes on the big screen much longer than you'd planned. Tits up, everyone. There's always something to smile about.

AUG
04

Blue Milk

I'll say this about Star Wars Land: you certainly feel while there as if you have left Disneyland and are somewhere, dare I say it, far, far away. Which is exactly the point. No churro carts, no frozen lemonade stands, no parades, no constant stream of upbeat ditties blaring through speakers. And aside from the lack of snacks available in Star Wars Land, which is kind of annoying, I have to say that this kind of setup really works. From the employees who refer to cell phones as "image scanners" and dollars as "credits" to the fact that you can't even watch people building their custom light sabers on account of the First Order who might get wind of it, they really try and maintain the illusion. 

Of course, what might have been sligtly lost on me was the Millenium Falcom ride, which actually puts you in a replica of the cockpit. Only I wouldn't have known it, had the ride not contained the ship's name. To me, it was just a space ride. In a ship. Now, seeing the outside of the ship, in its entirely, just sitting there in the middle of the land, that was pretty cool. So was the Cantina, which saw me sipping Blue Milk while tapping my feet to the familiar tune from the Cantina scene in the original movie. So, I guess the land isn't completely ditty-free. May the force be with you. Just grab a churro before you go. 

JUL
07

Lab Girl

I don't recommend books very often. Partly because writing books of my own cuts into my reading time, but mostly because rarely is one so remarkable that I feel the need to take to the streets to recommend it. But I'm about to post a 5-star review for Hope Jahren's Lab Girl, and I feel compelled to mention just how much I enjoyed it. Well-written, yes, which is key to a dymanite book. But this one's got a fascination factor rare in the world of books, even memoirs, which tend to milk the "look at this unique life I've lived" in a way that is almost never as interesting as it tries to be. But this book full-on made me want to be a scientist. It made me look at nature and plants and trees in a way I never have before. It made me feel not only that I was there, right along with Jahren as she built lab after lab, but also that I wanted to be there. And I'm really not sure what more a person could want from a book. 

The whole notion of "summer reads" is dominated by chick lit, by stories of female protagonists escaping to the beach to contemplate their divorce or unearth secrets at family reunions or mend relationships with mothers and children. And maybe this is what most readers crave when they themselves escape to the beach to contemplate their own divorces and relationships. But if you're looking for a completely engrossing tale of an actual person who actually studies things that actually affect the world we live in, then this is your book. A truly remarkable read.

JUN
23

If It Looks Like a Book

I considered taking the printed versions of interior layout options for my new book elsewhere before spreading them out and making desicions. My cat always makes a mess of it, assuming the freshly stacked piles of paper have been put there for her to run around on, which she does, making it impossible for me to make any progress. The same thing happens when I make the bed, by the way. But the thought occurred to me that it's tradition, really, the book's christening by cat footprints, and so I couldn't quite bring myself to do it without her.

The cover for this new book was finalized earlier this month, always an exciting day, but there's something even more special about moving on to the book's interior layout, in that you're actually seeing how the book will look and feel to readers. Doing this in such a small-scale, grass roots way means I have a lot of say in these decisions, and that's incredibly satisfying. What would be even more satisfying is selling books, which I don't do much of, so there are definite cons to not being backed by a large publishing house.

But it is what it is. I write books that I think are fun to read, and this one's getting closer and closer to completion. You can bet my cat will be on hand to celebrate every step of the process. Especially those that involve things that can be stepped on.

MAY
27

Switzerland and the Alps

I was prepared for chocolate and cheese, for beautiful scenery and a few rainy days. But what I was not prepared for on my first trip to Switzerland was the Alps. What must have been the expression on my face when I caught my first glimpse of them, all majestic and jagged and snow-capped? I remember that I had to pause and process. I remember my eyes widening. I remember it registering immediately that I'd never seen anything like them. Because they simply don't look like any other mountains. No offense to, well, everything else in Swizterland, but once the Alps are in your line of sight, why would you want to look at anything else?

I saw the Alps from the country fields of Swizerland, from a ferry crossing Lake Geneva, even from inside a tram that took me up and up into their snowy tops. And to actually be in the Alps, to witness them at every altitude, to feel yourself getting colder and colder as you rise, to go from sun to snow and back down to sun, to do everything you can to look and look and look until you're sure you won't forget, to want to blink everyone you love to the same spot so that you can all witness together the beauty to be had on this rolling sphere of ours. I'm just not sure what compares to that. Besides fresh Gruyere cheese. 

Of course, vacations are never as picture perfect as they look. The jet lag beat me down, the long flights were torturous and devoid of sleep and unusually gassy (is that just me?), and I lost my footing on a Swiss staircase and nursed a severely bruised arm for most of the trip. Three weeks out from the fall and my arm still isn't back to normal, which does on one hand make me take every staircase with an increased grain of caution, but it also reminds me of those lazy Swiss days, dipping bread into a fresh pot of fondue, strolling along a flower-strewn country road after a storm, and, yes, lifting my eyes to take in the tops of those mountains in the distance. 

MAY
04

Prom

So, I chaperoned the prom last night, and I was struck by two things. First of all, this prom was like nothing else I'd ever seen or even imagined. It's not so much that it made me remember once more what a simple, shall we say not financially fortunate district I grew up in. It's more that it made me wonder just how much money was being spent on last night's party, and how much the idea of "prom" has morphed over the years. Because what I witnessed was not prom as I remembered it (i.e. teenagers dancing in a large, decorated assembly space). This was pretty much a carnival, the building full of various lounges and rooms the kids could go to and find various activities, elaborate food spreads, and painstakingly detailed decorations. I was shocked.

Outside in the parking lot, lest the kids get too warm in the buiding or dance hall, a number of other activities were made available, including a big-screen movie showing complete with all the candy and popcorn you could want, and In 'n Out Burger catering. I heard last year they even brought in a Ferris Wheel. I'm sorry, what? It was just so impressive that I found it challenging not to gawk. Or to be jealous of these hours they got to spend circulating in their fancy dresses among such stellar options. I was stuck manning the photo booth and only managed to grab a lunch-size bag of potato chips. I found myself sort of wanting to go to the prom.

Because the other thing that struck me about the evening was that it's been almost 20 years since my own prom. And isn't that kind of a long time? We spend the first half of our lives so unconcerned with our own mortality. I know I've never really concerned myself that much with age, because I know I'm still relatively young. That there are more people on this planet who are older than me than there are people who are younger than me. No matter how old I am, I'm still young. Except there's going to be a point where that's no longer true. And when you realize that your own age doubled is a number many people do not live to, it kind of makes you yearn for, well, the prom. Oh to be young.

APR
21

To Have Been There

Paris was the first place I ever went outside of North America. It had taken me entirely too long to work up the nerve, mostly battling what seemed like they'd be annoying inconveniences like jet lag and foreign languages. Of course, being there turned out to be the very opposite of annoying, and I was left wondering why I'd spent my whole life stalling; wondering what could possibly be better than actually being somewhere you've always wanted to be.

Notre Dame was so striking that I returned three times that first week I spent in Paris, once going to the very top, where this picture was taken, once crying from an inside pew, leaning my head against a cold metal post and mourning a certain part of my life that felt quite squandered. This is not one of those "all is now lost" posts, because the cathedral will be rebuilt, the doors will re-open. This is more to say that if there's somewhere you've always wanted to go, you should go. Because there is only now. And because the things we squander can be recovered, found, but only if we seek them.

MAR
22

Changes

It’s a strange thing, getting your manuscript back from the editor. On one hand, she’s paid to help you make it better. On the other hand, she gone done marked up this precious thing you’ve spent years working on. And you’d really rather she just find it perfect as is. I realize this latter scenario isn’t realistic. And if she’d told me it was perfect, she probably wouldn’t be a very good editor. But this does mean that I’ll be spending the weekend sifting through a sea of red marks, trying to sort out how to now make the book better based on her edits, feedback, and suggestions.

The editing process in general requires a lot of restraint on the part of a writer. You have to actively stop yourself from being too attached to any one part of the book, from getting a bit defensive at the constructive criticism aimed at this thing you’ve put so much heart and soul into. Because this is the way you want it. This is the way you like it. This is the way you wrote it. It hits me fresh with each new book, the manuscript returned to me peppered with suggested changes. It initially feels quite icky. Oh, hell no am I cutting that part. Or turning that complex sentence into three short and simple ones. Psssshhhh. But it helps to remember that readers won’t necessarily interpret things the way I believe I’m putting them across. They won’t necessarily know what I’m referencing by mentioning, say, a John Cusack movie while inside of Serendipity (doesn’t that one seem obvious, though?), or, perhaps, a poem about what happens to a dream deferred (Langston Hughes, anyone?).

The important thing about this manuscript--and all other manuscripts my editor has handed back to me over the near decade I’ve been working with her—is that there were no major problems that needed fixing. From timing to organization to structure, this one was given a pass. Which is really what I’m looking for with a manuscript, hoping I’ve gotten it to a point where any changes that need to be made are of a small, grammatical variety. Sentences shortened, typos removed, awkward wording replaced. Having achieved this once again is what I’ll be striving to focus on as I go through the marked-up pages this weekend. Cake, right? Let’s hope.

MAR
03

Tiny Beautiful Things

I probably mentioned back in the summer of 2017 that I was reading a book called Tiny Beautiful Things when my suitcase was stolen off of a plane. The book had me spellbound, such that I had to finish the final few pages before getting up. I was at the back of the plane and likely had some time before it was my turn anyway. Had I looked up, I would have seen someone taking my suitcase from the overhead bin and walking off with it. But I didn't look up. I couldn't.

And having now seen the play adapted from the book, I confess a similar sensation came over me, in that I couldn't look away. The neatest thing to me about the book is the letters that comprise it are real letters. Written by real people. So instead of just imagine Cheryl Strayed writing to these very real people who have written about very real, very personal, and in some cases very complex issues and questions, we now get to watch as someone portraying Strayed takes painstaking care to address each person who has written to her as the cherished, searching, and desperate souls they truly are. It's pretty powerful stuff, both the depths of character these letter-writers pull from as well as the boundless empathy that such a unique and textured life allows Strayed to pull from as well.

If the play comes to a theater anywhere near you, go see it. If it doesn't (or even if it does), read the book. You will be inspired. You will be bettered. You will need to keep an eye on your suitcase.

FEB
18

The Hand-Off

This picture is really just because my cat feels like she doesn't get mentioned enough on this blog. Also because I was out of town and we are happy to be reunited. But mostly because the activity in this picture (reading) is significant. Having turned in manuscript #4 to my editor, it means I once again have time for books and the reading of them. 

My editor is the only one who reads my books before they're typeset. This is probably stupid. But it's what I'm most comfortable with. I figure people have different opinions, and the more hands I have in the pot (in the form of people who have read the manuscript), the more feedback I'll get--most likely differing feedback--and at the end of the day, it should come down to my own opinions of how I want this book to be. Not anyone else's.

Needless to say, what my editor thinks of the books is incredibly important to me. Not just because she catches typos and things that could probably be worded better, but also because she's my only test reader. The only one I can ask if a certain thing is offensive or if the timeline is confusing. And so I wait in what I would describe equal parts excitement and anxiety for her to send her edits and overall feedback, hoping beyond hope that she thinks it works, and that she enjoys reading it. 

That's what I hope for all readers, of course. That they settle in for a few hours of escape, feeling upon the book's end that they've truly been somewhere, even if that somewhere is simply somewhere other than where they usually are. 

JAN
25

Writers and their Cats

My cat is hoping to be included in the next edition, which she'd prefer be titled, "Cats and their Writers."

That's fair.

To me, having a cat has always paired nicely with being a writer, in that it feels like something that goes together. Not that this makes any sense. If anything, my cat is probably incredibly frustrated about how often she competes with the computer for my lap. And I get incredibly frustrated when I lay out notecards or typeset page drafts and she runs around on top of them. 

But we belong, she and I, the cat and her writer.

DEC
31

The Letter

Every New Year’s Eve I write a letter to myself. I type it, actually, on the vintage typewriter I bought with my tax return while living in New York City. I do this partly because the typewriter was expensive and I’m still trying to get my money’s worth. And partly I suppose because I love the look of typewritten letters. I want ink on a page. The clap of letters being lined up together. The ding of running out of space on your current line. To me it is charming, and somehow more meaningful than simply pushing print.

The letter I write to myself each year is usually one of advice and encouragement. There are things I want myself to focus on, to do better at in the coming year. There are things I want myself to let go of; to give myself a break on. The letter I wrote a year ago today may be one of my favorites so far, despite the majority addressing a certain personal goal I had for 2017 that I did not achieve, the result of which was a much more difficult year. On the eve of 2018, then, I encouraged myself to own it, accept it, and to do better in the new year.

Which I did.

And I have my letter to thank for that, as it sat on my nightstand table and reminded me on a daily basis of what I deserved. I'd had Scotland on the brain when I wrote it, having returned from a vacation there a couple of months before. I had climbed to the top of Arthur’s Seat, in a windstorm, and taken in the one of the most beautiful views I will ever see in this world. And so I leave you with my favorite line from last year’s letter, a sentiment that I have perhaps only in 2018 come to truly understand.

“You saw the greens and blues of a world too beautiful to be spent alongside those not battling the wind just to stand next to you.”

Here’s to a new year, a new letter, and a new chance to do/get/be what we need most.

DEC
15

On Ballet and Weight Gain

There’s something about being a woman and gaining weight that is entirely unpleasant. I’m a skinny person, so take anything I say here with a grain of salt, but there’s something about gaining weight that simply doesn’t agree with us. Even if it’s needed. Even if it’s inevitable. Even if your boyfriend says you with a few extra pounds doesn’t make a lick of difference. Because even after all of that, what remains is you, unable to fit into your pants. Even after all that, there will be you, having to buy bigger pants.

My current situation has me battling a health situation that involves injections and medication that both cause weight gain. I exercise as much as I did before (more, actually). I eat the same as I did before. Yet every weigh-in is higher than the one before. It’s defeating in a way not many things have been. Weighing more than I ever have is alarming in a way that makes me feel lazy, helpless, and obsessed. Because I have not responded well. I started getting on the scale every day. I drastically reduced my calories. It worked (in that I stopped gaining), but it made me miserable to have sucked all the fun out of my life. Because a few pounds should not even be on my radar. Right? Because they make pants in all sizes. And because I deserve ice cream.

I stopped the daily weigh-ins and resumed eating a normal amount of calories. I gained the weight back, but I feel happier for just letting my body do what it’s going to do; for focusing on all the positive attitudes I have toward my body. It’ll probably seem silly, but the thing that’s helped me the most is a weekly ballet barre class. I’m a terrible dancer, but when I’m there, when I’m watching the instructor gracefully move her arms and turn her body, I feel like what I’m doing is just as graceful. I know it’s not, but I feel like it is. I feel nothing short of beautiful in that class, and looking at myself in the mirrors, I see a body that’s slender and capable and strong. And it will always be those things. Even if it’s a little curvier.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, how much I wish that we would be kinder to ourselves and our bodies and focus on how amazing and capable they are despite any deficiencies we may have (like actual medical issues or shortcomings) or simply perceive (like non-actual ridiculousness that we somehow think is terrible or limiting or unfortunate). Someday we or the people we love won’t be here. Someday we’ll have actual crises that are worth worrying about. Gaining a few pounds, for any reason, isn’t one of them. So go get yourself some bigger pants. You’ve got some holiday parties to get to.

DEC
02

Manuscript #4: Done

Every weekend I put "write" on my to-do list, which is why this weekend is significant. It's the first time in a couple of years that "write" has been replaced with "edit." Because my fourth manuscript is officially done. There's a lot of work still to do, but I cannot emphasize what a big deal it is to get the writing all down. To finish the last few paragraphs and know that you've come to the natural stopping place. That it all feels done. 

Of course, for me, when I say the manuscript is done, this doesn't mean that it's ready to hand over. I have months of editing to do, not to mention organization and chronology, since I'm the odd memoir writer who does not write in anything resembling chronological order. I just pick a piece or scene or topic and write it up, then pick another one the next time I get a chance to write. So right now it's not in the order I want it to be for you readers. 

Like I said, there's more work to do, but my goal was to have the first draft, to have all the book's innards, written by the end of the year. It feels like a Christmas present to myself that I was able to follow through. Bring on the editing. And also that beach walk.

NOV
18

Faulkner and Funerals

I was genuinely moved at a funeral this week when the deceased’s widow brought up William Faulkner. I would have been moved anyway, her husband having died much too young and in the sudden sort of way that left no time for goodbyes, but the literary reference caught me off guard.

This woman is strong and together and in many moments of her remarks seemed so composed and matter of fact that you’d have had no idea she’d just lost her husband. But when she, in the most raw sort of way that only the grieving can, finally broke down over how hard it is, how sad she was to put his body in the ground and never get to look at it or touch it again, I wept. I wept for her and her children, for all of us. I wept because even the promise of heaven does not soften the blow of being separated from a loved one for the next several decades. How do you learn to do life without the person you do life with? Where is the comfort in that if the comfort doesn’t come until you yourself have left the earth? It’s a question I’ve never been able to answer.

It’s like that story, the widow said. A Rose For Emily. She reminded us of the basic plot, which is that Emily keeps the deceased body of the man she loves, in her bed, and even gets in the bed with the body, a fact that’s discovered upon her death. It’s such a classic, frequently-read story. As early as high school I was scrunching my nose in disgust over the whole icky idea. It disturbed me, frankly. It had disturbed the widow, too, except here she was now admitting she finally understood why someone would do it. And the thought of closing the casket and leaving him in the earth was so much worse than taking him home with her, as she wished she could.

Honestly, it’s the first time I’ve felt any amount of affection for the story. The first time it struck me as something tragic and almost beautiful. It’s the first time I’ve left a funeral craving Faulkner.

OCT
26

Manuscript Babies

 

This picture was taken without my knowledge while at Disneyland last week with a certain little person in my life. This little person is quite different than his older brother, whom I took to Disneyland last year, and as a person with no little people of my own, the differences between the personalities of little people is not something I’m able to observe very often. That’s one reason why last week was such a surprise to me. I was expecting the week to go much differently. Neither worse nor better, it was just different. Because they are different. We spent much more time observing details than we did careening down mountains. And I have no complaints about that.

When it comes to differences, I can’t even really compare animals because I only have one (best girl I have, that’s what I tell her). So that leaves me—the childless cat-lady author—with nothing but manuscripts to compare. True that they are my babies, in a way only someone without children would say. True that they exist because of me. That they make me worry and cry and stress and don’t make me any money. That I love them all unconditionally. That they are each my favorite but for very different reasons.

I’ve been making steady progress on my new manuscript, up to 90% finished now. 90%!!! It’s that weird part of the writing process where you’re so close to being done (exciting!) but long finished with your favorite and best parts (demotivating!). See, I don’t write my manuscripts in chronological order. I don’t write from start to finish. I make a list (which constantly changes) of things I know I’ll want to include in the book, and then I pick one and write it up. Then pick another. And another. But I’m no fool. And I pick the things I want to write about most first. If that sentence sounded strange, what I mean is I first pick the things I most want to write about. The Goods. The Juice. The Triumph. The Bitch Who Lived Downstairs.

Which means I’m left now with the dregs, if you will. The stuff I keep passing over each time I select a topic to write. The stuff I haven’t chosen until now. It’s not bad. It’s just not the stuff I couldn’t wait to write down. But the end is near, and that’s pretty incredible. A new sibling to my other manuscripts, one which I’m sure to love equally and with abandon. Even if he takes cross-eyed selfies when I’m not looking.

SEP
30

Pining for Seasons

There's a framed picture on my bedroom wall of a group of people ice skating in Central Park. It's a print actually, a creative artist's depiction of a whimsical and vibrant city. The people are thin, colorful, their limbs like sticks that dangle in front of or behind them as they glide along the ice. They are bundled, wearing scarves and jackets, a cityscape of buildings towering behind them. 

I look at this picture often, as well as the two others in my room by the same artist, one of the Brooklyn Bridge and one of the Empire State building, but today it seemed to transport me back to winter in New York. I never did ice skate in Central Park while I lived there, but New York was the last place I lived where I experienced seasons. Not that there's much to complain about here in San Diego, with its nearly year-round temperatures in the seventies, but that doesn't leave much room for seasonality, so I end up manufacturing experiences to make myself FEEL the changes of the season.

Last weekend I drove to Julian, a darling little mountain town just over an hour away. They're known for their apples, most famously their apple pie (although the bread pudding pictured in this post is the town's best kept secret), and fall is often littered with various apple-themed festivals. And so I attended last weekend's Old Country Fair, filled with a charming collection of booths, food, a pumpkin patch, and hayrides. I even paid for a special ticket that let me press my own apples and drink the fresh cider, something I'd never done before. It was delicious. Despite the 90 degree weather (shouldn't it be cooler in the mountains?), I felt like I was making fall happen. And when you live in a state of permanent summer, these things are important. I doubt there will be any ice skating in my near future, or any pie baking, but I'm sure I'll continue to stare at the print on my bedroom wall, missing that sensation of wind against bundled ears and the need to zip up my jacket all way to the top. Or, you know, wear a jacket at all.

Happy Fall, readers!

 

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.