This is the first in a series of six posts by Matilda Butler.
A memoir begins as a seed. It soon becomes a shoot, then a sapling, then a tree with many expansive branches that arches over an entire garden. How does it know to do this?
Tao [dau], n. way
The Tao, the way or the path, views life as part knowledge, duty, rationality, and part religion, morality, truth. It is not a fixed set of principles. In fact, it often employs riddles and paradoxes to convey its meaning. The Tao offers distinctive insight into many of life’s endeavors, including memoir writing.
Here’s the first Tao of Memoir Writing:
The complete truth is that truth is never complete. The unchanging truth is that truth is forever changing.
In our memoirs, we want to honor the emotional truth of events as we remember them while honoring the factual truth as well.
At the same time, we acknowledge that we are different people today than we were yesterday or last year, so today’s perception of yesterday’s or last year’s truth changes as well.
Seek the emotional truth of your story. You may remember the story differently than others, but readers understand this is your version of events. Most memoirists tell the story their way. Period. Others tell the story as they remember it and then state what someone else, usually a family member, says happened. The particular sequence of events, the location of events, the emotional states of those involved, even who was there are remembered differently by different people. Doubt this? Just reflect on any recent family gathering and you’ll see what I mean. All of these facts can change depending on the role of the person in the story and even the amount of time between the event and the writing.
Acknowledge, at least to yourself, that the memoir is your version. At the same time, don’t alter what you know to be the ‘truth’ to have a better story or to put you in a better light.
by Matilda Butler