'Truth is so hard to tell, it sometimes needs fiction to make it plausible.'
In a novel, the reader is often interested in how much is true, while in a memoir, the reader wants to know how much is untrue. The line between fact and fiction is much finer than we imagine. When we assert the factual validity of our memories we often discover that a sibling, a friend or a parent remembers the same event quite differently. A few years ago, a mother and her adult daughter enrolled in one of my life writing classes in order to write a memoir about the daughter's turbulent teenage years. Both described the same events but from a different perspective. At one stage the daughter referred to a formative experience that had occurred in her early childhood when her mother had left her. The mother was shocked, because in reality she had only been away for one night, but in the daughter's mind it was an eternity. Of course, factually it is correct to call it one night, but the emotional truth lies elsewhere. There's a world of difference between truth and fact,' writes Maya Angelou. 'Fact tells us the data. . . but facts can obscure the truth'.
Psychotherapists also recognise the complexities of truth. In Other Lives, Other Selves, Roger Woolger states that 'for the therapist there is another kind of truth, psychic truth: that which is real for the patient.' Jung also maintained that clinical material does not have to be historically true so long as it is subjectively true and filled with meaning for the patient. For Jung, harmony is not achieved by realigning an individual to society, which is itself a human construct, but instead from realigning them to their self and hence, to life. It is in the inner or psychological journeys that we take and on which we send our characters, that an emotional, and perhaps a universal truth can be found.
In his memoir, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung writes about his his inner experiences, including his dreams and visions, referring to his life as one that he could only map or understand through recording its 'inner happenings', his encounters with the unconscious. 'In the end,' he says, 'the only events in my life worth telling are those when the imperishable world irrupted into this transitory one.' Like Jung, when I sat down to write, I discovered that I had embarked on my own inner journey, a journey of the soul. As I worked on my novel, I was surprised to discover that I was unconsciously writing about myself, drawing on my own past, my dreams and my numinous experiences and weaving them into a plot-driven fictional story.
John Singleton, in The Creative Writing Handbook, explores the relationship between memory and imagination and between autobiography and fiction. The autobiography he says, 'only translates the past' while fiction 'transforms' it. 'The vital force in this re-creative process is the imagination.' Autobiography, 'describes the self as already known, or explains the self as presently understood. While fiction, on the other hand explores the self as yet hidden, in the dark. . . Something secret is hitherto revealed which you sense you've known unconsciously all the time.' Transformation, then, is made more possible by stepping into fiction, if only because the writer then gives their imagination permission to work with memory and transform it, thereby allowing true self reflection, that which comes as a revelation and not simply an intellectual construct.
'All fiction is autobiography in disguise', wrote Catherine Anne Jones, in The Way of Story. This is certainly the case with Flight, though if I had written it as a memoir I would not have been able to grant myself permission to explore my own past and thus transform it, at least not with the freedom I found in fiction. It is difficult to say exactly how much of Flight is true in the factual sense of the word. Like Fern, I was born in Adelaide and adopted by a religious couple. The house I grew up in is the same as I depict in the novel. The adopted father, Richard, is almost identical to my own adopted father. I too lived in Sydney in an attic room and toyed with the idea of studying fashion design. The house Fern visits in Kettering, Tasmania, is a house I lived in for six years. These are factual truths and easily identified by those who know. There are other true events in the story that are not so easily identified as fact. The memories of childhood that I give Fern are all my own, as are the dreams and visions she has. Otherwise, the characters and events are fictional. Although fact and fiction are woven together throughout Flight, the themes are personal to me, as is Fern's psychological and spiritual journey. These are my truths, but they are also universal truths, referring back to a long tradition of storytelling that begins with humanity's first storytellers, the unnamed shamans, as well as to ancient myth, to Dante's Inferno, Goethe's Faust, Hesse's, Steppenwolf, Le Guin's Earthsea novels and Murakami's Kafka On The Shore, to name but a few.
In The Western Dreaming, John Carroll, in asking what truth is, looks at the roots of the word. 'When the Greeks designated truth by their word aleitheia, they built in a narrative. Truth is that which is a-lethe, not lethe, Lethe being the place of oblivion or forgetfulnes, and later the river running through the underworld. To drink the waters of this river was to extinguish memory. Oblivion is thus the natural human state, one in which individuals have forgotten what they know.' Carroll then makes a further connection, one that is vital in an age where post-modernism would deny the validity of truth. 'Moreover,' he writes, 'as English has picked up, to be without Truth is lethal, death in life, its condition that of lethargy, a weariness of spirit in which all vitality has drained away.' This is the condition of Fern as my novel, Flight opens. She has forgotten so much and lost so much of herself, that there is very little vitality left and she is told: 'If you do not take this journey you will die,'
A post modernist might say that it isn't possible to define truth, or at least that there are multiple truths. That truth is not fixed, but instead changes according to who is telling it and the context in which it is told. It changes too, according to the unique collection of filters each individual applies to their reading of a text. As Walter Truett-Anderson writes in The Truth About Truth, 'truth is made rather than found.' Yet below this slippery world of relative readings, I believe, like Joseph Campbell, that there is another world, a more stable one of universal truths and themes. Not tribal or dogmatic 'truths' that are socially constructed and create divisions but truths which are beyond divisions, beyond polarities. This, for me, is where truth lies. As a writer I can only approach it through metaphor, story itself being a metaphor for the journey of the soul, the journey to that truth which is beyond language. It is a journey that must be taken over and over. Factual truth has little bearing on this journey, which involves a seeing through of ideology, as well as the acceptance and subsequent release of constructed psychological truths, in order to receive a remembering of something deeper and more sustaining.
If there are truths which are absolute, there are also an indefinite number and colourful variety of paths to these truths. As Campbell warned, it is dangerous to believe in the paths as truths in themselves, creating dogmatic 'isms' that limit our perception and more often than not, cause great divisions. Dogma insists that the path itself is the only way to an inaccessible truth, establishing twists and turns and dead ends to keep the masses away from this profound realisation that the path is constructed, it is a map, not the truth itself. In contrast, the journey of the soul is an individual and a universal journey, each person finding their own way, with their own unique signposts to guide them. The path is not important, as Fern discovers in Flight. Fern's journey is not one any other character could take because like each of us, she has her own individual stories to deconstruct; stories that have arisen from a multitude of factors: genetic, experiential, environmental, historical and cultural. At the end of her journey, Fern is able to step beyond constructed truths and perceive once again a vital universal truth that enables connection and harmony and the innate knowledge that everything is one.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:http://writeonthefringes.blogspot.co.uk/