18. Are the stories we tell ourselves about our past true, or do we bend the truth so we can create our stories? If the latter is true, than what worth is there in the stories if they aren’t true?
This kind of a question reminds me of the movie Big Fish. If you haven’t watched this movie, it is about a man and his dying father, and how, for his entire childhood, the man’s father has told him dozens of far-fetched stories about his life that he feels that, even as he is dying, he does not know who his father truly is.
I think that we would like to believe that our entire life is built on true stories, or at least we try to tell stories by the (irony here) book. But even autobiographies are half-truths, because our memory can never suffice, unless documented immediately, to tell the truth of what has happened. But, honestly, well at least to me, these kinds of biographies can get a little dull. Have you read the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin? Sure, it’s a solid biography, but it’s also dull at times.
To be honest, I think the stories I have from my childhood are as true as I have made myself to believe they are. There are some that are definitely true, and there are some that I keep as to how I’ve chosen to document them to retain that sense of wonder that I had when I was a child.
For instance, this is a true story. When I was younger, my brother, his two friends and I were playing by our mailbox. We were finding rocks, and seeing who could find the biggest. The younger of my brother’s friends accidentally hit me with a rock. But, being hurt, and feeling angry, I decided to take an even bigger rock and threw it at him, and it hit him on his forehead above his eyebrow and he got a cut and we never played with my brother’s friends again. That is a true story that happened in my childhood. As true as I can remember it to be.
For instance, this is a half-true story. There was a girl when I was in pre-primary who I used to play on a see-saw contraption at the back of the pre-primary building and we would swing back and forth during lunches and we would tell secrets and stories and just talk about what kids generally talk about. One day she didn’t return to school and I told everyone a few years ago that she didn’t return because I think she died. I told this story so many times I believed it was true. But a few years later I found her photo in a photo album and it turned out that she had just moved to New York.
To be honest, if I were to tell stories to my children, I don’t think that I would tell entirely true stories either. Because sometimes the ones that are half-true have a much more fantastical element to them. And it is these fantastical elements that remember more than those that are true.
I rarely recall the reason why my brother and I stopped playing with his friends. But I always recall that friend I had during pre-primary who mysteriously disappeared. And, funnily enough, the former one was when I was much older and I therefore should remember it much better, but I don’t.
I think the person who wrote this question doesn’t truly understand the reason behind stories – i.e. they are never made to be entirely true, because truth is, like almost everything, subjective. And the most fantastical truths are the ones most worth venturing for. Even aural stories by aborigines have their fantastical elements, otherwise how would their children be captured by the tale? And have reason to tell it again?
For me stories never need to be true to be amazing, or to have truths in them. Look at Gulliver’s Travels. Sometimes stretching truths can lead to future realisations. Look at Brave New World, 1984 and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Fiction has so many more worths to it than to tell the absolute truth or to document the past. Heck, even past documents are fabricated, selective, biased. A historical museum is an entire fabrication of how the curator wants you to see the history of a group of people, from start to finish. This is what my ‘Introduction to History’ course has taught me.
If anything, it’s taught me that history is created, and my literature courses have taught me that there is truth in lies and lies in truths – like Swift’s essay A Modest Proposal that satires the state of the Irish in the 18th century, suggesting that parents should eat their children to lessen the burden of poverty.
So bend the truth if you must. Create stories that your kids can boast over to other kids – “my parents were abducted by aliens but they won the age-old war against the xenomorphs!” Sometimes the only magic left in the world are those created by stories.
Till next time,
P.S. Yes, Rhey of Sunshine and I are a bit behind on this challenge. I’m currently pausing and waiting for her to catch up a bit before continuing, so please bear with our lack of posts!