Storytelling is Truth—Tweaked

Way before writing novels, I was a storyteller. As a little kid, before I could write, I used to come to breakfast and recount tales of going to Disneyland and other elaborate adventures I had during the night with my stuffed dog, Checkers. The purpose was less to entertain then to garner my mother's attention, a precious commodity given mainly to my manic depressive brother and coiffed sister. The stories I chose to relay often had a point—either I was saved from some peril by a kind stranger because my parents weren't there to help me, or I saved the day when I climbed the Matterhorn ride and fixed the car engine, rescuing the children stuck at the top to illustrate my prowess and kindness was beyond the pretty face of my sister's benevolant facade.

Like most writers, I've written since learning to write, at first in diaries and journals, now articles, blogs, short stories and novels. Writing, for me, isn't so much about entertaining, but more about getting my feelings and thoughts out of my head and in front of me to help me decipher them. Sometimes I have an idea or notion I'm convinced is true, then write it down and see the flaws in the logic. Writing about events, interactions, relationships, abstractions, helps me figure stuff out.

Beyond a writer, I'm still, and will always be a storyteller. I use tales as parables, to teach with, to communicate thoughts and feelings, not only to myself, but my kids, my husband, my students at Berkeley, basically most anyone I interact with. I've always related stories of things that happened, or, more precisely, elaborating on things that happened...OK, fabricating truths, to communicate, or to fit the lesson. Long time ago, I was told the best way to pull off a lie is to keep it as close to the truth as possible, just “tweak the truth.” It's easy to pull of a realist tale this way, since most people aren't paying that close attention anyway. We take what is said at face value, only questioning its validity if it's too far out there. I find I need to tweak the unvarnished truth more often than not to be heard or believed, as truth is either too boring, or too bizarre—truly stranger than fiction so much of the time.

Fiction is the truth, tweaked. But so are blogs, memoirs, non-fiction, even 'news' articles—they are all simply the point of view of the writer/storyteller trying to communicate a feeling or message. Fox News is the Republican point of view, and will give you a completely different take on ObamaCare, then say, CNN. But Truth Tweaked, goes far beyond the news media. Even the most far out fiction like Twilight or Hunger Games resonates with us because they communicate real, true feelings that are familiar to us all. They exploit the truth of our hopes for a better world, a more just society.

Storytelling is the foundation of human communication. Before written languages, sharing stories was how we passed on our history, learned from our experiences, instilled morality into our communities and advanced our race. We all elaborate on our stories, writing them down or recounting an event in our day. We all tweak the truth to serve us, to present an image, teach our children, or convey our fears, desires, dreams.

For as long as I can remember, most every time I tell anyone I'm a writer, they respond with, 'Oh, I write, too,' or, 'I'm going to write my novel one day.' Used to bug me, spending most of my time and energy honing the craft of writing, I felt dissed by their self-proclaimed association while they invested little to no effort in my chosen, but challenging profession. And while most will never actualize their writing ambitions, the fact is, they too are telling a tale to communicate an image to me, to themselves, that their stories are valuable, their life meaningful, tweaking the truth to serve their needs. We are all storytellers indeed. 

3 comments:

Livefats said...

Interesting, J. The same is of course true of memory. (By the way, have I missed the significance of the word "tweek" rather than "tweak"? I know "tweek" is a reference from drug life, and also a character in South Park...)

J. Cafesin said...

Livefats, I was doing a play on Tweeting and tweaking, but it was lost on the reader. Sorry. I've changed it to avoid confusion. And, YES, I totally agree that memory can be equally...creative, which is why I call out Oprah, on James Frey, in my description of Disconnected as a Novel Memoir...; }!

Anonymous said...

Well written! At times it can be rather difficult to tell the difference between the stories we tell (even to ourselves) and the truth.