Memoir Writing Prompts: Three Views of Memoir and Truth, Part 2

by Matilda Butler on May 3, 2011

Writing Prompt LogoPost #87 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompt – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

Memoir Writing Prompts: A Second View of Memoir and Truth

Today’s discussion of memoir and truth picks up where we left off last week. This is a second aspect of truth in memoir writing.

memoir-writing-prompt, memoir, memoir writing, journaling, writing tips, memoir and truth“There’s been a fire through here,” my partner said.

I glanced up from my computer and looked out the window. “It must have just happened,” I replied. “Look. Some of the trees are still smoldering.”

“I don’t see that.”

I leaned forward, moving my head in the process, ready to show him what seemed so obvious to me. Then I realized that clouds in the early morning sky were reflecting on the window I was looking through. The result was a pseudo-image where languidly moving clouds were superimposed along the burned tree tops thanks to the glass. What appeared real to me was an illusion.

My partner and I were sitting at a table in the parlour car of the Coast Starlight from San Jose, California to Albany, Oregon after a return to the Bay area that included meals with friends, walks along the Carmel beach and, the ostensible reason for the trip, appointments with our dentist of 25 years.

Because I have been considering the various issues related to memoir and truth, I realized that if my partner and I had been two strangers on that train, I might have written in my journal that I saw a forest so recently burned that smoke was still spiraling skyward from some of the trees. My partner, on the other hand, might have written in his journal that he passed by an old burned forest area where some of the trees had only been burned on one side — a comment he made when originally pointing out the trees to me.

Who was telling the truth in these imagined journal entries? The first inclination is to say that he was. But before we give him the prize, consider the view that I saw. It seemed real to me. It was my truth until I changed my position, and I only did that to point out the smoke to my partner. If he hadn’t been there, I’d probably still think that the fire had only recently been put out. In other words, it was my truth even though it wasn’t the truth.

There are many times when truth is a one-sided affair.

MEMOIR WRITING PROMPT:

1. Think about a time when you remember seeing or hearing something that no one else saw or heard. Write for five minutes about why it was so vivid for you at the time. Perhaps even now you can remember it quite clearly. Recently I wrote about a Christmas when I “knew” I was going to get a puppy. I even heard the puppy racing up and down the basement steps. But on Christmas morning, no puppy. My senses had become intertwined with my imagination.

2. Think of a situation when you believed one set of facts or circumstances and later found out they were not true. This happens all the time. Perhaps you had (notice the tense) a best friend. Then you found out she was telling stories on you behind your back. I thought my ex-husband had preemptively chosen his first post-graduate employment position, ignoring my reasons to reject the position. It was only a few months ago that I found the letter from him giving his reasons to accept the job and why he thought it would meet my needs as well. What I thought was true has been softened by the discovery of this letter. Write for five minutes about a once believed truth that has been overturned in your mind by later knowledge.





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