Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Memories and truth

NPR has an interesting piece about the memoirs written by Augusten Burroughs, his brother, and his mother. I loved Burroughs' Running With Scissors and Dry, and although I found A Wolf at the Table somewhat harder to read (because it lacked much of the dark humor of his other memoirs), it was certainly well written.

The NPR piece raises the issue of truth in memory - the emotional truth is what tends to stick with us, though the factual details can get fuzzy. I thought of my 30th birthday party, where my Playback theater group performed, and I sat in the audience as party guests told stories about me and Playback turned them into theater. Many of those stories bore little resemblance to the events I remembered. For example, one friend told a story about a day when I was called him on the phone, stressed and upset. He implied that my emotional state was due to the difficulties I'd encountered directing a play, coupled with the chronic unreliability of my then-boyfriend. Now, those things were present, but the friend omitted that he himself had just sent me an angry text message, and my memory of that day is that I was upset that he (my friend) was angry with me. I don't know if he forgot that part, but if I were to tell the story of that day, that text message and my reaction to it would be what it was about. Now I suspect, in retrospect, that my friend was never really that angry at me to begin with (I probably over-reacted due to my already stressed out state), and that's why that piece of the story was irrelevant to him. But it's interesting how different that experience was for the two of us.

I can only imagine the differences that could occur over years and years of memories, in the case of Augusten Burroughs and his family. His brother's account sounds especially interesting, and I plan to read it.

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