While reading Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, I remember my French Studies professor muttered, while turning to write something on the dry erase board; that memoirs were, by nature the most unreliable of all written materials. Quite simply, we have too much invested in ourselves and our histories to assume we “accurately” remember much of anything.
When James Frey was so scandalized upon the realization via Smoking Gun, that the author had not, in fact, been in prison for the several month-long duration he claimed within one of his novel/memoirs, it seemed unnecessary and even absurd anyone would assume his “memoirs” were truthful. Who could possibly write a completely truthful memoir, or even autobiography?
Nonetheless, the idea is more than a bit entertaining. What would I rewrite, omit or edit a little, in my own memoirs?
When I was a child I was terrified of wasps and hated room temperature milk. Some where along the line my own mother began to believe me claims I was “allergic.” To this day she will supply to anyone who’ll listen I am both lactose intolerant and might swell and die if stung by wasps or bees. In a biography I might more easily just claim this misrepresentation was true. I would say I stayed at the New York drama camp I actually left after only a week (homesick), and three of my years in college I might erase from mention entirely.
I think I would say I was a pretty child, who grasped things easily and was sweet and good-natured, rather than whiny and a little strange, with a sagging sort of frown while I either cowered in the coat room or screamed to dominate the attention of my classmates. Perhaps I learned to read, like a little prodigy, at two and a half, (that was a childhood friend of mine) or spent part (a very influential part) of my childhood in Europe.
One of Sylvia Plath’s biography’s outlines that the poet/author stood five feet nine and weighed (usually) around 130 pounds. Although it would require a little heigh embellishing, I should like to say the same about myself.
Even now, I look back on a photograph of us at the beach, taken last week, and remember our arms are raised to combat the freezing waves that hit like a punch to our guts, and stinky, salty kelp tangled around our legs until we ran back to our towels in defeat.
But if the scene were in my memoir, I know I would remember it as a luxurious paradise. The perfect afternoon in a sepia-colored Malibu—the same shore Charlie Chaplin and Jean Harlow once enjoyed (kelp and all).