Saturday, 14 March 2009

The Truth - as I see it.

This week in the UK has seen the publication of Julie Myerson's "The Lost Child - a True Story." It tells her version of the family break-up when she threw out her skunk-taking . (Iteenage son. The book has caused something of a furore with the son giving his version to the Daily Mail and with Julie appearing on TV and saying that she felt she had told the story as she saw it and that she was not sorry she had done it. As Kate Muir puts it in Saturday's Times, never let the truth get in the way of a good story!
James Frey also came under fire for "A Million Little Pieces" - his drugs memoir which was criticised for having too little truth in it.
This leads to the question, how important is truth in blogland? Some of the blogs which I have most enjoyed writing have been those concerning my daily walks through our lovely countryside with my Border Terrier, Tess. Do I see the walks through rose-tinted spectacles when I tell it to you? Is what I tell you a true version? Does it matter whether it is or not?
Some years ago some friends lent us a jig-saw they had been given as a present (if you are reading this, Maggie, we loved doing it). It was a jig-saw of their house and front garden. They are good and keen gardeners and their garden is always a picture. In the puzzle it was super-immaculate, not a weed, not a daisy on the lawn. (If I photograph a bit of my garden and put it on my blog, I don't show you the grotty corner where I cannot get rid of the courch-grass). But the really interesting thing about this puzzle was that the negative had been printed the wrong way round so that the whole thing was back to front, so to speak. So I suppose that strictly speaking it was not a true picture of their garden. Or was it?
Truth is an elusive thing. I walk down the lane with Tess, see the yellow hammer, the fieldfare, the little owl, the first celandine and I tell you about them. And if yesterday on my walk I saw two of my favourite Brown Hares boxing in the field, I might put that in too, although it happened on a different day. I want to tell you all the wonderful things I see on my walks. But I don't tell you about the three plastic bottles thrown from a passing car, bottles I have to pick up and bring home to put in the bin. And I don't tell you about the cowsh...... that litters the lane either side of our neighbour's farm, because they are in a hurry to spread their effluent while the weather is dry. And the stagnant pond in the corner of forty acre, where the drain is obviously blocked and the water smells awful - I leave that out as well. Should I, in the interests of "truth" tell you all this or should I not so much embroider the story as leave out the ugly bits?
This week with my 25 books I have travelled through places with Theroux, Young and Thesiger, albeit vicariously. Theroux certainly writes what he sees - the filth on the trains, the limbless beggars in India, the awful lavatories - and it is easy enough to read from the comfort of one's fireside chair. But it won't be the whole truth, will it? No, because truth, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.
Thinking about it, I could in fact have invented my self on my blog - for all my readers know I could be a thirty five year old male, I could steal my (admittedly not very good.) poetry from someone else and pass it off as my own. I could have invented my whole persona (alright I admit it, the photograph on my profile is ten years old - and that is because the recent one I would like to put on I can't find (honest)). And where would truth be then? In the interests of a "good story" I suggest it would be up the creek without a paddle. Would I ever be "found out" and would it matter?
A Scientist on Radio 4 the other week suggested that the whole of life could be a hologram! Now that really freaks me out, so I shall not say anymore, except just to say that my blog is my version of my life as I see it. If you would rather have a "warts and all" version I shall have to try harder to search out the grot. So I leave you with a question - what exactly constitutes truth on a blog - and does it really matter all that much? Spend a while thinking about it!


Raph G. Neckmann said...

I suppose it depends what the purpose is. In court people are supposed to tell the truth, the whole truth etc. In a blog the writer is concentrating on that aspect of life that s/he has decided to write about. And everything is seen through one's eyes anyway and filtered through one's personality and past.

The motivation is what counts. If a blog was written with the intent to deceive or harm others or damage their reputations, it would be wrong. But focussing on certain aspects of life, or telling stories, is fine.

I love your blog and the things you focus on. Please don't include plastic bottles. (Although I do like cowpats - they are one of the endearing aspects of the countryside!!)

(Goodness - I'm a bit worried now - I hope no-one thinks I'm not actually a giraffe!!)

Raph G. Neckmann said...

PS There is a secret joke for you currently at mine - I hope no-one thinks I'm standing for Prime Minister!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Dear Weaver…please don't worry too much about truth in writing. It's the eye and the heart that counts. Truth is always subjective in writing, simply because no one can take the time to describe every single detail of even the smallest scene. (If I tried to describe the top of my desk, for example, it might run to 50,000 words in order to manage in its entirety; who'd want to read that!)

If you say the ground is covered in leaves—what color? How many? What's their shape? Which one is stacked atop the other? Do they have a scent? Are they dry or damp or old or new or rotting or fresh or…but see, you can just spin down and down into details and never get to the heart of what you're trying to say. Unless it germane to the piece, then you have to pick and choose.

Writing truth is selecting those details that describe or help what you're telling. Often the difference between a good writer and a mediocre writer lies not in their wordsmithing ability, but in their eye for detail—the good ones all have the innate ability to pull, from perhaps hundred of choices, that one compelling, telling detail that makes a scene or mood or person come alive.

You (and trust me when I say this, for I do know what I'm talking about) have a good eye for detail. That's why people like to read what you write. When you take a walk and tell us what you see, no, you don't have to include the plastic wrappers and discarded bottles and whatever other bits of junk you see…not unless you're writing about litter. It's not being less than truthful to leave that out; it's simply recounting to us, your readers, those positive things—sights, smells, moods—that your walk invoked in you, the reason for your walk and what you enjoyed. You are sharing, ultimately, yourself and your experience.

As to adding sights and experiences, combining things into one walk, as you mentioned—that's more your call. A bit of it is okay. Too much and it tends to looked forced, to ring hollow.

I read a book a couple of years back by a really good botanists and naturalist which recounted a week camped in an oak grove in California. In point of fact, the experiences took place over several years worth of camping trips to this same spot. But the book tried to compress them into a few days.It felt too crowded, too false, and no one liked it. "I don't understand why it wasn't well received," the author moaned to me. "Because," I said, "it sounded false and contrived from the get-go. Folks would would buy and read and enjoy your book know nature doesn;t unfold like a TV docu-drama."

A better way (in my opinion and for what it's worth) to get such things in is—using your hares by way of example—simply noting the field's corner, today empty, where yesterday you saw the two hares boxing,…and then tell as much about them and the incident as you wish.

Okay. I'll shut up, now. Bottom line…you write well, we all enjoy reading your blog, so don't change anything—just give us more of the same. Even if you are a one-legged, 25-year old sailor living in Newfoundland!

Woman in a Window said...

Oh, I LOVE this question. Love! Love! I just wrote a two part piece on my back blog about belief and what constitutes real, albeit a little fluffy. It was fun!

Blogging lets people do what they see fit. I am real. That is who I am. I can't help myself, warts and all. I do know people who have created a persona. I don't find I get much out of their blogs. I feel like I can see through it. But perhaps I'm fooled more often than I know.

Does it matter? Not to the reader, I suppose, but to me as a writer, it has great weight.

Thanks for this fabulous question!

Cathy said...

I love reading your blog! Don't worry about the photo. I went on Picasa yesterday and managed to erase the wrinkles on my forehead. I'm still laughing. Blogging is for sharing. It connects people. I could show my dining room after all six children have eaten but I think people would cry. My kids are insane. I whine sometimes in my blog but it's good to have someone (even a total stranger) tell you that they have been there ar that they will pray for you. When you write I feel like I'm right there. I can almost smell that cow patty!

The Solitary Walker said...

Ah, what is truth...

Wow, that comment by TGBSISH was simply breathtaking. I agree with him that you have an eye for the telling detail.

Truth isn't a matter of including everything, is it? In writing truth is to do with selection of content - the right word and phrase and sentence and combination of sentences which best express what one sincerely, genuinely wants to say. And it's to do with style - which is how one says what one wants to say in the personal, unforced, necessary way which is true to oneself.

You can usually spot fake wrtiting, untruthful writing, a mile off. And that fakeness has nothing particularly to do with a false persona, or even embroidered facts. The whiff of the truth, the essence of it, will always come through.

When you think about it, our whole lives are products of selection (we are continually choosing through our brains what sense impressions to process, otherwise we'd go mad with total overload) and style (our individual personalities, the unique way we present ourselves, think of ourselves, the way we live our lives). In fact, we're all living works of art!

We can choose to write about most anything - cow muck, plastic bottles, violets, blackberry whisky, dentists, roadkill - but it's always the INTENTION and the CONTEXT that decide the final choice. And a sense of the truth will with luck result from this, if it's all backed by that sincere voice we all have somewhere within us (with some it's just nearer the surface than with others).

Truth almost comes as a by-product of all these processes. Yet it's the most important thing there is.

Derrick said...

Hello Weaver,

I began this comment some time ago but had to leave off! You have already elicited some interesting responses.

We are all familiar with stories of people who pretend to be someone else via the internet, usually with harmful intent.

'Poetic license' is different. And if we all know you're telling us a story, what does it matter? But I have, on occasion, found myself thinking "who are you trying to kid"?! - NOT with you, you understand!

A little reality does no harm. Even you have apologised for the poo that can permeate your posts from time to time! Life is rarely all sweetness and light.

Heather said...

The good bits of your blog, and life come to that, are still true, regardless of whether the bad bits are included or left out. We all have bad bits to endure and don't need to know about other people's bad bits, unless they need our help and support. Spreading cheer and happiness by sharing pleasant experiences enhances all our lives. Please don't stop. We all have plastic bottles and carrier bags in our hedges so we don't need to be told about those and will just have to keep tidying them away.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

In my view there are enough stagnant ponds and plastic bottles in the world at the moment.

I started blogging as a way to keep an accounting of my little journey over the planet. I sincerely appreciate all the beauty available to me as a human being, and try to translate that feeling of gratitude in my writing.

So yes, my blog is the truth, just not the "whole truth". I think I can freely speak for Edward as well. He is always completely pleased with his life.

jinksy said...

Whatever you write, your readers will still interpret it through their own experiences, so it will differ for each one. Do we need the grot to be forced upon us, when we all know it exists - just part of life. Earth = weeds as well as flowers; cows = s*** as well as milk! Were we ever in any doubt?! x

The Weaver of Grass said...

Raph - I am totally convinced of your girafeness Raph and shall shortly visit your site and put on a poem I have been meaning to send you.

The Weaver of Grass said...

This 25year old, one-legged sailor from Newfoundland says thank you for the encouragement Scribe - it is much appreciated from one who's writing I so very much admire.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thank you woman in a window - glad to think it is interesting to someone else.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks Cathy - blogging friendships are interesting things.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Agree with what you say entirely Robert.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Derrick - thanks for the comment. The poo is thick and fast here today as the farmer is spreading it on the paddock next to the house - and that is the TRUTH!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Good point Heather.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Looking at that photograph of Edward in a hat, Pamela, I am sure you are right about him - it is obvious on looking at him that he does not have a lying bone in his body!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Good point added to the argument, Jinksy.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

Love The Subway Giraffe poem, Weaver! (I've left a comment under it on my blog too) Many thanks - it really made me smile too!

PS: No-one seems to have noticed my 'faux pas' of grooming on my post, following on from your comment about Gordon Brown on your 'Is it just me?' post! (Or maybe they are just too polite to tell me ... I thought it would have been all over the tabloids!)

EB said...

Hello, sorry I'm late...

Hmm. I disagree with a lot of the comments above. I do think that your writing is very appealing, and that you have a great eye for detail. However, I'd say that it's the mixture of material in your blog that really appeals to me. I also go on walks that are to some extent like yours, so maybe that makes a difference. I'm keen to know what's in flower, what birds are singing, what the farmer is doing around now (and why, and how). I enjoy both the picturesque and the supposedly ugly. Plastic bottles too, becuase that's how it is.

On the other hand I strongly agree that you're bound to write subjectively, just as I will read that way.

My garden blog is very warts and all and I suspect loses a good few potential readers for that. Who do you write for? You are your own most important reader and even if more people would read if you had more lambs and less muck, I feel the strongest truth is to write words you believe in.

(And I like the philosophical blogs like this one best of all!)

Rowan said...

I enjoy reading about the nice things - wild flowers, hares boxing and so on. I enjoy writing about things like that too. It is all true even if you have left out the plastic bottles and the stagnant pond. Nothing wrong with that, much better to concentrate on the lovely things of life - the media do more than enough to bring to our attention the ugly, violent side. I'm sure that most people realise that no-one has a perfect life all the time - we all have a kitchen floor that needs washing or feel like death warmed up or look an absolute mess sometimes but it's much nicer and more inspiring to read about the good things.

Anonymous said...

Surely truth is about essence rather than surface appearance. Your readers are fully aware of the plastic bottle quotient in any corner of the British landscape. What they seek from your depictions of your immediate surroundings is a sense of what endures - an essence of what it is to live and work within an environment that, for all that it bears the stamp of the intrusive commercial present, contains crucial elements of what doesn't change. And that's what we get in abundance here.

BT said...

Weaver, I am perfectly happy with your blog the way it is, truth or untruth. I, too, sometimes put on things on a different day, simply because it works better that day or I'd forgotten about it.

Do not get too wound up about truth. If your plan is to entertain, as mine is, then keep on doing as you are. I also do mine as a record of the garden and our progress in it, but try to make it entertaining, so truth may occasionally be 'stretched' for humour's sake. I'm sure you do the same.

Hildred and Charles said...

I have always found the business of truth a worrisome thing. But how do you define a "blog"? Is it entertainment? Communication? The results of an aching need to write? Can it be a story?

In my case I may be able indulge myself the tiniest bit when it comes to description and emotions, but when it comes to facts I have a sister, a husband and a passel of children who read my blog and keep me on the straight and narrow.

I follow your postings with the greatest pleasure, Weaver, and they are always interesting and beautifully written. And that's the truth....

Poet in Residence said...

I'm thinking this through from A to
up to B for Bukowski.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks to everyone for joining so readily into the debate - this is what makes blogging so exciting, I think (certainly for me). Today (Sunday) is a Spring day here and we are going to tackle a really grotty patch in the front garden (that is the royal "we" - the farmer is "tackling", I am advising) - so shall post "before" and "after" shots if all goes according to plan - then you will see the plain truth about our garden! Many thanks to you all!!

Arija said...

Oh dear, I wrote you such a long philsophical comment and it has vanished into the space between.
The gist of it was that we each have our own paricular truth and each is equally valid. We each have a personal selective vision.
The place where time and action related truth comes into its own is in a court room, where a different truth from our pre-conditioned personal truth is required yet cannot be totally separated from our subjective views.

mand said...

It's every writer's decision, isn't it - especially every (auto)biographer's - what to leave out. You can't include every throatclearing, every nosepick, but each included or omitted detail colours the whole.

I'm not new to the scary hologram thought, i did philosophy. I once saw a quote about being able to rest one's head comfortably on the pillow of uncertainty. I keep quoting it, without knowing exactly how it's phrased or where it came from.

Janice Thomson said...

I think what one reads generally clues them in as to whether one is a person putting on airs or a down-to-earth sort. Do we stretch the truth a bit? Maybe, but not in a way that would harm anyone - as for instance not mentioning the wrappers and cans on the ground.

People who write from the heart are always noticed, respected and cherished because you know you are getting real feeling and that is where truth comes in.

If the writing or feeling seems too perfect all the time then the reader feels this and will pass on to the next blog. But if one reads a piece that simply brings a sense of humanness forward, a sense of, oh yeah I can sure relate to this, then the writer has achieved the desired effect.