• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Sometimes When We Touch The Honesty’s Too Much

What is true? What is real? What is authentic? What if I told that the story about the little girl having a meltdown at the bus stop was a fiction, if I made it up, or if I only witnessed the mother grimly walking off the bus and fabricated the rest? Would you feel I was a bad person? A good writer? Would it make any difference? Does a writer have a solemn pact with a reader to tell the truth or is she a master manipulator? Are things more real because they happened? Why does fiction sometimes feel like it holds deeper truths? Poetry even more so? THe more people responded to the story the more disgusted I felt with myself for writing it even though I wrote it as close to my memory of it as possible, down to the Hello Kitty backpack. And I’ve thought of that little girl and that mother many times, entering the short story of that moment in their lives as I did, by chance.

I’ve staked my whole fucking life on writing and I still can’t tell if it’s me or memorex. Can you?


68 Responses

  1. Did you not assume each response to the story was authentic? That was the purpose of the story, real or not. So, real or not is irrelevant. It was successful.

  2. Good writing leads us to truths about our selves, our world, and others. Facts, confined to the whos and whats are wheres and hows and whens, are narrow and specific, and sometimes sterile.

    When you give a sworn statement, or tell a story as straight fact, that’s one thing. But writing evocatively as you did leads us to our truths and memories.

    You’re all right, Betsy, and a hell of a writer and teacher, and you did fine by us.

    And yeah, I can tell if it’s me or memorex.

  3. All first person narrators are unreliable. Period.

    • Yes. Even on blogs & internet sites. Cyberspace is where people often re-invent themselves, under the guise of intimate discourse.

      As far as truth in fiction? For me, the emotion of the piece is always true. The details surrounding that emotion, not so much.

  4. Sometimes I’m pretty sure I AM Memorex. Or vice versa.

    I thought the story did a great job of winding this bunch up to self-dissect. Maybe you should charge us by the hour.

  5. Aw Betsy, nothing is really real after all. It’s all greasepaint. It’s all memorex. We are figments of each other’s imaginations and that’s neither good nor bad.

  6. Isn’t it true because it is yours? The truth is the moment inside you when the words cascade onto the page.

  7. We are seducers, telling true lies.

    (A great deal of my writing is sourced in things that I know happened and in the people they happened to. But I’m not a historian, I’m a thief and a fabricator. I steal from a reality filtered through my consciousness and I make out of that processed world a simulacrum of greater harmony and tighter focus than the chaos ever reminding me of my annihilation, believing as I craft my insubstantial wares that this new and holographic truth is somehow more substantial and imperative. (The infant within who never reconciled himself to his death takes great comfort in this form of play, and further believes that it may lead others to love him sufficiently to distract him from his terror for a time.))

    We are liars, truly out to seduce.

  8. I majored in psychology, not philosophy (even though they are both about equal in usefulness as an undergrad degree) but here’s my two cents anyway. All we have is our own perspectives and our individual “truths” are pulled from our own narrow plots of experience. As for writing, in my modest opinion, only the end emotion matters. And an individual’s emotion to a common stimulus is as unique as their fingerprint. With one small story (true or not) a waterfall of emotion was experienced by your readers. Some emotions were similar, but many were different enough to make you wonder if we had even read the same story.

  9. Now I’m worried. Once again, I’m acting out Betsy’s posts. Yesterday, I sent an irrate letter to a certain radio program complaining about a purported “work of fiction” that featured several explicit descriptions of animal cruelty. My outrage against this first-person essay was fueled as much by the use of these descriptions to carry the author’s plot as the horrific suspicion that this author perhaps knew this subject a bit too well.

    Betsy’s observations of the girl, her mother and the bus may be fiction, but those descriptions engaged us in an introspective and more positively creative way.Count me as someone who doesn’t need anymore shock-and-awe in her life — especially in the guise of entertainment. Could the other author have been a master manipulator, too? Maybe. But, unlike Betsy’s post, at the end of this day I still believe the use of those descriptions wasted a chance to inspire and enlighten. Instead, the catalog for my nightmares is complete.

  10. i write fiction and, as such, manipulate a kind of truth into my stories. i steal bits and pieces and smush them together. i’m all right with that. i think i’d feel guilty as hell manipulating my truth in a memoir.

    • We all manipulate our truths, if we are honest and even remotely objective about the process of memoir. Our truth is only what we perceive it to be, and is never really absolute, therefore, how can there be guilt? To expect memoir to be anything other than someone’s version of their own truth is unrealistic and, ultimately, arrogant in its assumption that there is one absolute truth. In my opinion…. 🙂

      • hey, i was raised presbyterian and guilt is submerged; folds and warps and rises to the surface when faced with the erosive force of time.

  11. Can I tell if it’s reality or an imitation of reality? Nope, I cannot. And I love that I cannot. Which is why I resist — and am almost repulsed by– the idea of writing a memoir. I got my MFA with a concentration in creative nonfiction, and wrote myself a thesis that served as evidence for why I needed to divorce my then husband. That’s just too fucking powerful. (Though if I hadn’t divorced, I’d probably be a snaggletoothed crack addict by now.)

    A long time ago, I went to a psychic who read shit off my bracelet. Everything she said came true. Memoirs, psychic readings — just too scary.

    So, it’s fiction for this pussy of a writer. Fiction, where you don’t have to dwell in what is or what was, only in what it could have been. La De Fucking Da.

    • Why do people find intuitive/psychic readings scary? I genuinely need to understand since I’m offering free readings to writers at my new blog, and I’m getting nada —

      • You just got your first (non-paying customer), as long as you don’t sell, rent, or give away my email address. I’ll be right over.

      • I think I’m an outlier. As usual. But, what scares me about a predictive psychic reading is its power to persuade my unconscious mind to follow orders. I’m under the (most likely false) assumption that all options are still open to me. Like, if I want to become a brain surgeon, it’s not too late! Likewise, with memoir, once you’ve written down the truth, and it’s out there, you can’t unwrite it. I’m sure it’s just another aspect of my arrogant meandering through life, but there it is.

        Good luck though, with your offering. I think it’s a fascinating idea. I’m just too cowardly to raise my palm for it.

  12. You can tease the facts out of a story, but not the truth. The truth is too embedded, tangled up and wedded to our lies.

  13. I don’t think it matters where the story comes from, how deeply you’ve plumbed memorex or how artfully you compose it on the page. It’s friction.

  14. We need to keep writing separate from reality. Writing is make believe. Even if we really mean it. It’s still make believe. Even this is not real.

  15. Redundancy redoubled.

  16. It’s the emotional truths that matter. You can get there by bus or plane or unicorn, as long as we arrive.

    • Ellen, I like the way you put this — it’s a good image. But you’re wrong: there is no such thing as “emotional truth”. Truth is not emotional, and emotions are not the foundation of truth. “Emotional truth” is why voters go for the Tea Party, why people believe in the Protocols of Zion. “Emotional truth” is as an undignified basis for art as it is for politics.

      • The search for emotional truth is why art exists. Otherwise why bother?

      • I think vicarious experience is the basis for art. The next best thing to falling in love/climbing Denali/having kinky sex/robbing a bank/killing your spouse/cooking a gourmet meal is reading/watching/hearing about it. As the imaginative power and personal initiative diminishes, so does the medium by which we exercise them. Those who don’t read watch telly, etc. Then there’s shopping, in which experience comes pre-packaged and spoon-fed, no imagination required at all.

      • Oh please. Get off your high horse. As defined by you in the first sentence of your reply, equating reading as a vicarious experience, is a whole lot more passive than shopping. Reading because you can’t get off your ass and go out and climb a mountain or have kinky sex on your own is just as consumerist and ten times more lazy than buying stuff, don’t kid yourself.

      • Vivian, are you saying we should get off our asses and travel and not read your books?

  17. As far as writing is concerned, it’s about tapping into something that’s universal. You obviously accomplished that with your last post. The idea of children in unsafe situations is a big one. Everyone can relate. and certainly apropos considering yesterday’s passing of Mr. Sendak. Don’t feel guilty. After all, there may be quite a few of us who responded just as imaginatively.

  18. I don’t think it matters for writers. It matters for readers. I have a long list of topics I won’t read about (one of them is children in danger), but sometimes I’ll read them if I know and trust the author. I have an even longer list of writers I won’t read no matter what they’re talking about because they’ve let me down in some way.

  19. I believe truth is important. Nonfiction and memoir should try very hard to say something true about this world, while recognizing that absolute, objective truthfulness is probably not possible.

    But fiction is not about this world; it’s about a mirror world, and in that world absolute truth *is* possible. Because you say it is.

  20. Actually, there is no such thing as non-fiction. All circumstance, real or unreal, is fueled by interpretation.

    Monday, you see a little girl with a Hello Kitty backpack, Tuesday, a mother and a little girl waiting for a bus, Wednesday, a kid standing ‘ramrod’ straight in the grocery store refusing to leave the candy aisle, and Thursday, you take the day off; your kid is sick and does not want to go to school so you stay home because you don’t want to go to work anyway. Friday you’re stopped behind a big yellow bus when the mother (for whatever reason) has to board the big machine to help her kid on…so why wouldn’t you explain away the scene, see what you saw, and describe ‘a story’ which moved us, pissed us off or made us yawn. I was sitting in that car with you, I saw it all, just as you described it and when you started to cry, so did I.

    Christ girl, you stirred up the bees, isn’t that what this is all about?

    Lisahgolden is right, charge us for the hour.
    Ah…the check is in the mail.

  21. A listing of events, while absolute truth, is too telling. Stringing events, even imaginary ones, to show how we feel about them, what gnaws at us and what puts an ache in our hearts, is not truth but it can evoke a true emotion. Fiction is like oil painting. You can, with oil, create a scene that is impossible to photograph.

  22. If you had told us what the little girl, her mother, the bus driver or anyone other than you was thinking, it would be fiction. We only know ourselves and what we see we present as we perceive it.

  23. I am an essayist…yeah, that’ll pay the bills; anyway, I can take a scene and write it every which but under, make you laugh, make you cry. Same scene, different emotions; I call it the NANA-RULE.

    Sorry kids, here’s a story, it rainy, I’m in the mood. Skip if you must.

    My grandmother, Nana, was to me the most wonderful women who ever lived. Lame, mother of eight, seamstress, gardener, nurturer, I’d squeeze into her chair with her and we’d watch The Life of Riley and eat butterscotch candies. I spent two summers with her but I remember every school vacation as a summer with Nana.

    My brother called my grandmother, Nazi Nana. He was a shit to her and she was a disciplinarian, hell-bent on setting him straight; didn’t work, he’s still a shit, he hated her.

    Same grandmother, same summers, truth told by both.

    Here’s the question: How many people here are old enough to know what Memorex is?

    • Is it live, or is it Memorex?

      My first experience was with a reel-to-reel recorder, and I spent hours putting together tapes of selected music. Years later, I got lots of experience with in-line set-ups, recording phone conversations, and cassettes and micro-cassettes, recording conversations, usually in the wee hours, as a paid eavesdropper. It was usually pretty boring, sometimes funny, and once in a great while, pretty scary.

      Memorex Nights……there’s a title for you.

  24. We’re all spotlights and each of us have a different assortment of gels, individual ranges, and tricky diffuser controls.

    And who doesn’t want to tweak reality a bit, every so often?

    • I like the light fixture analogy – also – occasionally, a gel will melt from the heat of the light bulb and further adjust the view with smoke.

  25. So I was about to write a response and all of a sudden I erased what I wrote and started closing out of this post. It was like a writing panic attack. I felt stupid, empty and really, tired of my own words. I came back because I have to push through and because I loved yesterday’s post, true, partially true, or complete shit. And because every day (almost) Betsy, you write on this blog. You put yourself out there. And that’s what it’s about.

  26. I’ve always felt, whether with fiction or nonfiction, you can never get it right, you can only get close.

    I’d say you got pretty damn close with that one, Betsy. I hereby give you permission to relax.

  27. Geez, go away for a few days to my high school reunion and come back to intense misery! My feeling is that emotional truth is the real truth in a story, and that it’s impossible to separate our own emotional reaction to a situation from that situation. You interpret through your own lens. And that’s fine. It’s great, actually.

  28. Tell us the truth. Do you ever pretend to be one of your own commenters?

    • MSB you’re so cheeky I love it! You’ll get us all in trouble and we’ll have to stay after the bell!

    • Hmmmm… I never thought of that. The question’s not only cheeky, it’s a ballsy mind fuck for sure. Plus, you could have multiple screen names. Hell, conceivably, you could create an entire blog world just for yourself, with yourself.

    • I used to think that August was Betsy in disguise.

    • OMG I’ve often thought that. Maybe she’s you, or you or me,,,naaa she can’t be me because I’m an idiot and she’s smart, I’m long-winded and she’s to the point. She writes poetry and I can’t punctuate. She’s in the business and I get the business. One of these days we’re going to have to talk about Betsy as if she isn’t here.

      But today…I’m going to pretend I’m her.
      Okay all of you out there, with your questions and your opinions about writing and life and spanking (Tet that’s you)…to all of you a hearty fuck you !
      That felt good. I should have said that to my boss at work today.

      MSB do you think anybody will be offended….because maybe I’m really not Wry Wryter, Im….shhhhh…don’t tell…oh shit, someone’s at the door, the dog is barking…..

  29. “What is true?”

    The truth.

    “What is real?”

    The boulder I kicked this morning on my walk.

    “What is authentic?”

    The blood on my great toe.

    “What if I told that the story about the little girl having a meltdown at the bus stop was a fiction, if I made it up, or if I only witnessed the mother grimly walking off the bus and fabricated the rest? Would you feel I was a bad person?”

    Not yet. Throw in a waterboarding or a gangbanging and then we’ll see.

    “A good writer?”

    Well, you are a good writer. And that wasn’t the only example.

    “Would it make any difference?”

    To whom?

    “Does a writer have a solemn pact with a reader to tell the truth or is she a master manipulator?”

    A writer has a solemn pact with a reader to be a master manipulator. Quick, pull something out of a hat. See?

    “Are things more real because they happened?”

    All that’s real is the passing instant, which never stops to happen, though the right series of passing instants can lead to a paycheck, which seems real enough when converted to food, clothing, shelter, and internet access.

    “Why does fiction sometimes feel like it holds deeper truths?”

    Because it does. It’s magic. Here’s my hat. See my rabbit?

    “Poetry even more so?”

    It’s a helluva rabbit.

    “THe more people responded to the story the more disgusted I felt with myself for writing it even though I wrote it as close to my memory of it as possible, down to the Hello Kitty backpack. And I’ve thought of that little girl and that mother many times, entering the short story of that moment in their lives as I did, by chance.”

    Well… it’s what we writer-folk do. We’re a treacherous lot. It’s a wonder the government doesn’t round us up, chop off our hands, and cut out our tongues. Not to be giving anyone any ideas, now.

    “I’ve staked my whole fucking life on writing and I still can’t tell if it’s me or memorex. Can you?”

    No, I can’t. But we all stake our lives on something, even if we don’t know what it is. Is writing such a bad choice?

  30. The world, and everything in it, is temporary. But it is not false, any more than a cloud in the sky is. What is really real is that which does not fade, does not change, does not die. The world as we know it is a perverted reflection of some intuited, remembered, longed-for reality. A mirage in the desert may be an illusion, but that doesn’t mean that real water doesn’t exist elsewhere. Good writing may give a hint of what is real, a sip of cool water in desert of lies, but only ultimate reality can ultimately satisfy. Getting real is the work of a lifetime, sometimes many lifetimes.

    In the period of preparation for loving God, the soul loves in emptiness. It does not know whether anything real answers its love. It may believe that it knows, but to believe is not to know. Such a belief does not help. The soul knows for certain only that it is hungry. The important thing is that it announces its hunger by crying. A child does not stop crying if we suggest to it that perhaps there is no such thing as bread. It goes on crying just the same. The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry. It can only persuade itself of this by lying, for the reality of its hunger is not a belief, it is a certainty.

    —Simone Weil, Waiting for God

  31. I don’t get the thing about the right to say, “You are wrong.” Don’t want that heel to crush this bug again, so I went and dragged out my soapbox. I’m so comfortable there.

    Betsy, why do your words always ring so clear to me? Is that a bad thing?

  32. All very interesting and thought-provoking as usual, but what about the song in the title of this post? Was there ever a more overwrought, self-indulgent song? Maybe if I had been of age when it came out, however, I would feel differently.

  33. @Tulasi-Priya Purified.

  34. Those puppets?
    I was once the virgin second from the right and then became, in my hayday, (do people still say hayday), the chick with cleavage second from the left. I’m divorced from the frowner all the way to the left, screwed junior all way to the right, (we were both underage), and now, I look like the cougar in the middle, (with teeth).

  35. go there. why not not?? Organ in my ears! Proceed Pete!

  36. The combativeness and hostility on here, where there was once delightful or annoying discourse, seems to be escalating. Just yesterday I was thinking where else can you sit around and have a chat like this with such interesting people. Today?

    .As I said before, what gives some people the right? “HI. I’m a know-it-all asshole. I’m gonna sit next to you and mouth off.” Certain people specialize in the personalized attack. I don’t think this is the right venue for that. Creds?

  37. I changed the names and where they live and I call it fiction. I draw from memory.

    Maybe I just like creating names and situations.

    I had to write it. If releasing even some of that pain and restriction and humiliation and duplicity helps even a little, it was worth it.

    Help get it published (if you want and can).

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