"If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything." - Mark Twain
I recently found an old journal from a creative writing class in college in which I jotted down everything that teacher said. She told us that the highest form of art is literature and all art is about loss. I didn't understand that at the time, but I wrote it down, sitting on the edge of my seat and taking it all in. It seemed deep, like the Albert Camus novel,The Plague, which my sister gave me to read when I was only thirteen. She had high hopes for me, and I knew I was supposed to like it, but I didn't understand it.
When my brother's house burned to the ground, I wrote a poem. When we found out a family member had cancer, I wrote a poem. When my mother broke her leg and my father couldn't get out of his chair, I wrote a poem. Driving home from the hospital and forgetting the order of the Sorrowful Mysteries, I wrote a poem.
I just found out this morning that Galen Hayes, known in the blog world as Mr. Knowitall, the host of the Friday Flash 55 I participated in for several years, has died. In one of his last posts he wrote, "Thanksgiving is not about Black Friday sales, or kicking off the Christmas shopping frenzy, it's about family, friends, and the joy of living." I did not know Galen personally, yet felt I did. I sat here and cried for this man I never knew but who touched my life and encouraged me to write my best. I would write an eulogy in 55 words but it seems this would cheapen the loss his family must now live with.
I feel guilty, relying upon tragic events for inspiration, taking advantage of misfortune to compose a sonnet, using the pain of others as fodder for my writer's ambition, my selfish dream of one day being remembered. Must we experience tragedy and hardship to write anything worth writing? Can a youth unbowed by life write anything that will last beyond their years?
And what about memoir? After writing one, will your family still talk to you? Will they smile when they see you, or will a cloud of hostility color your gatherings, making you an outlier at the table? As a writer, if we aren't telling the truth, is there any point in writing at all? In the back of this old bedraggled journal I'd scribbled, "Write the truth as you know it." With memory such a fickle creature, that leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Then there is also what Emily Dickinson so wisely said, "Tell the truth, but tell it slant." I like that. Goodbye Galen. I will miss you.