Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Embellising the Past


esterday, I wrote about my first dance. Of course, this is all based on memory and everything I remember about the dance is based on my subjetive view of the past. At this stage of my life (half a century), there are surely errors in my memory and I am prone to distortions. ellen234 made an interesting observation.

what makes some of us remember various details, perhaps building them into bigger-than-life memories and grow as we age. How many of us have an accurate picture of our own past, let alone someone else's?

I have never claimed to have an accurate memory, and as my own "Onigiriman philosophy" states--yes, I actually have a philosophy:

We are the sum total of our individual experiences. As a result, everything we think, interpret and say is tainted. While we may try to offer objective "facts", these facts are inevitably arranged and presented through the prism of our own experiences, and as such it is our own subjective perspective of the truth.

However, I may have been remiss in reminding everyone that as I recount my own subjective past, some of the distortions are intentional. I retain the rights to alter my memories, to re-situate them to my satisfaction. They are, after all, my memories and I retain all copyrights thereto. Of course, I also avoid using the names of the innocent, as these are my memories, not theirs. I attribute this "building" of stories--"exaggerations", if you must--to the "poetic license" I have earned in life. And I have become rather deft at embellishing, as I ply my trade as teacher and advisor.

I have been writing here on Xanga for about two and half years, but I have been a teacher for a much longer period. Since 1983, to be exact. Before you jump to any conclusions, don't think that I teach a bunch of bologna. No, no, no. I teach what I know to be factual, have students think about these facts and then come to some kind of conclusion as to what they should do with them. But when I advise students, I often give advice based on my own experience--I find this to be the most effective way to build a relationship. Giving advice because some book said this, or some Ph.D. wrote that, is fine as a starter, but it is impersonal and therefore not conducive to allowing your students to relate to you... I mean, me. I will often tell them a story based on my own experience to show them that, yes, I've been where you're at; yes, I understand your frustration; yes, you too can overcome this particular situation. This is not very hard for me, as I was a student for years. My first college transcript is dated 1976; my last 1997. That's, what? 21 years? Whew! There are leaves of absences sprinkled throughout, but in general, I have experienced a wide variety of situations as a student at the community college level and at grad school, from public institutions to private, at home and abroad.

Of course, I have never created a story out of whole cloth. Not that I think it would be immoral if I got my point across successfully. Rather, I don't think I could pull it off. Students are not stupid; they can see right through you if you are not careful. So when I have no story, I will instead prod them, to ask the appropriate questions themselves. I will answer their questions with better questions, until they reach a conclusion they can live with.

But if I do have a similar experience to share, I will often embellish the story to fit the situation. And all for the good, I think. But there is one problem. Each time I tell a story, it begins to take on a life of its own. I have told some stories a number of different ways and sometimes I dont' remember what the original memory was. Sometimes these embellished stories become the de facto memory. You tell a story enough times, it becomes the truth.

Be that as it may, unlike the stories I tell my students, the stories here have no redeeming value. All of my memories are based on actual events (duh!), but they are also embellished to varying degrees, mostly for "dramatic" effect. There is nothing of an advisory nature here. Indeed, many would be ill-advised to emulate some of the stupid things I have done. These stories are just stories, I think, and if I told my life story as is, it wouldn't be half as interesting. So if you are into "truth" then you have come to the wrong place. I have not truth but my own, and it is subjectively slanted.

Do you ever find youself embellishing an event in your life--or even what you did today--not to make yourself look better, but just to make it interesting for the listener?

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