August 11, 2009 | Leave a Comment
On weekends over the last two months, I’ve been writing down the story of a series of dreams I had that began 17 years ago and lasted almost a year. The dreams were referring to events I’d forgotten that happened to me when I was very small. It wasn’t until the last dreams in that series that it was revealed that there had been something hidden.
Making clear what the dreams unearthed has been requiring my describing the main characters of my childhood and events in my adult life leading up to the dreams. The writing has involved my being honest with myself and candid about the behavior of close relatives. I’ve also discovered that there are only so many synonyms for terror, the emotion that seems a theme throughout the piece.
Sixteen years ago, after the primary dream revelations, I sat down with friends and family to describe what had likely happened. A particularly odd second set of revelations proceeded to emerge. Somehow, over the course of my adult life, I’d picked as close friends people that had been sexually abused as children, friends that never shared with me those experiences. Upon my telling them what happened to me, they told me their stories.
As a younger adult, I used to try to write but found the style that I wrote in clunky and not very communicative. I would describe an experience and then say what emotions I was feeling. It wasn’t exactly clinical, but there was little that was lyrical. Mostly I was trying to find some way of putting into words something that approximated the truth. There was little in the way of doorways for a visitor to enter. I wasn’t creating an opportunity for the experience to be shared. I had a very difficult time coming up with metaphors.
Working on this longer piece the last two months I find some of that clunkiness returning. I go into a kind of narrative trance where I’m trying to get the words out, describing the emotions that I was having during a particular event. It is difficult to write the words in a way where I feel like I’m providing purchase for a visitor to relatively easily stay on for the ride.
Which brings me to the realization that is accompanying the writing of my story of the dream revelations.
To tell the story I have to pick and choose the events that seem to make clearer how these things occurred. Then I have to choose the words that best describe those events. Putting all these words together, telling the story, I am becoming deeply aware of the relativity of truth.
I have a close friend who is a writer. Not incidentally, he was severely physically abused when he was a child. He believes that when he writes a story, he is telling the truth. The closer he comes to describing what happened, the better he believes the story is. I don’t share my friend’s view of writing. I don’t believe there is such a thing as truth.
Writing down what happened to me is in no small part letting go of believing there is such a thing as what really happened. Of course, there were and are events and repercussions. Still, it seems to me that interpretation is 99% of experience. That 1% that is not interpretation has an enormous amount to do with where you choose to direct your attention.
In any given moment, the experience I am having is being directed by what I am saying to myself, words to be interpreted by more words. This narrative flow is relying upon a life of experiences that are again influenced by where I choose to direct my attention, and how I interpreted those events. Additionally complicating my perception is the condition of my body and my hormone levels. For example, if I miss a meal, I get very irritable. My experiences during these sugar drops are colored by my deeply annoyed disposition. I am a man. I see the world very differently from the way a woman sees it. Whereas I may interpret some experience competitively, a woman may see only narcissistic self indulgence.
Learning to write and writing is not about telling the truth. Writing is about describing participation. No small amount of what I write about describes my experience of the world as regards evolution. I theorize or tell stories that seek to come close enough to the structure or patterns of experience that some usefulness will result. As an artist, only those patterns that are beautiful arrest me. So what is really happening is that I seek those places where beauty and usefulness converge.
Describing events in my life or what I observe in society, I operate under the same guidelines. I cull through my experiences, seeking particular angles on specific experiences that will result in both beauty and usefulness. I seek to observe or experience transformation and share the experience with my readers. This question seems nonuseful: How close can I be to reality when the path I take to communicate experience carries such specific criteria for success? Can there be anything like truth when all experience requires interpretation when communicated?
The easy answer is that truth is relative. Nevertheless, shit happened and who we are today was influenced by specific events in the past. For me, a foundation paradox is that words are not exactly a suitable medium for describing anything specific. Each symbolic sound carries so many associations, yet language is necessary to be able to exercise that state or level of self awareness characterized by a separate self.
Perhaps truth can stop being relative when we don’t identify with a separate self. But then, of course, truth becomes indescribable.