The past is but a dream, a dream:
a palimpsest where writ, the scene
fades in and out of nothing, fast;
seems permanent, but cannot last
beyond the span of just one breath.
Each life begins and ends in death,
and like as not leaves little trace:
no name, no song, no deed, no face.
You often suppose that when someone sits down to write their personal history, autobiography, or memoirs, it is because they have at least in their own mind (or at the suggestion of some influencing other) achieved some sort of milestone in their life, reached a certain point at which they might feel that others would be interested in how they got to that place.
You assume a certain level, or at least type, of success prompts the need to trace your now self-satisfied steps back to their point or origin.
There’s the humble beginning, the rough start, the middling trials, and the glorious outcome, right? With an extraordinary bunch of hindsight applied to what probably is, taken individually, a completely ordinary and commonplace series of events. There’s a certain amount of hubris required, in any case, since relaying one’s own story without unnecessary embellishment, laying on the mortar and brick without laying it on too thick, is far from the humblest act one can undertake. Much like taking a vow of humility is often the vainest statement a person can make, writing about oneself under the assumption that anyone else would be the least bit interested is quite a self-assessment from the get-go.
How many who have achieved any degree of wealth, power, or fame are really in a position to spend too much potentially dangerous time with truth, insight or self-examination? Interesting reads, memoirs, but quite often the truer view is found in autobiographical fiction. After all, when the diarist creates a character or caricature of themselves, the result is often a more telling portrait of who they wanted to be, rather than who they are – which gives the attentive reader an infinitely clearer picture of the writer than an “honest” exercise in non-fiction.
No matter what genre you purportedly start out in, every book ever written eventually glides or morphs, intentionally or not, into utopian fiction. Because, after all, whether you’re making up the world or not, what you describe is either the positive result of some horrible thing or the horrible result of some seemingly positive thing. A memoir or dystopian post-apocalyptic vision in that respect are the same. You write about what you know: the good, the bad, and the ugly; the bold and the beautiful; the long day’s journey into night; the light at the end of the tunnel; the cloud of unknowing, or the voice of god. In any case, if you’re describing how wonderful things turned out to be, chances are you start out with a picture of how they began in much direr straits. On the other hand, if you’re waxing philosophic on the pile of shit the world’s become, odds are good you can point to some idyllic past moment when the fulcrum tipped irreversibly from roses and sunshine.
And every written work, whether a guide book to the inner secrets of programming in Ruby on Rails or a fanciful account of the secret life of a covert operative, presents itself in a world that either is, or is not, like the one that currently exists – and in either case, then perhaps its details differ from those personally known by the reader. Because after all, the world “as it is” or “as it is not” is a matter of perception. And the only perception forming that subjective interpretation is the writer’s.
No matter what the writer describes, no matter how “truthful” to their own reality, that description may read like complete and utter fiction (or fantasy) to a reader whose own personal life experience is nothing like it. And the agenda the writer is spinning? That’s an alternate ending to the “fate” doled out in this life, whether in the “real” or fictional world. Whether the fiction or instruction ends up as utopian or dystopian depends on whether or not the reader takes the writer’s advice, and changes the things that the world requires be changed to evolve into something better. Or at least changes, to prevent the stagnation that apathy and inaction tend to breed. And isn’t that the point of life, after all? To change, move, and grow, until you can’t do that anymore – at which point, depending on how you’ve done to that point, you serve as either fertilizer, or poison, to what comes after.
26 SEP 2016