Eventually

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The truth always sets you free, eventually.  ~ Billy Jean King

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Yes people, the French Open is upon us, and I’ve got tennis and Billy Jean and can-Rafa-win-again on the brain.

I was on my lowly tennis court this week when a woman said, “I hear you loved WILD.  My book club just read it!”  I should have run for fucking cover, yes I should have, but there I was half-naked and exposed — in my new skirt holding my old racquet — getting the lowdown on her book club’s review.  Half of them loved WILD, loved it!, but the other half were worried about the veracity of WILD.  Could it really have ALL been true, all the little truths in that big story?  Of course I started kicking some ass making the case for WILD, for the story, for the storyteller, for the courage in telling your truths, but to what end??  When she asked about my book, my ME-moir,  how it was coming, that she’d like to read it, it took everything I had not to say, “How will you know it’s not just a pack of vicious lies!”

But I digress…

In this month’s Inside Tennis, Billy Jean King talks about going public with her sexuality.  She told her handlers, her agent:  I want to have a press conference, and I’m going to tell the truth.  They said, You cannot do that. No one’s ever done that.  She said, I don’t care what people have done before.  I have to tell the truth.  The truth always sets you free, eventually.  I did lose all my money overnight, in 24 hours, every single endorsement I had … but it’s okay.  You just start over.  Everyone has to decide when they’re ready to do something, each human being.”

I recall Salman Rushie saying, When I write fiction, all you want to know is how much of it really happened to me.  When I write nonfiction, you want to know how much I made up.  I can’t win.

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Why is it so hard to believe someone is telling you the truth?

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27 thoughts on “Eventually

  1. Erika Marks

    I love this, Teri–for many reasons–but it’s very timely for me. My husband and I watched Life of Pi (I’d been putting it off–book is on my top five list and I couldn’t imagine the movie–was angry at the very idea of one being made, but anyway…) So I was reminded of the wonderfully powerful theme of which truth do you want at the end? I am simplifying it, of course, but it such a strong point to me personally, and your post reinforced that. We say we want the truth in life, but do we always?

    1. Teri

      We don’t, of course. We don’t always want the truth no matter how much we say we do. Fortunately there are so many versions of the truth. I think of this so often when I’m writing new passages, trying to capture “it,” while the “it” moves around all over the place. Nothing is fixed in place.

  2. Deb

    Those kind of comments always blow my mind because I never question whether the facts of a memoir are real. Some may call me foolish, but I think it has more to do with knowing life can be pretty freaking… wild.

    1. Teri

      That’s funny Deb, and so true!! The crazier something is, the more I think: nobody could make this up.

  3. Deb

    ps: don’t let that woman read your book. She won’t get it and it will have nothing to do with you or your writing abilities.

    1. Teri

      I’m sure I’m just as insensitive about a hundred different things, but it’s pretty comical when someone who knows I’m writing a memoir complains about all memoirs being either “not all that true” or “naval gazing.” HA!

  4. Lyra

    “…but it’s okay. You just start over.” YES, YES, YES!
    Teri, your timing for quotes is impeccable (and remarkable).
    Thank you.

  5. Lyra

    Oh, I forgot to say…it is easy to be cynical from a tennis court. It is easy to judge something. But to sit and write a truthful sentence, a paragraph, an essay…and to see how memory is like looking outside through old leaded glass, that is when you see that it isn’t as easy as you would think. It isn’t a matter of whether or not it was truthful or whether it happened in exactly that way. It is a matter of doing something out on a limb and seeing how difficult it really is to see the truth.
    It’s as if that woman was looking at the wall and had no idea she wasn’t even facing the window.

    1. Teri

      That’s the funny thing about writing what we think is true. Sometimes our fiction can be just as true, if not more so, than our nonfiction. I’ve heard a few novelists say they would never write nonfiction because they feel like they can get closer to their truths in their fiction.

      Interesting.

      And to your point, nothing is easy when you’re actually doing it, whether it’s taking a 10th grade English exam, making your case in a business meeting, or writing a book.

  6. Josey

    the only thing i want from a book is to want to keep reading it. i can’t say that i care if it’s true or not. whatever is in it isn’t going to be true for everyone in and out of the story anyway. if it’s true, fine. if it’s not, whatever. i’m sure i’ll regret ever saying any of this, but really the truth for me is in how the story rings in me…attaches to me.

    of course, i always assume memoirs are true. but i also assume fiction is true too. and poetry. music. i never questioned whether anything in Wild was true.

    there’s a great documentary on billy jean where she talks about the point in her life where everything was right. her truth was right. everyone was settled. she was. her family. her career. i can see her sitting in the chair being interviewed for the film. older. content. i’ve always carried that with me since seeing it. wondering how it would feel–everything being okay. settled.

    1. Teri

      I remember reading the James Frey book and, during the dental surgery with no anesthesia part thinkiing, NO WAY. But I kept reading anyway.

      Sometimes I catch myself reading a memoir and thinking, yes, this part makes me believe this whole thing is true. Like in THE TENNIS PARTNER, Verghese goes into great detail about his note taking as a kid and as an adult, notes on tennis and friendships and life stories, which encourage me to believe the detail he’s giving throughout.

      And Billie Jean. What a brave and powerful soul she is.

  7. independentclause

    When one of my friends came out, her father said to her that being gay meant being vulnerable to other people, having a secret that other people could “out”. She said that if it’s not a secret, then other people can’t hold power over her. That said, she never wants to live anywhere else but [city neighborhood redacted] because it is such a lesbian-friendly place. She won’t go back to live in [our hometown redacted].

    1. Teri

      Yes. Just because you’re “free” doesn’t mean you can be free everywhere, including your hometown. As sad as this is.

  8. jpon

    Unless you are in government, and then the truth will either get you kicked out of office or incarcerated. But I love the Rushdie quote. He’s right, as usual. No wonder David Shields claims there’s really no difference between fiction and nonfiction.

    1. Teri

      And Rushdie said this with his trademark smirk and laugh, as if questions like “what’s true?” are not even remotely worth his time.

      1. jpon

        Frankly, I don’t blame him. Literature is less about what’s true in terms of events than what’s true in terms of meaning.

  9. Averil Dean

    I don’t know. I’m idiotic about recognizing lies in other people, I always assume they’re telling me the truth, or some form of the truth as they see it. When I get hurt by other people, it’s usually because I took them too literally.

    For a book, though, I agree with Josey. The main thing is a book that keeps me reading. And nothing has kept me reading yet that didn’t contain some kernel of truth.

    1. Teri

      What keeps me reading is always, always the voice —- the voice and the writer’s command in telling the story —- which also makes me a believer. A writer can have all manner of fancy vocabulary and cool quirks, but if the voice isn’t there, who cares?

      1. Averil Dean

        Voice is a big, big deal, though I will say that at the moment I’m reading Elizabeth Strout’s The Burgess Boys, and though I adore her voice, I’m finding it difficult to fall into the book. I don’t love the characters, and the story feels slow to get off the ground. (Part of this is probably that I read so much genre fiction: slam, boom, bam, a murder in chapter one!)

      2. Teri Post author

        I loved Strout’s OLIVE KITTERIDGE so much, I’m afraid to read this one.

        And I just took a break from crime fiction which, frankly, was a really fun reading break. Loved every page.

      3. Josey

        this is my favorite story about olive kitteridge. a few years back, i started attended mass with my grandmother. there was a regular crew that went to 8am mass every sunday: grandma, my aunt, an uncle, my cousin and me. during my first mass i noticed my uncle was reading during the entire time, but the book was a nonfiction book on faith and i thought, “well, that counts.” the following week, as the first reading he started, he pulled out his book to start reading again. i assumed it was another book on faith, but it was olive kitteridge.

  10. LauraMaylene

    That Salman Rushdie quote is so, so true. And I have to say I’m surprised that there are people out there questioning Cheryl Strayed’s truth. Her honesty shines through so clearly to me…it’s what draws me to her work. It’s almost like people want to believe the worst sometimes. Crazy.

    1. Teri Post author

      There was another woman standing on the court when The Wild Incident occurred, and I could see her out of the corner of my eye going “oh no, oh no!!! don’t criticize that book!!” That woman knows how much I love WILD and all of Cheryl’s writing, that I believe a huge allure is the honesty.

      You’d think I was Cheryl Strayed’s sister, the way I come out fighting when someone says a cross word.

  11. Catherine

    I also LOVE the Salman Rushdie quote. I haven’t written non-fiction except on the blog really, and I can’t be bothered making stuff up because the truth is there and it’s usually ridiculous. Ah being free is something I do understand. I never had the press conference, but I left the unhappy marriage, had the big love story and even the love baby..

    Before it all ran its course.

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