Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Truth (and Untruth) of Language


As many of you know I am intrigued by the blurred line between fiction and non-fiction, between the truth, the whole truth and nothing but—and, well, a lie. I’ve always thought there should be a third way. And, maybe, I think I’ve found a secret door.

In blogs past I’ve talked about black and white—and how for some of us it’s all gray. Religion especially. Or say the bones of St. James. My husband was having coffee with a friend, an iconographer, and mentioned that next year we were thinking of walking the El Camino trail in Spain which leads to Santiago, to a cathedral said to house the actual bones of St. James. Do you think, Mike asked his friend, those are really the bones of St. James?

He answered that it didn’t matter what he thought, it only matters what the pilgrims think. Of course many walk the trail without an inkling of faith. For some it isn’t about belief but about the discipline. The walking toward something becomes secondary to simply walking.

I like to quote Ann Sexton to my memoir writing workshops. “It doesn't matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.”

Again it is the perception that matters, and fact is somewhat inconsequential.

Thus, on one hand we have the historian, whose approach to St. James would indeed want to know whose bones are behind the altar and the hagiographer who wants to write about the saint and his/her martyrdom.

And here is the third way. Metaphor. What if we allowed the bones to speak? That’s right. We can do that as writers. Through fable and myth and metaphor we are able to explore not just the black and white—but also the gray, making a way for the black to be more palpable to the white, and for the white to make concessions for the black.

Only through poetic language is one able to bridge the gap and bring the two sides together.

So next year when we are walking toward Santiago and my feet are blistered and we are still miles away from our nightly refugio where we’ll stop and rest until the next day’s walk—I can tell myself it is MY perception that hurts. 

                                                     EL CAMINO TRAIL

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