28 Feb Your autobiography, it’s a fake.
Why the story of your life will never be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and why faking it doesn’t matter.
As you write your life history you’ll be misremembering what happened because your recall is flawed. The science tells us that free recall, which is the ability to remember facts without the use of a visual aid, like a photograph degrades by 40% within 15 years of the event; and by 70% at around 50 years.
All the more reason to begin your autobiography or memoir sooner rather than later and to make use of some of the props you kept to help you. Even if you have near perfect recall, will you tell the whole truth? Probably not.
We pretend all the time; to be happy when we’re sad, brave when we’re afraid. We feign sympathy and enthusiasm for others and laugh at things we don’t find funny So we’re faking all the time because we have to live and work together.
In an autobiography, we’ll want to spare feelings, or intentionally shock, or show ourselves in a different light. We’ll exaggerate for laughs or smooth over some of the things we’ve done, and often leave things out. Moreover, the way we see ourselves is often not how others see us. Even the experiences we share with others will be remembered and retold differently.
The desire for acceptance, a dodgy memory, our flair for exaggeration, and our self-perceptions work together to distort the truth. Your story can never be the whole truth, and that’s alright.
Fake it, but don’t lie.
There is a lot of leeway in an autobiography to make the ordinary a little less so and to embellish and omit, but a lie is the line that should not be crossed. Even though your reader will be hard pressed to prove a lie, it would be hugely embarrassing if they found you out.
Tristan Szente’s memoir Becoming Me…Again: A True Story, wasn’t. He suffered public humiliation after being outed as a liar for the account of his recovery from a motorbike accident and rare brain virus that never happened.
Raconteur and actor Sir David Niven was ribbed by friends because he embroidered the tales that span his three volumes of memoir, but nobody cares because they loved him and they still love his books.
So, what’s the difference? A lie is a deceit and a fake a simulation, and no-one likes to be deceived. In a memoir where recollections are hazy, it’s alright to simulate what happened because otherwise there would be no story.
An autobiography is a chance to finesse your personal history and there’s nothing wrong with that.
‘The second you make a script out of the story of your life, it becomes fictional. Of course, the truth is never far. But the story is created out of it.’ Marjane Satrapi, writer and illustrator.