Honesty is the best policy?

I went to see ‘An Evening with David Sedaris’ on Sunday. For those who don’t know him, he’s an American, gay, Anglophile, litter hating, observational anecdotist cum raconteur. He’s also very funny.

As I absorbed his thoughtful humour and sharp observation and wished myself as perceptive as he, he began to read from his journals. He’s been writing these for forty years – I’ve managed ten. He recounted how, as he’s aged he finds himself sharing – perhaps over-sharing – his increasing problems with urine. Namely his inability to completely empty himself when peeing with the inevitable dark patch on his pants (probably meaning both the British and American senses of that word). He ended with a ditty seen on a rest room wall somewhere in North Carolina (not sure if there’s a relevance to the geography – perhaps my American readers can enlighten me)

You can shake it all you like

You can do a little dance

But the last three drops

Are always in your pants

He received the laugh expected and several wry looks and nodding heads – the audience was Β d’un certain age.

I’d already noted how his partner and his family appeared regularly in his stories – no sanitised names, nothing the protect the innocent and now he shared something very intimate. He wasn’t embarrassed; he told it for the joke and it worked and no one went away thinking him rude, cheap, grubby or whatever else might be thought. Neither did we pity him.

And I thought – I tell stories about me and (some) of my family and often I play the stories for the humour I can find. And sometimes for the underlying message. Or to highlight a topic or thought or issue. But I also keep my counsel on a lot too.

And in telling the stories I do, I re-imagine scenes. I add dialogue and description, sometimes from decades ago. And, of course, I am not transcribing those conversations or remembering exactly what someone was wearing. I describe the essence of my memory – a core image from that time – and I embellish it.

As I imagine does David Sedaris. And all of us. And the temptation, in that colouring in of the back and white sketch, is to round off a corner, add a little bridge, change a character to improve the humour. And gradually the photograph becomes an impression and maybe even a cubist interpretation.

And is this ‘honest’? Am I being ‘honest’ with you?

Yes I think it is and, within limits, I am. We write what keeps us comfortable (and in my case, married). We write only as far as we are prepared to offend. We bare only those parts of ourselves we are prepared to do. And if we allow a narrative to develop from a seed to amuse and entertain in ways which shine a light on the past but through the prism of embellishment, well no puppies were killed in the process. And if we let it lie, as a truth, as an imagined version of the event, even when we know it wasn’t the version of the event, well, so?

But while I will continue with my own version of honest writing, I doubt I’ll be writing about any waterworks issues just yet (not that I have any of course). But I might tell some funny penis stories sometime.. like the time I caught mine in the kitchen drawer…

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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37 Responses to Honesty is the best policy?

  1. Sue Vincent says:

    I’m not sure how far any of us could say we are being utterly accurate, even when we are being completely honest… memory is a strange thing. Few of us have the recall to transcribe, word for word, any conversation…even a recent one (though I no someone who can…) and the memories we have are often compressed impressions or near-creations of our emotions at the time. Honesty and historical accuracy probably have very little in common.

    Though I imagine the story behind that last line is seared in memory…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. colinandray says:

    Reminds me of a sign in a golf course washroom (mens) in England.
    “Our aim is to keep these toilets clean. Your aim will help.”

    Liked by 3 people

  3. M. L. Kappa says:

    Lucky you – I love David Sedaris but have never seen him live. As for the rest, I agree with Sue that memory is a strange thing. Very often I talk about something that happened in the past, and my sister will have an entirely different memory of it. It’s amazing, some things she remembers I have NO recollection of, and the same goes with her. Anyway, unless you are a witness in a court case or something, what’s important is the impression or the feeling that remains.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Ritu says:

    Creative license… that’s what we use in our memories, and writing!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      Um yep. I’m making tea and have pot in one hand. I need a spoon so take one out of the drawer. My OCD requires me to shut the drawer but my impatience requires me to keep hold of tea pot and spoon. I use my hip. The drawer is stiff. Behind me my (female) flat mate and the Textiliste are waiting for the tea. Frustrated at the lack of drawer closing I ram hard. The drawer catches the material of my trackie, includes my nob in its grasp and shuts all in a rush. The two women wonder why I sink to my knees whimpering. I’m most proud of the fact I didn’t spill the tea.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. I have a number of his books and he is rather entertaining. Saw him on one of the late show some years ago.
    I agree we tell how much we want and polish memorable stories to our liking and no-one dies of embarrassment. πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

    Liked by 2 people

  6. My aged professor was fond of saying that if an event did not happen exactly like that, it should have……….. and isn’t all history [re]written to serve someone else’s best interests [like saving a marriage]?

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I wonder if wombats have the same problem? I ought to tell you that after watching that marsupial video, I told husband about it. I was still chuckling about the wombat getting dirt kicked in its face. Husband asked, quite seriously, “Do wombats fly?” The idea of one of those things with wings I found seriously weird.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Allie P. says:

    That note was rather poetic for a bathroom stall. I like the signs near public swimming areas that read _OOL: There is no P in our pool. Please help keep it that way. Sounds like you had a fun evening out.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Helen Jones says:

    I wrote about a pretty awful date I went on in A Thousand Rooms, though I upped the drama a little for the sake of the story. But on my blog I tell it how it is, or at least how I remember it is πŸ™‚

    And… OUCH!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Anabel Marsh says:

    I second that OUCH!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Norah says:

    I like the tone of this contemplative post, Geoff. It is an interesting point to consider. I guess if you are writing a factual account then it has to be truthful, but then I’d have to question from whose point of view and how infallible the memory. Every event is different for each of us, and we make sense of it in our own individual way. Hence the differing perceptions of a “shared” event. Writing fiction – any embellishment is allowed. Most re-tellings (but not all) require a little embellishment to make them more humourous, or tragic, for the listeners. But most of us “get it” in a social situation. I don’t know Sedaris, sounds like I’m missing something, but I don’t believe that everything stand-ups relate as personal really is. I think many have the knack of taking common experiences and telling them as if they are personal. It’s just a hunch.
    I’m pleased that, in your telling of the drawer story to Sacha, you were suitably attired. Now, was that an embellishment? Sounds painful, and I’m pleased your explanation stopped my imagination going wild! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  12. trifflepudling says:

    The merest little tweak makes a good story excellent, yes, and I think I made one anecdote out of two once! We all knew my father’s story about his relation playing the piano with his feet was probably an exaggeration but it was his delivery that made it so great. I love David Sedaris and when they had his stuff on at 6.30pm on Thursdays (I think) on my drives home from work, I’m sure my driving wasn’t quite what it should have been! The endoscopy (or maybe the other oscopy) and litter picking stand out.
    Enjoyed the piece and everyone’s comments.

    Like

  13. I’ve heard David Sedaris quite a few times on Radio 4, so I’m with you on that. And I have occasionally wondered how his family must feel about some of the things he discloses. I’m quite happy to show my own mistakes and darker sides to the world, but I would feel uncomfortable about showing those of other people. My son has already told me he doesn’t read my blog because he’s worried what I’ll say about him. This is in spite of his girlfriend being a reader and telling him he should.
    That aside, I always tell the truth. And you’ve reminded me of the incident where I got my own member wrapped around a tree trunk…

    Like

  14. davidprosser says:

    Heck, I can’t help it Geoff. I’m trying to imagine how tall you are or how low the drawer. Will I have to go through to the kitchen now to see if it could happen to me.Your description of how we embellish a tale is spot on though I might say ‘Modify and improve’. I refuse to admit to the problems Mr Sedaris has……….yet, but I think he’s just made up my mind a catheter might be handy.
    Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

  15. “We bare only those parts of ourselves we are prepared to do.” This is true. And keeps popping up as I know a few memoirists and personal essayists. But, even whe we are telling the truth (the whole truth and nothing but that), we’re bound to miss a few details or add something to the dialogue. It’s memory. And our memories aren’t perfect. That’s why it’s called “creative” nonfiction. Something David Sedaris is a master of.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Charli Mills says:

    Love David Sedaris! And that ditty translates across bathroom walls in all states of the US. I agree with Sarah…that’s why we call it creative non-fiction. It’s all in how we present it. “I drank tea at Starbucks today,” can easily become, “Beneath massive rain clouds threatening to end the ski-season early, I commiserated over hot cups with strangers.” I can choose any tone or theme and it is yet essentially true at its core. This is why I always stayed clear of journalism and memoir because I felt both are more like reporting the facts accurately not creatively. Interesting discussion!

    Liked by 2 people

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