one of my favorite quotes is one that i can’t recite exactly.  an old professor said it to me once and told me it was faulkner, and it stuck with me enough that i remember the gist of it, but i’ve never been able to find it anywhere.  so maybe it’s not faulkner.  or maybe it’s not about an elephant.

but the gist of it is this: writing about your own personal life is like trying to describe an elephant while standing one foot away from it.  in other words, you’re too close to the elephant to achieve the perspective you need to describe it accurately.

(update: freddy found what appears to be the quote’s origin.)

on this website i write primarily about things that happen to me.  when i reread what i’ve written, i often fail to notice when i’ve misrepresented something.  after all, i was there.  i know what happened.  i remember how i felt.  my brain fills the gaps in my retelling of events with memories of the event itself.  i try as hard as i can to recognize and eliminate these gaps, but sometimes i don’t even know they’re there.

so it’s not surprising that i didn’t notice anything amiss in the previous post, at least not until a few people’s (re)actions made me realize that i need to clarify two things:

  • i had some anxiety attacks and a few bad days, yes, but overall i am no more mentally ill than i usually am.
  • the breakup was my doing.

point #1 makes me think of something helen jane said to me at sxsw this year.  she came over and introduced herself and we talked for a minute, and then she said, “you’re much less fragile in person than you seem on your website.”

“oh yeah?” i said.  “maybe that’s because my website is where i keep it all.”

in this case, clarifying these points is more important to my personal life than it is to my telling of the story, because as far as i’m concerned i represented my own feelings and actions quite accurately.  but everyone’s interpretations of what i write are filtered through their own personal experience.  sometimes that’s what makes writing such an interesting challenge, and sometimes that’s what makes these clarifications necessary.

misrepresentations are never, ever intentional, you understand.  it’s just that i’m standing too close to the elephant.