Saturday, September 27, 2008

Telling the Truth

I'm searching for a quote by William Faulkner. You know, the one about memory and ways of looking at a blackbird and the past never really being past. Except I think I'm conflating at least three of Faulkner's most famous lines. I want to find it because today I wrote this:
Every family has their own story, the tale they tell the world about who they are and what they stand for and where they’re going or not. And every member of every family has their own version. As Faulkner said, “….” So too if you added up all the versions of each family member, you would get something perhaps approximating the truth.
This is my version of my family’s story. I call it “Washing Dirty Linen” because that is what my mother was zealous that we never do: wash our dirty linen in public. Bare our secrets. Tell our truths. But she’s gone now and so is my father, so there’s no one left who I care about protecting.
I've been thinking about this for a long time. But maybe not long enough to be able to actually write it. Maybe my mother hasn't been dead long enough, although it's now been nine years. The long arm of Libby Lee may, in fact, be capable of reaching far beyond the grave--and she would like that. That arm is doing what it did so often in the past, reaching under the table and squeezing my knee in a vise-like grip: Silence. Quiet. Don't wash your dirty linen.

Not that our linen was really very dirty. Nothing heinous happened in my family; no secrets that would shock the world. Still, I can't really get a grip on what I want to say. I'm writing and deleting line after line, trying to capture this sense I have of--of what?
Of smoke and mirrors.

Faulkner has always been my favorite author. If things had been different when I began my PhD studies, if the professor I had gone to work
with, the Faulkner scholar, hadn't taken early retirement, I might be teaching Southern Literature at some university. And then surely these Faulkner quotes would be tripping off my tongue, rather than lurking somewhere in the back recesses of my memory.

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