METABLOG WEEK 2010: When It Comes to Truth In Blogging, I'll Take the Transformative Potato Salad

METABLOG WEEK 2010This weblog entry is part of METABLOG WEEK 2010.

I was just reading a thought-provoking entry over at Rita Arens’ Surrender, Dorothy in which she asked about the importance of truth in blogging:
Usually not so much time has passed before a conversation or a scene is captured on a blog. Yet most bloggers I know have admitted to adding a detail or changing the chronological order of a scene or conversation or embellishing for the sake of humor. Many bloggers have also gone on record saying what they write on their blogs is only the tiniest cross-section of their lives, and the readers who think they know everything about them actually know only the portions they choose to present to the world.

Where's the truth? Does it matter? Does it matter if truth creeps into fiction or fiction creeps into truth? Do bloggers owe their readers exact recall of events in their lives? Do you think everything you read on someone's blog actually happened exactly that way with those exact words?
Personally, I have always viewed both what I write on my weblog and the person weblog writing of others as creative memoir rather than creative nonfiction. A memoir is a more flexible genre that allows for the author's individual recollection of particular events rather than the more rigid documentation of facts customary in creative nonfiction.

What I mean to say is that I never expect a blogger to be telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help them God.

SaskPower fountain
This fountain did not actually glow blue in real life, but you probably knew that.

As much as personal blogging is often a social activity that involves engagement with an audience and can develop very real relationships, and as much as we would like to believe that our favourite bloggers in whom we invest our hearts and minds are giving us the real dirt about their lives, I do not believe that that is what is happening, because, the truth is, we share such small slivers of ourselves online. The events being related in a personal weblog entry are but a small flash of a larger picture, details picked out and illustrated as an aside from the reality in which they actually occurred.

Where does truth lie in that scenario? Even if an author attempts to detail facts, the telling is contextual. Sharing one's personal perspective is not technically dishonest, but it is not the truth in any objective sense, even if no lies are told.

I'll put the idea of truth aside. How about honesty? In the pursuit of telling a good story, sometimes whole contributing factors can be left out, conversations can be tightened for brevity's sake, facts can be altered slightly to better lend to the atmosphere of a piece. Is that lying? I tend to think that it isn't.

I like to think of it as a creative redistribution of the facts. It helps to keep us from getting bored. It also helps us to reframe our experiences and see them in a different light. It's enlightening entertainment.

In offline life, my friends and I often relate stories to each other. I have known some of my friends long enough that our stories are told and retold. They change over time. They vary with the storyteller. Are they lying? No, at least not with the conscious intention to deceive. They're telling a good story about things whose truth lies in the original incident and varies within each individual's personal context, occasionally peppering it with hyperbole to spice it up.

When it comes to life and personal or shared experiences, truth is a watery concept and cannot be held to an absolute measure.

In answer to Rita's questions:

Where's the truth? Nowhere absolute, if that's what you're asking.

Does it matter? Yes, but only insomuch as an individual purporting to write about their actual lives does not lie outright with the intention to deceive. That irritates the bejeezus out of me.

Does it matter if truth creeps into fiction or fiction creeps into truth? No, and, in fact, I think it's unavoidable. Humans make stuff up all the time. We dream out loud. We're creative giants. Asking us to keep the fiction out of it would be akin to asking howler monkeys not to howl.

Do bloggers owe their readers exact recall of events in their lives? No no no no no no no. What do we owe anyone? Especially if those anyones are people who arrive at your weblog just by happenstance? And why should anyone demand exact, factual representations of anyone else's personal experience? That sounds like some kind of weird, dystopian hell.

Do you think everything you read on someone's blog actually happened exactly that way with those exact words? And, again, no. In fact, I appreciate an individual's personal retellings. The way they choose to tell a story likely says far more about the storyteller than would a strict presentation of the facts, and in the world of personal blogging, it only makes sense.

Are we really interested in a factual story about a company picnic with which we have no real world connection, or are we more interested in the storyteller's account of how falling into the potato salad transformed them? I'll take the transformative potato salad every time.

Participating METABLOG WEEK 2010 weblog entries:

What I Did After Work On Canada Day

Five Star Friday's 110th Edition Is Brought to You By Neil Gaiman