Truth and Literature

A World Without MusicJ. Conrad Guest, author of A Retrospect In Death and A World Without Music (plus several other books) just posted a blog about truth and its importance to literature. Like J. Conrad, I believe that fiction should impart “Truth” with a capital letter or even just “truth” with a small letter. If there is no truth in fiction, it is merely entertainment, and that seems a waste of both the human mind and human potential. For sure, it is a waste of my time.

J. Conrad quoted Susan Sontag as saying, “In my view, a fiction writer whose adherence is to literature is, necessarily, someone who thinks about moral problems: about what is just and unjust, what is better or worse, what is repulsive and admirable, what is lamentable and what inspires joy and approbation. This doesn’t entail moralizing in any direct or crude sense. Serious fiction writers think about moral problems practically. They tell stories. They narrate. They evoke our common humanity in narratives with which we can identify, even though the lives may be remote from our own. They stimulate our imagination. The stories they tell enlarge and complicate — and, therefore, improve — our sympathies.”

Then J. Conrad asks, “How many writers today seek truth in their work, and how many simply identify an audience — for instance, unhappy housewives, or fanatics of vampires or werewolves — and simply write to that audience? The mercenary who writes for a paycheck is really saying that sales are more important than truth.”

It’s interesting to see someone besides me lamenting the lack of truth in fiction — I thought I was the only one who thought fiction should help us see the truth of the world, to see the truth of what is beyond the world, to see the truth of our place in the world. One does not need big words, convoluted sentences, and ponderous tomes to show truth. Simple words and engaging stories can make truth more readily accessible to even someone like me who has spent a lifetime searching for truth.

Literature can take us beyond ourselves, take us deeper into ourselves, take us into the minds and hearts of others to help us understand a greater truth or to see the world in a fresh manner. Good stories are like the first pair of eyeglasses to someone with poor vision. I still remember as a child being bewildered by other people’s uncanny ability to know what even unfamiliar streets were called, but then I got my first pair of glasses, and oh! I understood! They weren’t somehow superior to me in their understanding of the world. They had simply been able to see that which I couldn’t. And that is what fiction should do — enable us to see that which we couldn’t.

Truth seems to be something writers and readers shy away from, especially since so many people believe that truth is relative and so there is no point in discussing it or showing it or even alluding to it. But the truth is, Truth is never relative. Truth is Truth. Only our perception varies. At rock bottom, there is immutable truth. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what that immutable truth is — no one can. It’s bigger than any of us, and yet we all add to and reflect the truth in what we do, and especially what we write. In addition, we each have our own immutable truth. Whether we know ourselves or not, there is truth in us, and perhaps this individual truth is what people mean when they say truth is relative. (Some people do not accept my assessment of myself as being true, for example, and their perception could be right for all I know, but neither their opinion nor mine changes who or what I am.)

I seldom read any more. When writers don’t bother to show me Truth or even their own truth, then the writing seems trivial to me. I’d rather do something more truthful. Dance, perhaps. Executing a perfect triple time step is truth, too.

J. Conrad Guest ends his post with: “In today’s book industry, if it doesn’t sell, it isn’t relevant. But if truth isn’t relevant, what’s that say about the world around us?”

Good question.


Click here to read: What Is Truth? by J. Conrad Guest


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.


Ever since my life mate died, my mind has churned with unaswerable questions.

Is he warm? Fed? Does he have plenty of cold liquids to drink? Is he sleeping well? Does he still exist somewhere as himself or has his energy been reabsorbed into the universe? Is he glad he’s dead? He brought so much to my life, but what did I bring to his? Why can’t I see him again? Why can’t I talk with him? Will we meet again, or is death truly the end? Was it fate that we met? Fate that he died? I’ve been finding comfort in the thought that he is at peace, but what if he isn’t? What if he’s feeling as split apart as I am?

Will he recognize me if we ever meet again? Will he be proud of what I become? He helped make me the woman I am today, but what’s it all for? Where am I going? And why? It does seem as if my life is a quest for truth, for understanding, but what’s the point? I suppose the journey is the point, but still, at the end of a quest story, the hero returns with the magic elixir. She has a purpose for what she’s gone through. Do I have a fate, a purpose? But what about him? What was his purpose? I try to make sense of his death, but how do you make sense of something senseless?

How do I find meaning, or at least a reason to continue living? Do I need a mate in order for my life to have meaning?

Can a person drown in tears? Yesterday someone told me that life on earth was an illusion and so my mate still exists. But if life is an illusion, why couldn’t it be a happy figment? A joyful one? What’s the point of pain? Of loss? Of suffering? Why did he have to suffer? Why do I? Do I have the courage to grow old alone? The courage to be old alone when the time comes?

Why do we cling so much to life? In the eternal scheme of things, does it matter how long or short a life is? Does it matter that he only had sixty-three years? Does it matter that he was alive? What is the truth of life and death? If he’s in a better place, why aren’t I there? If life is a gift, why was it taken from him?

Is there anything universally important? Love, perhaps, but not everyone loves or is loved. Creativity? But not everyone is creative. Truth? But what is truth? Is the human mind, with its finiteness, capable of understanding the truth? If nothing is universally important, does anything matter? Maybe it’s better to let life flow, to try to accept what comes, but isn’t the point of being human to try to make a difference? To try to change what is?

Supposedly, you can have a relationship with someone after they are dead, but it’s all in the mind, in memory. What’s the difference between that and fantasy? And how much of life is lived in the mind? All of it? All except the present? But even the present is lived in the mind since the mind (or rather the brain) takes the waves of nothingness and transform them into somethingness. So what is reality? The intersection of all minds?

I know there are no answers, I am simply . . . multi-asking.

Building Hopes and Creating Dreams

And so ends the worst year of my life.

Last year was a time of soul-shattering loss, grief, and strange blessings. It was a time of despair and self-realization, transition and adjustment. But of course, you know all that — I’ve made no secret of my ordeal, chronicling every painful stage of my journey. Many people endure worse traumas than the death of a soul mate, and they continue living without whimpering, which has made me feel a bit self-indulgent and whiny with my grief bloggeries, yet that was never my intention. The impact of grief after a major loss seems to be one more thing that has been discounted in our discount culture, and I simply wanted to tell the truth.

Oddly, I still don’t know the truth of it. It seems unreal at times. Was I really that woman? That woman who watched a man slowly die, who wanted the suffering to end, yet whose love was so ineffectual she couldn’t make him well or take away a single moment of his pain? That woman so connected to another human being she still feels broken nine months after his death? That woman who screamed the pain of her loss to the winds?

I’ve always considered myself a passionless woman, so how can that woman be me? During periods when I don’t feel the weight of his absence (I never feel his presence, though sometimes his absence feels normal, as if he’s simply in another room), during periods of emotional calm, my stoic side rules, making my grief feel fake, as if it’s something I’m doing to make myself seem important. Yet other times the desperate need to go home to him, to see him one more time, claws at me, tearing me apart.

Making the situation even more unreal, I can barely remember what he looked like — I do not think in images, so it’s understandable (though distressing) that I have no clear image of him in my mind. Even worse, I don’t have a photo that matches what I remember of him. (The only one I have was taken fifteen years ago.)

Nor do I have a clear sense of time. Sometimes it feels as if he died just a couple of months ago. Sometimes it feels like years. The demarcation between our shared life and my solitary life was once so stark it was like the edge of a cliff. All I could see was the past and what I had lost. The living I have done in the past nine months has blurred that edge, adding to the sense of unreality.

I have learned much this year. I learned the importance of importance. If there is nothing of importance in your life, you have to find something and make it important. I learned the importance of goals, even if it’s only the goal of getting through one more day. I learned the importance of hope, though hope for what I still don’t know, but that is part of the journey – building hopes, creating dreams, finding reasons to live.

And so begins a new year.