The other morning I woke up wondering how much a visit to a hypnotist would cost. Because I can't remember what phrase William, my guide in Kakuma, said to mean "no problem." He said it so often and it was so him that I assumed I would have written it down. But it's not in my notes. Apparently he said it so often and it was so him that I thought I wouldn't have to write it down.
So, while writing about Kakuma, I had to decide whether it was important enough to follow up on. I decided it is. It matters. I'll have to send an email and ask, What is it that you say again? That means no problem?
Then I started to write a description of a coffee shop in Kakuma and I discovered that my notes on this, surprisingly, are pretty good. I've even got the color of the u-shaped platform seating--Caribbean blue. But when I started writing about that I discovered this detail didn't really matter.
(It does to me. I find it ironic that there's so much Caribbean blue in the desert, but when I tried to write that I found myself so lost in the Tangled Woods of Digression that I had to drop it. Ditto for the Splash Motel in Lodwar.)
Then I read a note from someone in my book club. This person said that she didn't finish last month's book (a memoir) because she heard the author say that in recreating a childhood scene she (the author) had made up the color of a dress. It was an easy memoir to put down, so there's that. But of course she made it up.
Anyone who has written or tried to write a memoir knows you have to find your own line in the sand: on this side, things that matter; on that side, things that don't matter. On the side of things that don't matter you might make up a color or a name or even a time of day. On the side of things that matter, you try to be truthful and hope for the best.
And yet the woman in my book club is very smart. Her opinion is probably shared by the majority. So it seems there's a disconnect between writers and readers.
Then, while I was pondering all this, a single scrap of paper, amidst all the detritus on my desk, floated to the top. It says: "Our literary opinions are so tangled with our emotions that your relationship with a particular book is a lot like your relationship with a sibling. It depends on what and how much you are willing to forgive." (I don't know where this quote is from, but it seems to be from a review of some sort.)
Then, while I was pondering that, I started wondering if you could substitute cultural for literary and whether or not it would still be true. I was wondering this because I was just involved in an unpleasant incident with a Somali parent, an incident much like the many incidents that I hear about shortly after someone has told me they hate Somalis and I ask why.
Then I decided that, when it comes to memoirs and Somalis, I am willing to forgive quite a lot but not everything.