Fact: This Is Not True

‘Twas morning, and the sun had just crested the hills beyond my window, rousing me from slumber with a gentle tap of soft light. I turned, an awareness growing that my radio alarm clock had added the smooth sounds of NPR’s “Morning Edition” to this humble awakening. And as the veil of dreams was slowly lifted, I found myself listening to a report on John D’Agata’s new book, “The Lifespan of a Fact.” I was intrigued by this tongue-in-cheek stab at the age old Fact vs. Truth debate, but I was soon rolling my eyes and tut-tutting at an argument I am frankly surprised we’re are still dwelling on. Or have we never gotten past our English 101 debate?

D’Agata’s book is a staged fact-checking exercise, literally built around an essay he was supposedly commissioned to write for Harper’s magazine (I cannot verify this last statement and am taking it on good faith). Harper’s apparently refused to publish the essay claiming that D’Agata had taken too many liberties with the facts of the story, the story being that of Levi Presley, who at 16 took his own life by jumping from the observation deck of the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. In D’Agata’s current book, this essay sits at the center of the page, surrounded by a fact-checking melee, all in service of an ongoing argument between author and fact-checker.

Fact: This image was found on Slate.com

We all know that there is a great gulf between fact and truth. End of story! And for those of us in the arts, truth is never, and I mean NEVER, found by staying true to fact. I might go so far as to argue that truth can NEVER be found in fact, and that it takes the fabrication, manipulation, and reframing of art to alert us to truths that we would otherwise fail to discern. But there are those who claim that fact must trump all (thank you Oprah Winfrey and the whole James Frey “A Million Little Pieces” debacle) so ok, if you insist, let’s go with fact.

Let me present to you my own “fact check”, using my opening paragraph for demonstration purposes. I don’t have the likes of Jim Fingal (John D’Agata’s fact checker) to help me out so I’ll have to be my own fact-man. Fact checking is in red.

‘Twas morning, and the sun had just crested the hills beyond my window,

(My alarm was set to 5:30am on March 7th, the date of the report. Given that I live in glorious Southern California, sunrise didn’t occur until 6:13am, so my statement is clearly erroneous.)

rousing me from slumber with a gentle tap of soft light.

(I hate mornings. Nothing about waking up is gentle or pleasant. Again, an erroneous, non-factual statement.)

I turned, an awareness growing that my radio alarm clock had added the smooth sounds of NPR’s “Morning Edition” to this humble awakening.

(Sigh. See note above about the use of the word gentle. I should also state that I do not actually recall if I turned so it is mistaken, and again non-factual, for me to state that I turned when clearly I have no evidence of having done so. Additionally, my use of the word humble is a flat out insult. See note above about my NOT being a morning person.)

And as the veil of dreams was slowly lifted,

(How many of you enjoy being jolted out of sleep by a morning alarm clock? Exactly! So what the hell is this B.S. about being “slowly lifted”? Christ in a bucket!)

I found myself listening to a report on John D’Agata’s new book, “The Lifespan of a Fact.”

(“I found myself”?! What flowery language! It was a morning like any other. If anything I found myself with a dry mouth, drool on my cheek. and the covers kicked down around my ankles.)

I was intrigued by this tongue-in-cheek stab at the age old Fact vs. Truth debate, but I was soon rolling my eyes and tut-tutting at an argument I am frankly surprised we’re are still dwelling on.

(Kill me now but clearly I was doing nothing remotely like “tut-tutting”, given the aforementioned morning predicament and dry mouth.)

Or have we never gotten past our English 101 debate?

(I never took an English 101 class. At UCLA it was simply English 1, so I’m again falsifying facts to service my story. Utterly, reprehensible, shameful.)

STOP!

What point does my “fact checking” serve other than to rob my writing of any style? As writers (be that reporters, biographers, and even yellow journalists) how can we convey a point (and with it a truth) if we are not permitted a writing style?

Take Perez Hilton, denizen of bottom-of-the-barrel-popular-culture land. Is it not his writing style that makes Emily Blunt’s marriage to John Krasinski so “perezcious!!”? How about Kim Delaney’s vomit incident? “That sh*t crazy!!”

Fact: This image shows people with closed mouths.

The truth of the matter is not in the recounting of fact, but in the style in which is it written, no? So can we finally do away with this holier-than-thou attitude towards fact, as if fact is some trump card to be wielded the moment we don’t like what’s been written? And who is to say that my fact checking is trustworthy anyway? How about I fact check my own fact checking?

‘Twas morning, and the sun had just crested the hills beyond my window,
(my alarm was set to 5:30am on March 7th, the date of the report. Given that I live in glorious Southern California, sunrise didn’t occur until 6:13am, so my statement is clearly erroneous.)

{Actually, I have two alarms, set 10 minutes apart. From about 5:30 to 6am, I go back and forth between two sides of the bed, hitting snooze for as long as possible. This can last as little as 30 minutes, or as long as 2 hours.}

rousing me from slumber with a gentle tap of soft light.
(I hate mornings. Nothing about waking up is gentle or pleasant. Again, an erroneous, non-factual statement.)

{I don’t hate mornings. Not in the slightest. I only make this statement to make a dramatic point. Mornings are quite wonderful, actually. A good cup of tea and all that.}

I turned, an awareness growing that my radio alarm clock had added the smooth sounds of NPR’s “Morning Edition” to this humble awakening.
(Sigh. See note above about the use of the word gentle. I should also state that I do not actually recall if I turned so it is mistaken, and again non-factual, for me to state that I turned when clearly I have no evidence of having done so. Additionally, my use of the word humble is a flat out insult. See note above about my NOT being a morning person.)

{Who says my use of the word “humble” is an insult? I’m not using the “N” word or some other racial slur. Clearly an overstatement for the purpose of driving a point home. I like the word humble, though. It has a nice ring to it. Humble.}

And as the veil of dreams was slowly lifted,
(How many of you being enjoyed jolted out of sleep by a morning alarm clock? Exactly! So what the hell is this B.S. about being “slowly lifted”? Christ in a bucket!)

{“Exactly!”??? Says who? I have no way of calculating precisely how many people have responded to my question in a positive manner. For all I know you spend your nights dreaming about homicidal doulas or ferocious possums with glass shards for teeth. That morning alarm may be a welcome reprieve.}

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!!!!!!!!!

This is madness. And to debate it is a waste of energies. Can we not simply accept that everything we read or watch is a manipulation to serve a purpose?

What, do you believe that President Obama’s “The Road We’ve Traveled” is anything but a manipulation of fact to serve an opinion? That’s the genius of hiring Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”) to helm the project.

I’ll even take it one step further to say that fact has long since been abandoned in service of personal truth. How else would the Internet function if not to espouse individual takes on everything under the sun?

Fact: Moron?

Try this:

Google “Newt Gingrich is a Moron”.

Interesting!

Now google “Newt Gingrich is a Hero”.

The results you get are simply variations on a truth, fact held firmly hostage to a writer’s opinion. And that is as it should be. Yesterday, today, and forever more!

Because truth is just how you define your Google search.

(Would that I could claim this last statement as my own. I must give credit to the incredibly wonderful and glorious Jessica Hoffman for making this point to me over breakfast recently.)
{“incredibly wonderful and glorious”??? That’s just my opinion and as yet to be determined as fact. Plus, this is a conversation we’ve been having for a while, not casually mentioned over a “breakfast”. But there I go again, trying to get at an underlying truth.}

STOP!

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