Notes for the Imaginary Biographer

If you could step out of yourself and write a biography of the skin and mind of the writer you’ve just left, what would it include? Someone who reads here told me in person recently that, of course, you can’t collect your own anthology of writings (I was exercising the same ‘out of skin’ thinking process at the time): so I’m not writing here about autobiographies; this is, instead, a question of the research perspective of someone looking in on you.

What are the ‘warts’ in the ‘all’ of your life in art? What are the highs and the life-changing moments? What are the accidental shifts in direction? I can’t write this all here because my autobiography would be selective: you get what I choose you to have.

What would be the research sources for your biographer who chooses to chronicle your life and work, say, one hundred years after your birth and a few years after you’ve gone? I have a stack of pale blue exercise books which have been hidden away in dark places since the age of about seven. They contain some equally dark tales. There are public records of my existence, of my tracing through time; there are photographs and a handful of newspaper clippings, perhaps; there are papers of ill-formed words and letters sent to far-flung friends and other loves; there’s this hard drive blinking away with all my writing secrets precariously contained.

What about the countless emails, and the trail of me left on an equally countless array of websites? I’m an electronic strand of spittle and DNA spread along an invisible imaginary web. What about the countless conversations, and the trail of me left on an equally countless array of other people’s minds? I’m a chemical strand of memory spread along an invisible imaginary neuro-web.

In fewer than a hundred years, my imagined biographer will have a task to unravel me from the anecdotes and memories — some of which may still be true — and from the notebooks, loose leaf papers, emails, websites, social media scraps, photographs, etc. that abound. How can he or she possibly write me accurately?

Yet, if I write ‘me’ myself, I won’t tell all because we only present what we want others to read (no matter how honest we’re claiming to be). ‘Baring all’ is only really baring one perspective, at any one time, of this skin that we’re in.

So, if we’re to be written, we’re written with inaccuracies (or, at least, not absolutely succinctly) or we’re written with selective self-preservation in the onwards projection of our names after we’re gone.

Perhaps I should publish some seven year old’s dark tales: it would help my imaginary biographer, after all.

4 thoughts on “Notes for the Imaginary Biographer

  1. charliebritten says:

    Arrgh, those notebooks written when you were seven!!! I used to fill notebooks as a child too. Most of them have been destroyed. I really hope so. It would be really embarrassing if one or two were found.

    • joelseath says:

      I read my seven year old’s notebooks back and I have no idea who this child was! That is, I remember the ‘play me’ out in the fields, but this me is almost a character in himself!

      • charliebritten says:

        Yes, as a child, I wanted to act out my stories too. They were really ‘nice things that might happen to me’.

      • joelseath says:

        My child stories were dark. Very dark. I don’t know why. I wasn’t disturbed in any way I knew! Perhaps I was exploring being a writer before I knew I ever would be.

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