The Colors We Choose Not to Paint With

I grew up in a small town in rural South Carolina. A storybook-esque backdrop of quaint dipping ponds and expansive fields of tall grasses; my house sat nestled beside a farmstead dotted with skinny birches and stout magnolias. The only other houses were constructed of the same cobblestone and wood paneling of varying colors—one pale yellow, one a mellowed blue. From my driveway a path bisected through a sort of timberland; no winds, no bends, just a jutting graveled road that caused any car or bike to vibrate ferociously. Homes sparsely lined this road, placed sporadically as if someone took a brush and flicked dots of paint to denote their location. It served as a wistful setting for a seemingly rapturous childhood.

What I neglected to mention was the uncouth lamppost that hummed at the worst of times, or the ardent possums that scratched at the door to my back porch while I slept. Most importantly, choosing the word rapturous for childhood because of elusive perception or memory rather than concrete recollection shows the power of narrative. This negation of particular detail or methodical neglect of their inclusion represents that sense of control that distinguishes between discourse and narrative discussed in “The Value of Narrativity”. Most profound about this concept is the fact that this reconstruction doesn’t lose any of its validity or authenticity simply by its debar of detail.

This week’s reading reminded me of a novel I read that implanted this idea of personalized interpretation and underrepresentation in history, “Running in the Family” by Michael Ondaatje. The novel is described by some as a fictionalized account, and by others as an imagined recollection, but Ondaatje describes the novel as a just a memoir. The story is told as a collection of conversations with distant family members as Ondaatje travels through Sri Lanka to learn more about his parents. The story is told out of chronological order but represents Ondaatje’s perceived ideal progressions—which is authentic in itself. The story also contains fictional characters and fictional accounts, which Ondaatje based off of real family members or combinations of them. The reader is unaware of who’s real and who’s imagined, however it does not take away from the validity of the memoir solely because it allows a better understand of how the author experienced this journey both in the moment and in retrospect. Both the readings and this novel highlight a notion that is both formidable and prominent in understanding a history through storytelling.

About Makiah Belk

Study of the Americas
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One Response to The Colors We Choose Not to Paint With

  1. Gabriella Bulgarelli says:

    Makiah- I thought your representation of your childhood home was beautiful; and, I think the point you make couldn’t be more correct. If I were to walk about your street, I would probably forego the serene images of the homes, swaying grasses and ponds. I would most likely find myself fixated upon the lamp, the possums. I would see what I wanted to see, I might not feel anything at all. For you, the emotion and the clarity of thought comes from your lived experience, and your personal perception, at length, of the environment. As an outsider, invader, I do nothing to beneficially paint the environment. I add something to it that does not belong. This is the same with the development of history. More often than not, those who had beautiful (or not beautiful)….starting over. Those who had well developed, eloquent, deep understandings of other people, places and things around them–often were not those who wrote and recorded the history. The book by Ondaatje seems to represent this well: oral histories do an exemplary job of this, but I think the idea of history should be forming an aggregate, a database, a collection of as many personal narratives as possible. History isn’t just events–it’s how events are experienced. No two people will remember the same moment the same, so how is it right the relegate days past into nondescript sentences?

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