. . . . Honesty is power. We know this because half our upbringing is learning how and when to put a lid on it. Our culture idealizes honesty, but most of our institutions and social customs are not built on it; instead, they are built to withstand its force. In place of speaking honestly, we are taught to use honestyâ€™s back roads: gossip, kidding, sarcasm, exposÃ©. â€œTell us what you really thinkâ€ is usually only said, these days, as a way to shut you up.
. . .Intimate essays and memoirs and poems serve as antidotes to daily low-grade mandatory dishonesty. My motives for writing intimately, besides the pleasure of telling my version of events, include exploring what happened and why, finding excuses for myself, getting even, and nailing hypocrisyâ€”and I am as honor-bound to nail my own as I am to nail someone elseâ€™s. Itâ€™s not just a matter of honor, either. If I know I did wrong and in my writing I donâ€™t admit to it, my writing will lack the voltage of honesty.
The personal essay or the memoir provides a portal through which the reader may pay a visit to himself, his real self, the one who doesnâ€™t have to dissemble or lie. Just as an athlete has a moral obligation to not use performance enhancers, the writer of first-person nonfiction is obliged to present readers with an honest record of human experience, not only because it is human but also because honesty itself needs preserving.
On my computer I have stuck a little note: â€œI have a doctorâ€™s excuse to tell the truth.â€
Hidden in that note is a piece of folk wisdom: that the truth is medicinal, that it cures. We believe this so fervently that when we hear a memoirist has lied, we feel outraged, as if we had been given poison instead of medicine. . . .
-Catherine Rankovic, excerpt from St. Louis Magazine essay, Dec. 2006