Jan 4, 2013 at 21:09:43
“Thanks Janet, when you think about it - people sing to themselves and hum as ways to lift their spirits in difficult moments, so perhaps we have a chanting instinct!”
JanetAlstonJackson on Jan 5, 2013 at 11:37:26
“You are so right. Ancient civilizations, and especially Native American Indians have always sung and chanted. And, like you mentioned, humming lifts spirits. I remember when we adopted two of our three children, who were at that time 3 and 4-years old. One constantly sang and the other always hummed. Both were clearly happy to be with us. Reflecting on your words, I'm thinking that humming and singing helped them to adjust to a new life, by melodically soothing themselves.
Happy New Year and blessings to you and yours!”
“Wonderful article, John - as a un-self-consciously (well, okay, maybe a little bit self-consciously) earnest memoirist, I spy a colleague lurking in the fiction closet. And now I desperately want to read that blog post, because nothing fuels my love for people, or optimism about the world, more than their stories - grenades and all. x”
“Thanks for your comment. The empty schools built by well-intentioned foreigners I saw in Afghanistan were not built by Mortenson. Most, in fact, were built by the US military so perhaps the phrase 'well-intentioned' in innaccurate at least at the institutional level. At the level of the individual service-men and women who were responsible for the buildings, I am certain intentions were mostly very good.
But good intentions are not enough, certainly not in development. And well-intentioned amateur aid efforts often end up doing more harm than good.
Was Mortenson's original intention to do good? Or to make a buck off suckers? I don't know and so I choose not to comment on that. But I agree that if the original intent was good, things seem to have gone very far off track.
As for whether combining events from two trips into one (with a note in the foreword that this has been done) makes the story fiction, I guess we'll each have to make up our own mind on that. What matters to me is that I'm transparent about it so that readers can make an informed decision for themselves.”
suzc on Apr 25, 2011 at 15:48:57
“Every "true story" ever told, EVER TOLD, has compressed scenes, events, characters, etc. Some admit it, some don't.
That does not bother me nearly as much as the idea that this has devolved into a way to make a penniless Mortenson into a multimillionaire. That's just fraud.”
Hope Edelman on Apr 25, 2011 at 12:03:26
“Really interesting points being raised in these threads, Marianne. As a nonfiction author like you and Richard below, l also know why a writer would compress time or create a composite character, mainly because readers won't stick with a 700-page book that recounts every moment as it actually unfolded, and sometimes under pressure by editors for valid legal reasons or to protect real people's privacy. But I think there's a big difference between small choices made to shape a story into a manageable package while being honest about it with publisher and reader and flat-out invention. One is an artistic choice--story is an artistic product after all--but the other is a willful deception and unfair to readers who believe they're reading a story that adheres to actual, verifiable events. Especially when they're asked to give money in support.
Also, there's a pretty big distinction between memoir (which relies on conventions of fiction and is based on memory which is frequently imperfect and subjective) and long-form third-person narrative, which is typically held to more journalistic standards of objective truth. Three Cups of Tea read to me like a hybrid of the two. That's complicated, because the legal and artistic guidelines of one don't always apply to the other.
Still, when some events in an otherwise nonfiction work are made up for purposes of story and passed off as fact without a disclaimer, I wouldn't call the whole work fiction. I'd just call it dishonest.”
Richard McRae on Apr 22, 2011 at 16:18:26
“"Combining two trips into one" falls into the same category as "misremembered" and "misspoke." They are all justifications of not being honest with the purpose of creating a better story. As an author I completely understand WHY someone would do it - but I also see it as being an after-the-fact excuse for a lie they assumed no one would ever investigate. I could invent a father figure right now and make him into whatever I wished with the purpose of selling more books and teaching me valuable lessons. But if he never existed and was just an amalgamation of a million other people I've known then my story stops being true and becomes fiction.
They do have a genre for stories that are not true and it is, as you said, fiction.”
“My observation that many of us wanted to believe the story of 'Three Cups of Tea' as it was told was not a defense of Mortenson. I don't believe I'm defending him at all.
My view is that he failed in his responsibility to tell the truth - or ensure the truth was told - in his book and he failed in his responsibility to account for the money raised as a result of those books. The points I make about the role our collective love for the 'individual hero' story played in this situation doesn't, in my view, reduce Mortenson's personal responsibility for his actions. But it is an important factor in how and why this happened the way it did.
It's not a justification, and it is not offered as a justification, but it's a part of the picture and it's timely that we examine it because Mortenson is not the only great White hero being lauded for his humanitarian efforts. This has happened before and part of what needs to happen to prevent it happening again is that we become more discerning readers & donors.
As for 'truth' being in quotations, I stand by my comment that it can be a slippery fish to catch. But I also reiterate my point that this doesn't absolve the non-fiction writer from persevering until they are confident they've caught it.
As Steve Almond said over at The Rumpus, creative non-fiction is a radically subjective account of events that objectively took”
suzc on Apr 25, 2011 at 15:50:46
“Who did you work with in Afghanistan? Are you familiar with PARSA?
As for truth -- Truth can be a slippery fish. Truth is often deemed relative. Truth is not easy to find or uphold. But "truth" is always relative, slippery, and very likely not true.”
Richard McRae on Apr 22, 2011 at 18:55:23
“This I completely agree with. It's unfortunate that the tone of the article was so different from this explanation. I think that will keep the majority of readers from grasping your intended meaning.”
“I agree - the question of how we can translate our 'desire to give' into action or support that is actually effective and helpful is critical.
There are many reputable, experienced organisations doing effective (if not perfect) work in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan. CARE, CRS, World Vision, Save the Children, the Aga Khan Foundation and IRC are all organisations I saw in action on the ground in Afghanistan.
If you are interested in supporting education for children in Afghanistan (or anywhere for that matter) then I'd recommend looking for organisations committed to international best practice for the provision of education in conflict settings and to the protection of children's rights.”
“No joy in seeing anyone fall, really, is there? There's an interesting tension in this situation between my desire to extend compassion to Mortenson and my sense of the harm he has done to many and the need for that harm to be accounted for and - in whatever way possible - put right. The latter doesn't prevent the former, but it calls for both needs to be recognised at once.”
MamaBird62 on Apr 22, 2011 at 11:32:27
“I agree completely Marianne. Thanks for your thoughtful blog.”
Richard McRae on Apr 22, 2011 at 11:14:02
“There are plenty of times when we should have joy in seeing someone fall. In this case you have a man who is getting rich off of the charity and good-will of others, while outright lying to fans of his books. I'm happy that the truth has come to light and he can be stopped. Maybe the people donating to him can now put their donations to a cause that will actually do some good and help someone.
It's a joy to see an unethical and dishonest organization fall.”