When I saw a Facebook posting of this old letter, I read through to the end, based on my esteem for the person who’d posted it. My immediate reaction was, “I’m not buying.”
There was something about the too perfect coffee stain that made me suspicious. I typed ‘letter about transistor radio’ into my search menu and found out, via snopes.com, that this fake humor piece has been floating around since 1992.
The reason I’m sensitive to the subject of authenticity is a comment I received on a personal essay I shared with my fellow classmates last week. “I don’t believe you,” one reader wrote in the margin.
Ouch! It happens that the story I told is 100% true, but clearly, something in my telling raised the coffee stain effect in him. I will go back and see what felt contrived and rewrite it. I don’t love how blunt he was, but appreciate that he shared the impact of my piece.
My younger daughter has been reading my submissions and offering brilliant edits and suggestions. In particular, she said, referring to a quote I included by her older brother, “Did he really say that?”
I told her that I’d made it up because it sounded good for the piece. “You can’t lie, Mom,” she instructed. I rewrote it, and it was better.
What I’m slowly coming to appreciate is that the rawest, most real experiences, no matter how small or seemingly unimportant, are the ones I savor and remember. (Have you seen the movie Brooklyn where changing into bathing suits on the beach becomes heartbreakingly memorable?)
Every time I shampoo my hair, I think of a journalist who wrote in an article about how she used a fine pointed Sharpie to label her bottles of hair product with a large black S for shampoo and C for conditioner so she could identify them without her glasses while showering. That I can believe, especially since I have done exactly the same thing myself.
Now which of these images and stories will stay with you?