9 March 1995

by jkatejohnston

Dear Max,

On Tuesday night in the writing class, I got into a big wrangle—no it was a small wrangle, but my feelings about it were big—with our teacher, who was saying that non-fiction can’t really to stick to fact and that it doesn’t have to. “No one goes back and checks,” she kept saying, which is like saying it doesn’t matter if you lie as long as you don’t get caught. I felt like flying at her throat. She was talking about how you have to reconstruct dialog and how you can never remember it perfectly, and of course you can’t. But then you say that you can’t. And you remember as well as you can and take really good notes.

Boswell does this constantly. He always says whether he witnessed something himself or heard about it from someone else, and if he’s writing about something that he witnessed himself, sometimes he’ll say whether he recorded it later or wrote it down right away, so that he’s always acknowledging the imperfection of any written account and doing everything he can to let you know how accurate it is every step of the way. It’s so interesting that you hardly even notice he’s doing it.

Oh, but we didn’t even get into that.  When I said there was such a thing as an exact quote, someone said, “Well, that’s journalism.” And I said “What about The Life of Johnson?” and that was the end of that.

Our teacher also talked about how you select, and so it’s always your picture of the facts, not just pure fact. Well, that’s about fucking obvious. But what’s on the page can be accurate. My new method of arguing is to say one thing over and over and over. So I kept saying, “I just want you to admit that there’s such a thing as a fact. That’s all I want.”

But the odd, depressing part is that I didn’t really want to fly at our teacher’s throat.  I’m too tired, and I don’t much care what she says.


Last night I watched part of The History of Rock and Roll on TV and I kept having these waves of embarrassment that almost brought tears to my eyes, I mean The Summer of Love and Woodstock and so on. It’s the same feeling I get when I’m at sports events. I mean I am so embarrassed by that abandoned enthusiasm, and at the same time I’m embarrassed because I’m so square and inhibited and won’t allow myself to have any of those feelings because, fuck, I’d rather be conscious. 

Afterward I was telling this to Teresa and saying that if I’d been at Woodstock I would have been a wallflower, and she said “That would have been your name. Other girls would be Rainbow, Moonbeam, Wildflower, and you’d be Wallflower.”

But even though the sixties embarrass me, I would like to take this opportunity to say, “Thank you, Dear God, for the sexual revolution.  Thank you, thank you, hallelujah!”[1]


[1] I think I’ve mentioned before—with mortification—that when I first edited my 1993-1995 diaries for publicatication, I did fictionalize them a little. Thank goodness I still have copies of the originals. I’m inclined to blame the editor who was interested in them, but I don’t think she said anything to make me do it. I just lost my mind at the prospect of Fame.