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  • Writer's pictureTracey Lee

The Art of the Anecdote

After catching up with wonderful friends this weekend I was drawn again to the topic of storytelling and the joys of a tale well told. It was also a time to reflect on the notion of the artful enhancement of the anecdote.

Embellishment is defined as:  a decorative detail or feature added to something to make it more attractive. In anecdotes it seems that the odd decoration or adornment comes in the form of an elaborated fact, a more colourful adjective or a more vibrant outcome. The story, either a tale of woe or hilarity, gets gilding or varnishing to make the tale more engaging, particularly if it’s a second, third or fourth telling. The most extraordinary thing is the fact that the participants who were involved in the original story never refute the exaggerations but simply absorb the embellishments as fact. While the truth of an experience is in there somewhere, the one we tell is the polished version. (It is a little like airbrushing photos-the real person is there but we just don’t immediately recognise them!)

Thus a story of our exploits moves from mildly amusing, embarrassing or heroic to somewhat epic proportions. Now my friends might be trembling at the thought of which story I might choose to exemplify the embellished anecdote. Could it be the twirling dancer faux pas, the Pavarotti impersonation, the Irish Olympics, the skinny dip that never was, the desiccating table crisis, who burnt the bench with the coffee pot conundrum, the Irish dancing injury, the bathers worn over track suit fashion show, the political incorrectness of impersonating Wendell Sailor, the night Hulk Hogan came to our party, the implosion on election night, the vodka fruit salad that nearly poisoned the children, epic Pictionary, the Sigatoka cataclysm, the unreliable health report that ensured us that all was well when in fact the person was dead or the look at his funny shell fish that turned out to be a deadly cone fish? Or my personal favourite; who didn’t have a four-wheel drive on the road that clearly said “only for four-wheel drives”? These stories are told again and again with the deliberate, or accidental addition of alternative facts!

Now rest easy friends, there will be no serious revelations here; no need for litigation for ruined reputations, no skeletons will be released from closets. But this partial list of our regular re-tells with all the embossing, frills, bedecking, festooning or garnishing we can muster reflects one thing; we have had such happy times and those stories deserve some aggrandizement. No doubt though, the inspired reconstruction of truth with a flourish is something of an art form. There are no lies, just a simple airbrushing of the wrinkles, a touch of forgiving lighting and a filter that only time brings.  While some re-write their history to redirect the spotlight or cover the truth, it is my belief that we embellish and retell to keep us connected to the joy of a shared history.

Long live the anecdote.

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