Do we owe our allegiance to memory or the truth?

I recently was telling a friend a story about my kindergarden class– in our art classroom we had an iguana. When I was describing the class pet to my friend I said that it must have been about 10 feet long and that it was much more like a dragon than an iguana.

After some research together my friend and I found out that iguanas can only be about 3 feet long.

Now obviously I didn’t intentionally lie about the length of an iguana to bolster my school system’s reputation. I honestly thought that Iggy the Iguana was that large. In comparison to me as a five year old the iguana probably did seem that large.

Some in the world of nonfiction would say that I would need to go with the researched length of 3 feet in future tellings of the story because that was, in fact, the correct length. They’d say if it isn’t completely true it must be omitted. Personally I think that the 10 foot figure adds something to the story. In a way, a five year old thinking that an iguana was 10 feet long develops character, establishes some nostalgia and relates to common childhood sensations.

I think in creative nonfiction the way that we as writers remember events happening is much more important than what actually happened. That is not to say that the truth should ever intentionally be distorted, but creative and foggy liberty should be allowed. I believe that we owe our allegiance to memory rather than the truth. What do you think?

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