Sunday, January 3, 2010

The supporting characters

I recently wrote a post on my other blog, Things I Want to Punch in the Face. It recounted my worst New Year’s Eves. The list is long and varied, and every entry involved other people. One of them, an ex-boyfriend, contacted me after reading the post, saying it was weird to see himself referenced in someone else’s story, even if I didn’t single him out by name or say anything negative about him.

I worry about a lot of stuff, so it’s not surprising that I worry about what my friends and family will think after writing about them (I worry about what they think when I'm not writing about them). I have been thoughtless in the past about oversharing and processing my thoughts and feelings through my writings. A man I was dating mistakenly thought I was referring to him in a column that was primarily about my grandfather, who had just passed away. He brought me to tears over a story that was supposed to be a love letter to my grandpa and his many admirable qualities vs. some of the men I had previously dated. In an article about my high-school reunion, I didn’t even change the names, thinking none of my classmates would see it. I was wrong.

I was wrong in many ways. See, my story isn’t just mine. My perspective and my voice are, certainly, but events, well, they usually involve other folks even if we remember things differently.

I’m working on a memoir, which wasn’t really music to my mom’s ears. Shit happened when I was growing up. And I’m trying to capture it from my point of view, through my eyes. But I’m having a tough time. I can’t help fast-forwarding to family reactions when I spill secrets that might not be only mine to share. Many memoirists (Augusten Burroughs, for example) have left a wake of ill will and severed relationships behind them for the sake of a fantastic, compelling read. I sure as hell don’t want that. Mom told me to wait until she was dead before publishing the memoir. I’m not going to do that, either. One, I want her to live for a long, long time. Two, it feels dishonest. If I’m going to risk someone’s reputation post-mortem, I should be willing to do it while they’re alive and face the music, even if I don’t want to hear it.

What are your thoughts on writing an honest memoir? Can it be done while protecting those who are part of the story?

A sampling of my books