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?


mduette said...

I have nothing constructive to add here. Wish I did. As it is, I'm so chicken about my family discovering I blog on teh interwebs that I use my nickname.

Me? Helpful? Not so much.

Ultimately though you have to be true to you and hope that those who truly love you won't make it a conditional thing. But people are weird.

melindalane said...

My first thought was: truth hurts.

I realize that's kinda harsh, though. It's one thing to air your own dirty laundry, another to out others without their permission or blessing.

Maybe you could call it "mostly true," thereby giving any person you reference the option of claiming their story was the one you embellished/made up. Maybe it would help, too, if you gave them some advance warning of what you were writing about. (Or maybe this would make it worse?)

I hope you find a way to make it work - would be a good read, I am sure!

glam.spoon said...

I would like to think that if you are true to experience, there's nothing to be ashamed of... That said, I am waiting until my parents are no longer able to view TV or the web so that I can write my screenplay of our Thanksgiving dinner from 1987. And frankly, if it's funny, at the end of the day, everybody wins, right? good luck.

Anonymous said...

I think you need to recognize that telling the truth will give you more credibility, in the end -- in the eyes of vastly more people -- than being diplomatic and skirting around the truth. And you write so well, I know the truths you tell will be compelling ones.

-- Jim Lowry

Angie said...

Over the last couple of years I've decided that if maintaining loving relationships involves only presenting a truncated version of who I am they're not really loving relationships. This includes relationships with family. Writing is a part of who you are, and writing honestly is being true to yourself. I really believe that the most worthwhile and happy way to live is to be yourself. I say go for it.

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Chris said...

Wow. A lot of my fears are echoed, here.

I know I'm two weeks late on this. But you may still be up for an answer. I think any writer, even if she isn't a memoirist, faces this. Because even if it's admittedly fiction, someone you know is going to take it personally, in a good or bad way. Or, they will think you must have actually done some of that killing that you've written about, or you've wanted to. And they sure as hell bet that you've been dating two people at once because your character has. So writing about your own life is scary as shit, at least to me.

When my mom was alive I could never have shown her my work. Everything in it would have been taken too personally. So I honestly don't know how writers get past this. It takes a hardness that I don't have. Or, maybe it's a pragmatism. Or a passion for the work that I don't have enough of.

It's easy to cheerlead you on, and tell you that the integrity of the writing is what counts and you can't let anything stop you. So I don't mean to be cavalier, but it seems to me, as someone who's not writing a memoir, that I would be poorer without memoirists who bare their souls and show us a mirror. I raise a glass to them. I will defend to anyone your right and reason for blowing it all wide open.

And really, what all of us are thinking, even what our moms and dads are thinking, and our friends and kids are thinking, and what WE are thinking is: about ourselves. How does it affect ME. and you can't worry about what affects every ME out there. You ain't god and you can't control every ME. You can't even predict or know what every ME thinks. You'd probably be surprised.

Of course, I'd never be able to handle the pressure. That's why I never wrote that memoir.

Jennifer Worick said...

Chris, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I'm going to print this out and keep it on my desk so I can refer to it again and again.

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