– I don’t have anything to say that seems terribly important or interesting. Shorthand: What’s one more blog?
– What I want to write about might hurt someone.
Regarding the latter: I was in a book that came out earlier this year. Short of being the Wicked Witch, I’m pretty much the character you’d least like to be if you were in this book. I haven’t read it, but I’m told that it’s neither a friendly nor an entirely accurate portrayal of events – even if you take into account subjective differences. My friends in the “non”fiction writing biz – people who think a lot about such things deeply and who get stomach aches over issues of accuracy, differences between objectivity and subjectivity, and matters of privacy – have encouraged me to view this work as fiction. I am, they tell me, the basis for a fictional character. And a rather mis-drawn one at that.
I have opted not to read the book or even a review of it. I admit to being pleased when one friend chatted me late one night on Facebook to tell me that she was reading “that” book and wanted me to know, among other things, that she found it pretty lousy, both in terms of its literary qualities and its humanity. Overall, though, I’ve steered clear of this literary moment.
An interesting thing about this book is that I once asked the writer not to write about me. I asked clearly and politely. And in my mind, knowing that a writer sometimes cannot resist, I imagined all of the ways that I could be written about with decency. Still, I was written about – in spades. Which seems to have been God’s gift to me as a writer to remember what it’s like on the other end.
And this has me stalled.
A friend who writes about her life in an open, funny manner and who has a large online following, sent me an Anne LaMott quote: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
I love this. I agree. And yet … having now been written about because I did something that was very human and yet not a moment of especially good behavior – for whoever is keeping track – I am also on the side of Einstein, who wrote: “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”
A few weeks ago when there was an upsetting event in my personal life – someone done me wrong, in the country ballad version – another person tangentially involved (sorry this is so confusing and sounds like a geometry problem involving A, K, H, and a fast moving train to Wichita!), texted me with a plea: “Do not write about this!”
I was asked to consider how I would feel if the shoe was on the other foot. I pondered this for a day, and what I came to – largely with the help of my experience as said fictional character and also via having read and discussed memoirs for years – is that if the writer is working from a mode of exploration and reflection, this is one thing. If the writer seems to merely want to share a good yarn (and perhaps make some money off it), there’s an entirely different feel to the work. I trust memoirists like Mary Karr, whose exploration of her marriage and her drinking in Lit did not make me especially fond of her husband but gave me great empathy for him; I mean, I really got why he would not want to stay with someone who was drinking a few packs of beer a night and lying about it. Likewise, many of Gabrielle Hamilton’s family members in Blood, Bones, and Butter, are exposed as human creatures with tragic flaws, but none so much as the author herself. And then there’s Dave Eggers use of footnotes in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius to dissect, tear apart, consider from this angle, and reflect from that angle whether his memory of events is right.
If a writer seems to be on a path to greater personal understanding and if others do not seem to be unduly exposed but rather are part of the process of reflection, then I am pretty accepting of what is written. In fact, I am sometimes frustrated by writers who clearly have a story that deserves to be told but who tell it halfway in order to protect others. There is, I believe, a middle way – a way that gives justice to the writer’s experience and purpose but also provides a literary towel to hold over her character’s most private parts.
And what about the value of putting these words out into the ether via a blog? I blog largely because I’ve found it to be a way to compel me to write – there’s something about an audience, even a very small one, that will bring me to the page. And I’ve gained a lot from it. For starters, I’ve become good friends with a number of women as a result of reading their blogs and/or them reading mine. I just spent the night in Chicago – saved from another night at the O’Hare Hyatt where the Junior Miss Bodybuilding Championship was taking place – with one such friend, and am actively working on a project with another. It’s amazing the things we know about each other’s lives through our writing and the way in which these friendships, though not based on day to day contact, carry a certain weight and trust. So when another such writer pal blogged the other day about the feelings most people who maintain one of these creatures (and it does sometimes feel like a creature that you have to feed and groom and then hope the world will find fetching) — “I’m humiliated by the conversation about how blog writing is just like a public journal that no one gives a shit about, and by continuing to publish pieces week after week that only a hundred or so people read. It puts a futile and foolish undertone to the fun of it.” — I wanted to holler AMEN and also console and encourage her, because as one of those hundred readers, her blog means the world to me.
Here’s where I am now: We all have a story to tell and we deserve to tell it. With luck, this story might reach and help even one other person. We also have permission to write about our lives, including the people in them, if we do so with respect and humility and – especially – a sense of our own role in our life’s drama. But this is only where I am now. Give me a few more hundred pages and I’ll tell you what I think then. Because writing is how I figure it out.