to blog or not to blog

I haven’t been writing much here. The reasons boil down to this:

– 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.

11 thoughts on “to blog or not to blog

  1. This hits very close to home for me right now, as I am writing a memoir on a topic that by definition implicates someone and involves many others, including someone who explicitly told me never to write about him. It’s very difficult. I’ve resisted for a long time. I have momentum now, which means I’ve given over to my compulsion. I don’t know how much of the compulsion is based in selfishness and how much it’s based in the opposite. A very strange place. Thank you for posting this. I love your blog.

  2. Oh, Jen, this is stellar. Well-timed in my own life, too, as I’m trying to sort out whether I am to blog (or not to blog). Don’t forget, you have your own hundred who’ll holler “amen.”

  3. Jennifer, I love your blog! In many ways our worlds couldn’t be further apart, but you always write about themes and issues that cut across continents, cultures and time. You always make me think and I love the fact that you are driven by your own need to write and have the generosity and courage to share it with us. To Blog, I say!

  4. So sue. If you’re recognizable (and apparently you are), and it’s an invasion of your privacy, then sue. There isn’t any point in having protective laws if people won’t use them.

  5. I can’t tell you how much I value your blog, how much comfort I’ve found in it, and how much I appreciate the way you give verbal form/organization to thoughts and feelings that live large in my heart, mind and gut.

    It’s important to have your say. Figuring out how to do it well and when are the tricky parts. You’ll find the way.

  6. keep blogging, even when you feel like you don’t have much to say. you write such graceful meditations on mothering, partnership, memory. i so look forward to reading them! xo-lenore

  7. Thank you for everyone’s encouragement. What I’m most curious is how the artists among you – and I think that’s most of you from the names I know here – deal with t his issue in your own work. How do you decide what’s germane to share, what needs to be left off the page (or the canvas, etc)?

  8. You touched on the concept of perception – we all view events with our unique eyes and experience – sometimes there is inarguably an objective course of events, but most of the time we all perceive them slightly differently. What was written about you was either someone else’s perception of events or pure fiction, or probably a combination of the two. A good story teller will be careful to approach events with the “respect and humility” you reference – and take that into account. You clearly take that approach in your blog – so write away I say! Otherwise, if we are always worried about misperceptions, none of us would ever be able to write about our own experiences and our truth as we see it. And your experiences/perceptions are very insightful and valuable – to me and the other 100 readers. Thank you for having the courage to write and share publicly.

  9. This post speaks to me. The fact that you are asking the questions says everything about your heart. Someone asked me not to include her in my writing, and it was a good practice, to look at all the things her request triggered for me. No matter what, please keep writing, whether it’s here on the blog or offline.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s