Last Monday I came out of the doctor’s office and checked my cell phone and found that I missed a call from my brother, Mark. I got in my car, made sure the Bluetooth was connected, and called him back.
“Hey, I see I missed a call from you. How are you doing?”
“I’m on the Thruway heading to the city.”
We exchanged some pleasantries, and then I asked,
“So, what’s up? Any reason for the call?”
“Well….has Gary seen your blog?” he asked with trepidation.
I chuckled, “Ahh, yes, he was well aware, you don’t have to worry. I wouldn’t blindside him.”
[For those who haven’t read last week’s blog, it recounted a story from many years ago that didn’t reflect too well on Gary.]
“Okay, I’m glad to hear that. I was wondering if you had lost your mind.”
I told Mark that I well may have (lost my mind), but I posted the story with Gary’s full knowledge and support (I’m sure he didn’t love it, but he had no objection). Mark commented on what a special guy Gary is, I agreed, and we said our good-byes.
Though Mark may have been the only one who directly called me to ask if I forewarned Gary, I know others questioned my judgment. Generally, it is considered bad form to air dirty laundry in public. I usually don’t. First, I have little to complain about and second, I don’t like the idea of criticizing my husband to others.
Before embarking on this blogging journey, Gary and I had a number of conversations about the stories I might share and the implications of revealing experiences that might be painful. I spoke to my children, as well. In preparation, I read memoirs and books on writing memoirs. An unavoidable issue is how to present stories that may reflect poorly on a particular person, especially a living person. There are a number of strategies. Sometimes it may be reasonable to change the name, especially when the person isn’t a major character. I have done that in a few instances. I have also used only the first name and if it was someone from my childhood, that person may recognize themselves (if they happen to read the piece), but most people won’t be able to identify the individual.
Sometimes, though, it can’t be covered up and then there is a choice to be made. There are different opinions about how to handle this. Some authors believe you need to be ruthless in writing your truth. I don’t subscribe to that approach. I try to write my truth, but I liked what another author wrote (and if I had access to my notes, which are home and I am in Boston, I would give credit) which suggested writing toward forgiveness, not revenge.
I am fortunate in that I have no need for revenge, my stories don’t involve me being victimized in some terrible way. I am not bitter about my life. Though I would have characterized my childhood as unhappy (I am reconsidering that characterization as I explore it), I am seeking to understand it, not blame anyone for it. My stories are about ordinary struggles, for belonging, acceptance, identity. My life has not included the great dramas of abuse or addiction, or of overcoming odds to achieve greatness (the usual stuff of memoir). But, I think there is merit to telling ordinary stories. I hope that some of the struggles resonate with people.
As I think of stories I want to share, I think about whether there is something to be gained in the telling – for myself and for readers – is there something to learn? Or is it entertaining enough? At one of the first writing workshops I took the teacher pointed out that just because you remember something doesn’t mean it is worth including. I try to keep that in mind.
Another author, writing about memoir, pointed out that someone will always be unhappy with your story. One person may be disappointed in how they were portrayed. Another may be disappointed that they weren’t included enough or at all. So, I know I can’t write to please any particular person.
The people who are most likely to be cast in an unflattering light are my parents and my husband. They are and/or were the ones with the most power to hurt me. I am lucky that my mother (my Dad passed away in 2005) and Gary are tremendously supportive of these efforts even in the face of criticism. Gary tells me to write what I need to write. Mom mostly wants to apologize for any mistakes she may have made. I believe they both know that I can only write what I do because I love and trust them.
If you read last week’s blog and wondered what I was thinking – now you know. I thought there was a lesson to be learned and I had enough confidence in Gary, and in our relationship that it could withstand the public telling. Gary and I are still speaking – so far, so good. It looks like my confidence was well placed.