Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs. Given where I am in my life right now, they have special appeal because I’m hoping, each time I pick one up, that there’s some nugget of truth that the writer has discovered that will apply to me. It’s not impossible to get that from fiction, but a person’s real life being scrawled on the page requires the kind of reflection and contemplation that often lends itself well to dispensing wisdom.
But as inspired as I always become when I read work like this, I wonder if I have skin thick enough to do the same. I feel the same way some days about writing a blog. When you put your life out there for the world to see, it’s oddly liberating. But when YOUR world starts seeing it? That’s a different story.
I have no problem sharing my inter most thoughts with the anonymous public, but I do seem to have a problem sharing them with the people who can put a face to this text. So in the beginning I didn’t. I didn’t tell anyone. But eventually this thing I do almost every day came up a few times, and now there are three people who know how to find this blog if they want to. I have no idea how often they do, but even knowing they can keeps me from posting some things.
People experience the same events very differently, I’ve learned that with time. People who know you well also get this belief in their head about who you are and what you do, and they don’t like to hear things that don’t fit into that place they’ve constructed for you. They are quick to make assumptions and they hold on to them tightly.
Except, we grow and we change. There are things we’ve never told certain people, and those secrets can drive us in ways they can’t understand. The way you act around others isn’t always the way you felt inside. Two people can experience the exact same event, but what’s already happened in their lives, who they are, and where they are going, means that experience leaves a completely different mark on each one.
I appreciate the beauty of a story told by someone who lived it. Someone who’s sorted through their memories and inspirations and added explanation and insight to their account. People who can put such honesty on paper, that it almost startles you to read it. Those who can share the toughest events of their lives, with details of their mistakes, laying ragged and unsanitized on the page. It’s a gift.
But I often wonder if they get people in their lives who need to pipe in. ”That’s not the way it happened.” “You were fine.” “It wasn’t that big of a deal.” “No, you were always like ___.” ”You would have told me that if it had happened.”
Maybe not if they had always lived life as an open book, but how many of us have really done that? My best friend since the time I was six can probably give the most accurate account of my life from my point of view, but even she would have missed some things. I was a very gifted secret keeper back in my younger years. I trusted very few people. That’s probably why I have held on to so few friends from my childhood… there are only a one or two that know too much for me ever to let them slip away. That changed as I got older, but I’m still guarded. Probably always will be.
Being a writer is a strange phenomenon if you really think about it. For those who choose to tell their story, there is going to be judgment from those who know us and those who don’t, but I think it’s those who think they know that can be the hardest. An honest account of life doesn’t use rose colored glasses. It uses a magnifying glass. It takes strong relationships to withstand both the honesty and publicity that comes with putting life down in prose and sharing it with the world.
And even if you write fiction, and you’re telling a story that isn’t yours, it’s still yours. Your inspiration. Your brainchild. I’ve stopped sharing my novels in progress with certain people, because I always get the same responses “Who is this character supposed to be?” “Is that me?” “Where did you get this from?”
Sometimes I wish as a writer you could always remain completely anonymous. Let the work speak for itself. But in a time of internet and television, promotion is everything and the author’s face gets plastered on the cover for all to see.
I’d love to hear what you think. How honest is too honest in your writing? Are certain things off limits? And how do you respond when your truth doesn’t seem to match someone else’s?