January 17, 2013

Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.” – Anne Lamott

I’ve been thinking of this quote a lot lately. Fundamentally, I agree with it. I have the right to tell people exactly as they are. However, I usually don’t exercise that right. I try only to tell the bad parts that are essential. I attempt to show mercy in my writing, with the sole exceptions of my father and stepmother. While I cannot make shallow, empty people whole and self-actualized in my writing, I can choose not to write about them or to minimize what I say.

Lamott’s quote clearly does not apply to children. I do sometimes write about other people’s children, but very carefully. It’s even more complicated with my own children, who I can promise you often should behave better. (It’s called a fork.) I started this blog to write honestly about parenting, but I no longer can. I no longer should. I won’t get into the recently-published book that is prompting this post, but I’m sure you’ve seen it. I can’t sell my kids out for 15 minutes of fame.

I’m not a big-name blogger, but I have enough of a readership that I must be careful with what I write not about just my kids but about my husband, the parents of my children’s friends, and my colleagues. This is a shift that has taken place over the last few years, and it means my posts are more guarded.

I don’t like writing that way. I want to tell the truth, even if I do tell it slant like the other Emily suggests.

Memoir has come to feel far too limiting for me. I’ve been working to expand the way I approach personal essays, yet those are still in the realm of memoir. My professional writing – which is incredibly rewarding – is of a different sort, but my creative work… Well, let’s just say I’m trying to grow my practice. It’s one of those things we say these days.

Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those swansong posts. I’m not going the way of Car Talk. I like having this room of my own, where I can say what I want without the guy paying my invoice having a say.

I’m curious how others walk the line between open dialogue and invading other people’s privacy.

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2 Comments

  • Reply Anjali January 17, 2013 at 2:26 am

    Up until three years ago, I had never written a single word of fiction. I had never been interested– personal essays were my passion. But a few years ago, I realized that I could not write about my kids anymore. Even though I didn’t use their names, show pictures of their faces, or write anything that would indicate their personalities, it just no longer felt right to me.

    That’s not to say that I don’t write about family at all…I do. But it’s very rare. When I write a post that mentions my kids, I ask myself whether anyone reading it could learn something meaningful about my children. If the answer is yes, I don’t publish it.

    I wish I could write memoir fearlessly. I wish I could claim my stories. But thankfully, I’ve fallen head over heels in love with fiction. And I don’t know that I’ll go back.

  • Reply Poker chick January 17, 2013 at 2:52 am

    this is why I like screenwriting. Make the female character a male and even with the same dialogue no one is wiser!

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