This has been a LONG year. No, Smartie Pants, not 2015, but the whole of 2014 and particularly the time since this summer. Many of you know that my dad got sick and then got rapidly sicker, and then the worst happened in June. Or was it July. Or was it a million years ago. Or was it yesterday.
I have a bit of a problem with time.
That’s not the point.
The point is, when my dad was sick, my natural form of processing is writing. It became even more important that I write about it when possible, because it helped me release some of my terrible sadness. It didn’t diminish the amount of sadness, but it made it bearable.
Ever since I began blogging, I’ve had a weird hang-up with privacy. I like it. I like being able to know WHO knows what about me and when. I don’t spill my personal bidness with everyone, and especially when it comes to my kids and my family, I’m extra-specially protective. I try to keep their names out of my writing, try to never write something that could embarrass them, and try to consider whether I’d feel comfortable with them reading what I wrote. It’s a little bit of the same checks-and-balances as deciding if sharing a story about someone is gossip. Would they tell the same story? Would the person be in on the joke if they walked up and joined me, mid-conversation? Would it reveal something about them that wasn’t flattering and they wouldn’t want shared?
When it comes to writing, this is something that is murky. One can’t help but have her life intersect the lives of others. Are all those intersections fair game? Should friends and family of mine need to worry that any of our interactions are fodder for various writing projects?
Add to this already foggy question the element of parent/child privilege, whether the person you want to write about is your parent OR your child, and you’ve got yourself a downright quandary.
Anne Lamott has a great quote about this. She wrote in her book, Bird by Bird, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” To a large degree, I agree with her. Your story is your own. You own the rights to it. It’s not a matter of “your truth” as being somehow untrue to someone else; it’s a matter of perspective and what was revealed to us at a given time. Maybe there were extenuating circumstances that made someone behave a certain way during a certain period. That’s fine. But it doesn’t change the fact that they behaved that way towards you, and you were not given all the facts at that time. The facts don’t always excuse the behavior.
That’s all coming at this from a negative angle, presuming that the things being written about are potentially offensive because they portray someone in an unflattering light. However, what if the angle is something that’s NOT negative, but still could be seen as “oversharing” because they’re your Near and Dear?
I must admit, I haven’t come to a clear answer. I know that I try to protect the privacy of the people around me, and try to never write something about them that I wouldn’t want them to read. (Okay, a couple years ago I MIGHT have tried to create a secret identity so I could blog in anonymity, but I’m just not good at keeping secrets, so it was short-lived.) I try to write the same way I try to live, with authenticity and honesty, both about the struggles and the beauty.
Maybe that’s the key to how to write about stories that aren’t fully your own: write with authenticity and honesty about the struggles AND the beauty.
How do you walk the line between disclosure and privacy, whether that’s in your writing or in your walking around interacting with others?