May 25, 2009

People Pleaser

In the writing class I'm taking, one question that keeps coming up is, "What are you afraid of when you write?". I'm not talking about the whole keep-your-back-to-the-wall-so-the-monsters-can't-creep-on-you-as-you-type scenario. (Seriously, though. Anyone who's seen even the most innocuous of suspense films knows leaving a door open behind you is just asking for trouble.)

The real fear for any non-fiction writer is writing about other people. Our lives do not exist in a vacuum. My memories, my experiences, the moments that have shaped me, hurt me and healed me, nearly all have other people involved. Whether it's peripheral or front-and-center, there's no real way to write without touching, to some extent, on other people's roles and actions.

While at first this may not seem like a big deal, you have to consider that not everyone, more likely no one, remembers any moment in the same way. Everyone owns, only, their singular perspective. That's their truth. So writing about something where other's truths overlap is tricky territory. For instance, awhile back, at my mom's request, I planned a big anniversary party for her and my step-dad. Long story short, the whole process was a disaster of miscommunication and incredible stress, which peaked for me when my mom told me very clearly that she had never asked me to do anything for the anniversary and it had all been my idea. Does it matter who was right? Not really-- we each believe our part and that's our own truth. It leads to two VERY different stories.

And right there, you have my biggest fear about writing. Even just mentioning the anniversary debacle gives me hives because I know my mom will read this. But if I want to be a writer, and I do, I have to assume that at some point lots of people I know could read lots of things I write that may not, perhaps even probably will not, mesh well with their own perspectives.

It's a balancing act. I don't want to offend but I still want to tell a story. I have learned to avoid direct personal references for the most part, though of course Kurt knows he's (almost) never off-limits. The key, I find, is to only write about how I felt, what I saw, what happened through MY eyes.

One example is from a while back when I reconciled with a very good friend. We met in a bookstore and I saw her before she saw me. If I wrote about the encounter as, "watching her ignoring me, tensely hoping I wouldn't show up and exuding anger", that'd be putting a whole lot of my drama into her head- a place where I have never been. (By the way, I just made all that shit up for flair- she was none of those things.) I'm comfortable with her reading that story because I tried to write about it as closely as I could from what I felt, saw, did and perceived.

Because that's all I have, right? The stuff in my head may not all be solid, but it's mine. I can't apologize or shy away from a story I want to tell just because someone else may not see it the same way. I can only do my best to be considerate and tread softly. That doesn't mean it's not scary, though. I've never been confrontational and sometimes telling a story can feel a lot like a throw-down.

But it's not, or at least it doesn't need to be. It's just a way for me to make sense of things. Since my life often feels jumbled and without sense at all, I suppose I need to get over the fear and put things together as best I know how. Hopefully, I can do that without stepping on any toes or pissing anyone off.

Yeah, right.


Alison said...

Recently I brought up a very traumatic incident I had with my Mother growing up (when and how she chose to tell my brother and I we were moving to Japan) and was shocked to find she didn't even remember it! It's funny how some things make such a big impression on us, and don't even tip the scales for others!

Lisa said...

I think you're doing great, keep up the wonderful writing, and for what it's worth, my toes are happily not pissed off (or on, thank goodness) at all :)

grandmem said...

you know, now that it's over, i can see how the anniversary thing would make a good story - and one with a happy ending! it was just kind of hard to live through. trust is what it was about. i trusted me, but didn't trust you because you were just my little girl, not a competent grown up. now i know better, but it was a difficult process.

Meg said...

It was just an example of perspective- trust to you, something else to me. And, actually that's not something I'd like to write about at all. :) you go right ahead if you like, and i promise to not feel bumped or infringed upon.

Anonymous said...

What I remember is the party for your grandmother's 80th birthday - and how you and your cousin Danae did the whole party meal for dozens of family, and smiled, and cleaned up, and smiled. You were all of 14. And your eldest aunt dithered and groaned and said it wasn't possible for you and Danae to do it all, and I told her to relax, it would be perfect. and it was. so why couldn't i get into that attitude for my anniversary party? we must all get grumpier as we get older, and goodness knows, but i'm pretty old.