It’s your story and you get to tell it. I’ve ruminated on this statement all week. I think I fear the act of writing because of a fear of offending or hurting those in my life who are a part of my story. I listen to a lot of podcasts and heard one this week that dealt with the topic of telling your story. Is it OK to tell your story if parts of it involve others who don’t come out of the telling in a totally positive light? When is it OK to tell the whole truth (as you see it) and when is it better to keep the telling inside to protect?
Does the telling of truth take precedence over the feelings of individuals? If in telling one’s story, can total honesty ever be the wrong policy? Part of me argues that honesty is always the best choice – that no matter how ugly that truth may be, the airing of that truth in the context of telling your own story is the ultimate goal and purpose of good writing. However, I can also see the side that the need to protect the “innocent” in the telling of your story should be honored as well. Maybe that is why fiction was invented? Maybe telling your “true” story in the context of a fictionalized piece is the best of both worlds? I don’t know. Maybe the only way to really protect those in your life who are by their very existence a part of your story, is to wait until everyone has died – of course that poses a problem because we do not live in completely isolated worlds. The possibility that everyone who might be painted in a less than positive light in the story telling being dead AND you, the writer, still being alive and in control of your writing faculties is less than good.
Of course, there is also the reality that our perceptions become our realities, so when telling one’s own story, the way in which we approach the world and our own internal dialogue and motivations will of course color the telling. I may have experienced something in a particular way, remembered others’ reactions, words and motivations in the context of how I experienced it; and completely misrepresent that experience in the telling. I hate the term “tell YOUR truth” because truth is just truth. However, I do think our interpretation of that truth can change given our own personal biases and experiences. And so I circle back to the dilemma of do you tell your story and damn the consequences because your story is your truth and you have the right to tell your story?
What is one to do?
I have a desire to write past the cute daily experiences of my simple life. I have a desire to dig into the depths of what it means to be who I am at this moment in time. I’d like to write about the human experiences that shape us – and the only way I know how to do that is to write those things in the context of how they have shaped ME. To get to those deeper things, one has to begin at the beginning and work towards the now. None of us arrive at this specific point in life without bumping up against others in many different depths of relationship and so, to go deeper in the world of writing, one obviously needs to discuss life experiences, people and impacts that make you – YOU.
Are these words that should stay within the covers of a journal or put into the world? Writers write. I fancy myself a writer. If I write, and that writing reveals things that are for me impactful but maybe not positive for others who were participants in my story, is that something that should stay with me. Am I still a writer if no one reads my words? Does it still count?
I think at its core writing is a bit narcissistic. We write to be seen and known. We write to yell into the darkness – “This is me and please, see ME!” But on the flip side of that narcissism is the reader who recognizes themselves in a writing and feels less alone – is that reverse narcissism? Again, I don’t know.
This all seems a little vague – so let me tell you a story. A part of my story that involves others. Is this my story to tell to the world? Or is this an example of a “Dear Diary” entry, best left to the cathartic art of putting things down on paper and “getting it out” but keeping it from public consumption.
I was not a cool kid. I was chubby and awkward and desperately wanted to fit in. I was not overly smart. I was not overly talented. I was not overly anything other than loud. I was incredibly loud. I had a voice that would cut through a room. I still do, as I was reminded by a friend the other day. I have clear memories of sitting in my room in front of my mirror trying to teach myself how to speak more quietly. I would practice being quiet and unobtrusive and I guess “cool”. I never got good at it. I still am not good at it.
I would have long internal conversations with myself about how I could be quiet and cool. I would internally lecture myself about the best way to enter a room and be mysterious – not loud and obnoxious. In my mind, being quiet equaled being cool. Being quiet would make me more interesting because being quiet would make me the type of person that other people would want to know – mysterious is always more intriguing than obvious and loud. Also, as that chubby awkward girl – I should probably be quiet because it would make the awkwardness less on display.
As often happens in life, I had a friend (her name was Amy – at that point in my life, having a name with a “y” at the end was the epitome of cool) who personified everything I was not. She was not awkward, she was not chubby, and she was not loud. She seemed to always have the “right” things – her school supply game was on point. She wore the long flowy dress to the school talent night; while I tried to hide in my shorter (not cool) dress and knee socks. Of course, we sang a song together so the contrast was on display for all to see. To compensate, I just sang louder.
Adults liked Amy. She never came into a room mouth first. She was quiet. She just seemed to have the socially correct response to every situation. I envied her so much. I wanted to be her. But no matter how hard I tried, I could never remember to actually BE QUIET. I could not imagine her in her bedroom, schooling herself on being quiet and demure – she just WAS those things and she didn’t have to try to be. She seemed to be a person who “fit” wherever she was and whatever she was doing. This may be a completely false memory – maybe she was in fact more awkward than I remember. Maybe she was plagued with self-doubt and was also consumed with the comparison game. If she was, she hid it well. Because even all these years later, I remember her only as self-assured and perfectly at ease. I doubt anyone ever told her that her voice cut through a room. I can’t imagine her ever being referred to as incredibly loud. I doubt she, as an adult, has conversations with herself about being quiet. But I could be completely wrong.
Now, this is how we tie this whole thing together. This is a story about my perceived inadequacies. This is a story about how I started at a very young age to gauge my worth in comparison to others and how I perceived their superiority to myself. This is a story of what began silly and insignificant like the length of one’s dress at a talent show, but has blossomed into how I approach every social interaction.
They say we never grow out of being in high school. I would argue you never grow out of your first realization that you aren’t what you think others are, and the resulting life-long habit of comparison that ensues. And I don’t want to hear about how comparison is the thief of joy and blah blah – we all compare ourselves to each other. Some of that is good; and some of that is bad. But it just is and that is not the point of this writing.
This is my story – but Amy was part of this story – is this my story to tell? I don’t know where Amy is these days – I’ve actually searched for her on social media but 35 plus years removed from our childhood has put locating her out of reach. However, if I had the opportunity to contact her, would I need to ask permission to include her in my story? Would she even care? Do I care if she would care? I don’t know – I don’t have answers in this writing. Just chewing on the topic and putting words to paper because I’m a writer – and I write.