Thursday, March 29, 2007

Airing Your Laundry, and Shaking Dirt in Someone's Eye

Slate has an interesting series this week in which memoirists explain how writing about their lives has affected the people around them. It's fascinating to read about the aching pile of lovers who feel betrayed, or who wish they had merited a different portrayal ("I will forgive you for just referring to me as a pack a day smoker who laughed at your jokes in history class instead of your girlfriend who gave you lots of blow jobs, because I understand that in a memoir there is not room enough for everyone."). It's sad to read about families who were torn up over what was written about them, who sued and cried and railed against the writer. It's encouraging to read about those who admit life can be raw and ugly and painful and still admire the honest work (as honest as memory can be, at any rate) that was done by their friend or family member.

I've not done much writing about my personal life, and the small amount I have done has appeared only on this website. And even so, it's reverberated in my personal life in ways of which I'm aware and ways in which I probably am not. My mother found this site a few years ago and was horrified, embarassed, and furious that I was airing what she thought was dirty family laundry here (albeit more or less anonymously). There are many things I don't write about here because I don't want to embarass or upset my family; I extend that courtesy because I want to protect them, and because I want to protect myself from estrangement. I'm not looking to write a book, and certainly not a memoir, but in the dark, mean corners of my heart the strongest reaction to my mother's protestations were that 1) if the bad stuff weren't going down, I wouldn't be writing about it; ergo, it is not my fault and 2) she was lucky I wasn't trying to cut a book deal and the only people privy to it were those fishing around on the web, and probably didn't know me at all. It was a threatening, revenge-tinged thing to feel (and certainly I wouldn't want either of those emotions to motivate any larger piece of writing I did), but I'm ashamed to say I felt it nonetheless.

In an age where all facets of people's lives are increasingly splayed scattershot across web, I suppose what our web presence looks like -- to family, friends, potential suitors or employers -- is something we all have to monitor, for better or worse. When you google my full name, one of the first things that comes up is a story I wrote many years ago, when I was still grieving and feeling particularly cheated, about a beloved ex boyfriend of mine who broke up with me because he realized he was gay. I don't know how that being out there for him to see has affected him. And I also don't know, really, how in the end its presence has affected me, because I have no idea how people who run across it might interpret it or how it might alter their perception of me.

This isn't something I sit around fretting about ceaselessly. But the Slate articles provide a good cross-sectional view of how writing in any capacity can affect your life, and the lives of those around you, in a way that is unique to people who make their living by weilding a pen.


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