A Good Chat, a Good Chap: Writing About Alive People

from Flickr user CraigeMorsels
from Flickr user CraigeMorsels

One of the many things that I laugh at myself about is that I’m 32. There’s really no call for me to be writing a memoir. I’ve got no business.

I don’t think it would matter what I was working on, I’d feel like I had no business writing it.

Another thing that gives me chuckles and massive, intestine-twisting anxiety in equal parts is that I’m writing a lot about alive people.

Some of these alive people are people with whom I’ve not been on the greatest terms for some time. A lot of them are members of my family.

And this is shitty, but I really am not worried too much about writing stuff about my parents. They might be upset with me for a while, but they won’t stop talking to me forever, because they love the hell out of their grandchild. Who knew that having a baby at 24, which is one of the many things I’m writing about, would protect me from memoir backlash in the future? Ha!

I’m working through an edition of Writing the Memoir: From Truth To Art, and the section on writing about people who are alive says (this is a paraphrase),

You have a responsibility to the people you’re writing about other than yourself, you don’t necessarily have to stop what you’re doing, but you have to understand that what you’re doing may have larger consequences for them, and is it worth it? The limits of responsibility and how to define them vary from writer to writer, from story to story. Some people do it this way, others do it another way, your answer will depend on your sense of ethics and your willingness to open yourself to legal trouble. More on that in the appendix.

The appendix says that memoirists have to worry about defamation and invasion of privacy. There are a bunch of things that a work has to be in order to be defaming, and one of the things is false, so I feel fairly safe from that one. It also says you’re probably okay if you change names and avoid specifically identifiable information, which I would do anyway, because I worry about getting sued, and when pressed, about potential harm to the people I know or have known, even though some of them deserve my ire.

I’m not sure I’m fond of the idea of literary revenge. It strikes me as unproductive and ultimately unsatisfactory. I am trying to be fair, even when it is hard.

Of course, I’ve thought a lot about this.

Good Chap

Over the past several weeks, you’ve read some stories involving others. Sometimes those stories have been intimate, like in the post about my sister and I showering together.

I sent my sister the copy I intended to use, and she said, “well, that’s not exactly how I remember it, but that’s the beauty of narrative, right?” She gave me her blessing.

Earlier this week, I wrote about the first time I ever gave a guy a blow job. It was a thing I really hadn’t thought about in probably years, and it just leapt off my fingers.

And that hasn’t been posted yet, but it will be.

And I felt like, since that guy is still alive, and since we have friends in common, and since I thought it would be shitty for him to get a phone call something like this:

“Hello.”

“OH MY GOD, DUDE, APRIL WROTE ABOUT YOU ON HER BLOG!”

[silence]

“I DIDN’T KNOW YOUR PENIS IS RED!”

it would be classy of me to spare him by getting his permission, or at least say, “This is what I’m doing.  I’d love to use your real name. What are your thoughts?”

Because that guy possesses Mad Literary Respec, he said, (paraphrasing again, to protect the innocent) You totally weren’t required to ask me, but I appreciate it that you did. I’m cool as long as you don’t use my real name.

Then I said, “Dangit. Your real name is perfect.”

Then he said, “How about Leo?”

Then I said, “Baller.”

But Penelope says that you should never be afraid to get permission or to negotiate.

And doing that, which is sometimes way out of my comfort zone, is one of the many ways in which I shall grow, a lot, by writing this thing, and already have, and some of the other gajillion reasons I really don’t care if it never sees the light of day beyond this blog (though I’m totally operating under the assumption that somebody will publish it. How’s that for self-aggrandizing paradox?).

So what I’m saying here is that the more I write, the more I find that there are so, so few hard-and-fast rules that I should just do it, go with my gut, and work out the rest of it later.

I offer the same to you: Just do it. Carpe Diem. Now or never. Feliz Navidad. Etc.

Shit Got Real or One Bite At a Time

I’ve been writing this post in my head for a while.

Been wanting to give you and me a break from the memoir drafting stuff.

From flickr user MrsDKrebs
From flickr user MrsDKrebs

It is hard, hard, hard to be in self-examination mode, and to stay there, and to stay sane. I spent a lot of last week weeping. Part of it is I was half sick, but I’m feeling good today, forward momentum for the first time in like nine days.

It doesn’t usually take me that long to get it back.

I’ve learned some shit about myself and some of it ain’t easy to deal with. And none of it is easy to accept responsibility for. But at the end of all of this, I hope I’ll be a better person.

But that’s not what I mean by Real.

What I mean is that I am finally, finally, finally actualizing. I have been thinking about myself as a writer since I was a kid. But I have spent an absurd amount of energy and ambition and intellect trying not to be a writer.

And for about the last year, I’ve paid lip service to being a writer, and have been looking for the way home, and have been doing a lot of right things, but somehow missing the mark.

And it’s true that almost no writers get to be only writers. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about centering myself around my sense of myself as a writer.

Doing that helps me to make better choices about all the other things that are compulsory owing to adult responsibilities.

I suddenly do not feel like I’m missing out on some mirage on the horizon if I take an afternoon off, or if I take a long walk for no reason other than to walk, or if I take a day off, or if I just don’t do anything for a little while. I feel like I’m recharging. I feel like I’m getting back to the bricks of the story I’m always writing in my head.

I feel like a writer, I am all right with it. It is the rightest, goodest thing in my life. Owning it is the best thing I have ever done for my mental health.

Yes, Child is superb, but I generally feel like a fuckup of a parent. I am a better writer than I am a mother. I’ve had loads more practice

How I got home:

1. I write every day. My own work. Not stuff I’m getting paid to write, not articles, not blog posts. I make my own art five out of seven days. I view the writing I’m being paid for or the blog as other work, and I do it at a different time of day, and I think of it as separate from my own writing.

2. I read every day. Not shit I’m getting paid to read, shit that helps me be a better writer. Shit that is neither shit, nor uses the word shit as liberally as I have in this blog post.

3. I learned the value of spending time around other writers sometimes. I am giddy, giddy, giddy about going to AWP in like eight days.  I will hear smart people talk about writing for an entire weekend, and if I am brave, I will hunt down writers whose work I like and tell them I like it. I will also get a literary tattoo with my friend, Brooke.

4. I feel comfortable with my sense of myself in a way that is difficult to describe. It is like finding the perfect pair of Jeans? I have spent my life looking for this perfect cut, color, fit, and here they are, and now that I’m wearing them, I never want to take them off? That they make me feel and look so, so fucking good that I am more confident and capable willing to wrestle adversity to the floor? That’s an imperfect analog, because it feels even better than that.

In my next memoir

I will try to figure out how and why I have always known I am a writer, but got the idea that it was an invalid thing to be, or that I could never make any part of a living at it, or that I should try like hell to be something, anything else.

In the meantime, I’ve got about 145 pages out, another ten or so in progress, and ideas for at least a hundred after that, not counting the fleshing-out I’ll do in revision, or all of the trash I’ll make of things I’ve put in that don’t belong. This reminds me of that old joke: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Paydirt:

If you are an artist, be an artist. There are lots of people who will tell you why that’s a damn fool thing to want to be, and they might be right, but you’ll know if you have a choice, and if you don’t, don’t fight it. Just do it. And celebrate it. You won’t be thwarting that central part of yourself, so you’ll do better in all the other parts.

I got rid of half of my books: 2013

This is from Flickr user, Chillihead
This is from Flickr user, Chillihead

Until recently, half of what I own was books. Now, perhaps a quarter. I sat down with my book collection and I culled it. I looked at titles that I’d read, and would probably not read again, even my recently usurped *favorite* book which I owned in hardcover was tossed into a bin for donating.

It was hard.

The librophile inside me shouted out in anguish every time one hit the bottom of the bin with an unceremonious thud. I looked back, then stopped looking. I forced myself to go forward, chucking books into piles for riddance. I couldn’t think about it.

I even got rid of some books I haven’t read, I told myself that couldn’t be the metric. I told myself that if I got rid of the book and I wanted to read it at some future point, even though I hadn’t read it in the decade and a half during which I’d moved it from shitty apartment to shitty apartment, I could get a copy from the library or from AbeBooks, delivered to my house for $4.

And even though my books have been my compatriots, my solace, my joy, I simply do not need them. I do not want my daughter to dig me out of an avalanche of books in forty years because I cannot let go.

And Christ those things are heavy.

I did not want to move them again, and for the foreseeable future, I will be a person who moves often. After the culling was through, and my indoor-rummage sale relieved me of many fewer than I’d hoped, I couldn’t bring myself to send them off in the truck with the American Rescue Workers. But I stopped myself from putting them back on my shelves.

Instead, I put them back into big plastic bins and back into my studio where they sat for months. And every time I went to my studio, I would look at my bins of books for getting rid of and feel sad, and compelled to go through them “just to be sure.”

I was irritated that they were taking up so much real estate in my already cramped space, angry for the way in which the books were an albatross.

And though the old saying holds, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” I am not fonder of my books as I live farther away from them. I experience the space of perspective. I yearn to cull my collection further, to own the best six books I have ever read, the ones I “need” for reference, and keep the rest filtering through my eReader, which I do not yet own. But I want one.

Wanting an eReader is a new thing. But I don’t want it yet. I need more time to idealize.

And so my frenzied affection, emotional yearning for the heavy, paper book continues to supersede my better plans, but I am growing. I am learning to create boundaries for myself and books.