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.

Disappointing the Christian Republicans, It Hurts: 1997 – present

The last bit of this reads like I’m a PhD.  I’m not. I have a BA in English.  In the larger piece, that is clear before you get here.

Hanging out with some friends this weekend, we were talking about our parents and how it’s easy to say, “I don’t care what they think,” but that we never mean it. On some level, no matter how grown up and independent and smart and knowledgeable we become, we  will always crave our parents’ approval.  I am no exception, but I guess I don’t want their approval enough to engage in things I think are barmy.  Onward.

From Flickr User BuckDaddy
From Flickr User BuckDaddy

There are two classifications that are deeply important to my parents. The first is Christian, and if you can claim that one, you get a pass on everything else, even if you do not also espouse the second, Republican.  It helps if you are the Rush Limbaugh sort of Republican, because like a lot of my peers with Jon Stewart, My parents’ only source of news and analysis is Rush. They use terms like “feminazi” and “Slick Willy” without irony. I stopped paying attention, but I shudder to think what that lunatic is saying about Obama beyond “produce your birth certificate, Towel Head!”

When I told my father that I didn’t think I believed in God anymore, he wrung his little hands and said, “Where did we go wrong?”

I have attended a couple of holiday church services with them since leaving home, and each time I do, my poor dad gets this watery-eyed hope on his face that breaks my fucking heart. It is so important to him. I want to rub his back and say, “Dad, I love you, but this is not the answer for me. Don’t worry. In my own religious absolutism, my soul is just fine.” I also want to shake him and say, “If all this supernatural shit you believe about God is true, isn’t it reasonable to expect that god can be anything to anyone? How can you presume to understand anything about God?”

My father used to be my guide in all intellectual pursuits. To his credit, he gave me the sense of what it means to engage in critical thinking. He was just not expecting that to backfire on him. He was expecting me to continue to inoculate myself in his traditions and rhetorics and do the correct kind of critical thinking.  He cautioned me as I announced that I’d be starting college not to let those “liberal idiots” in academia turn me into one of them.

I can’t be sure, but I think he got the following from Rush, which he repeats with glee whenever anybody mentions educated people’s opinions.  BS PhD = Bullshit, Pile higher and deeper.

And so it is that I am a massive disappointment to my parents.

The Misogynist Rhetoric Runs Deep: 1980 – present

This is the beginning of a piece about sexual assault:

This is from Flickr User Hey Paul Studios
This is from Flickr User Hey Paul Studios

It is deep inside me, a sliver of an idea, an idea that I have tried to banish by reading feminist criticism, by performing in The Vagina Monologues, by reading those sad, captioned photos online that have rape victims holding white signs with handwritten quotations from their abusers, by paying attention to politics, espousing liberal, evolved beliefs, by talking about myself as a feminist, even though there are a lot of women—outside the leftist intelligentsia—who are afraid to call themselves that. I have no difficulty thinking of a woman’s right over her reproductive choices as not remotely debatable by anybody with a lick of sense. But I cannot shake this ugly little kernel of a thought that on some level, women deserve to be raped.

The misogynist rhetoric is so, so deeply ingrained. Take this list of facts and rhetorical oddities and crimes.

  1. My parents are fundamentalist Christians who oppose abortion, gay marriage, and still talk about liberty.
  2. I was raised with the notion that a woman’s place is at home. My mother trained me well in the domestic arts. By the time I was 12, I knew how to cook, clean, do laundry, and sew. I enjoyed cooking and doing laundry.
  3. I was taught to fear sex. Sex makes you have babies, and if you do it wrong, you can go to hell. Sex is sacred and not for discussing or for doing with strangers.
  4. My mother has often told me that I “think too much.”
  5. God punishes the wanton.  If women dress slutty, then the men around them have no choice but to do their Godly duty and teach them a rapey lesson.

Naturally, in college I learned that 100% of what I knew about being a woman and sex and having a spirituality was useless. My sense of spirituality was all about feeling guilty and asking God to make it stop. My sense of womanhood was slavery to a husband, baby making. My sense of sex was so broken and hung up that I’d become afraid to lose my virginity: I clung to it as this remaining bastion of legitimacy for the dogma that authored my childhood, my sense of how men and women are supposed to interact, and my own ridiculous, misogynist reflexes about why and how women come to be raped.

So around my twenty-first birthday, I set out to prove that God wouldn’t punish me for being “bad.”

What’s Next? or Why I’ve Been a Shitty Blogger and How I Plan to Change

from flickr user dbking
from flickr user dbking

You probably remember the days when I blogged five days a week.

And I doubt you’ve missed me.

But I’ve missed you.

See, I’m in this grad program for writing. It’s mostly online. I go two times a year for about a week to get my physical learning on, then the rest of the time I read and write about stuff and post it on the internet where classmates and instructors read it.

This is my first drafting semester for my book-length project that will earn me my MA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University.

Next year, around this time, I’ll start a thing known as a “critical paper” that will earn me my MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University.

But I’ve had to shave some stuff down in order to make time for this program, and consistent blogging was the first to go.

But it’s January, right?

time for resolutions and new beginnings and refreshed perspectives.

And I’ve got this great idea.

I’ll be writing for two hours a day on my creative project.

And three times a week, I’m going to post stuff from my journey here.

You can feel free to comment or hate.

It’s not going to be chapters. It’ll be 400-500 words at a slice, edited for the reading habits of screen-lookers.

And it’ll probably often be funny, and sometimes it’ll be sad, and sometimes, it’ll make you scratch your head and go “what the what?”

So I’ll be seeing you on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. EST.

Looking forward to you.

Love.

Come To My Workshop…N’stuff.

http://ellenandjonswedding.tumblr.com/
Ellen & Jon

 Come to my workshop.  Read all about it here.  It’s Tuesday night, Feb 21, Penn College’s Madigan Library.  I’m going to be talking about illustrated journaling.  The library staff bought journals and supplies, so if you come, you get a free journal.

TIME: 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
PLACE: Madigan Library, Room 200
OTHER STUFF: Register Here, or just show up.  You get a FREE journal.  Snacks.
WHAT’S DIFFERENT?:  This workshop is more about process than about methodology, HOWEVER, we will discuss lesser-considered methods of “illustrating” for folks who are not blessed with drawing abilities.

Another Thing:

I’m giving workshops that start in March and this summer at Penn College in the Workforce Development and Continuing Education program.

Reading and Writing the Story is on Wednesdays March 7 to April 11.  It’s very inexpensive, and it’ll be great.  Just ask the testimonials up yonder.

Personal Narrative and Memoir, Going Deep is on Thursdays from March 8 to April 12.  This one’s going to be about telling your own story, including reading parts of other people’s stories, figuring out how to make your story one that other people want to read, and how to access it when going gets rough.

More thing:

My sweet sister is  getting married this summer.  I have seen wedding websites before, but they have never been as clever as this one.  My sister and her soon-to-be hubby are really classy people.  I read their site and got a little weepy and fully of pride.  So you should check it out.  Here’s why: maybe you yourself or somebody you know is getting married?  Tell them to make a website like this one, and not like these stupid ones.

Last thing:

This post is great.  Go forth, read it.  And Oh yeah, click around while you’re there, because my friend Jamie writes tons of great stuff about books.  Her end of year list of books that she linked from her site through the year is particularly happy.

Amazing News for November 1st & Thanks

This is from http://www.aspiremag.net

It’s a little early for New Year’s thinking, but I find myself in a place of reflection, and with the desire to re-examine where I want to land.  I’ve been doing some reading along these lines: things about how to run my freelance business better, how to get writing work from writing for free, etc.

In that vein, November 1st, an essay I wrote about my interview with Rosemary Wells will appear on Jane Friedman’s blog.

Jane Friedman is a giant in the industry I am trying to infiltrate as a freelance writer and writing teacher.  I am both honored and excited to have the opportunity.  Plus, she liked my essay.  And said so.  Both to me and to her audience.

I am also hoping, with my fingers crossed, and my eyes squeezed shut, and my spiritual observances made, that the essay yields an inquiry or two into my services as a writer.

One of the awesome things about being self employed is that I have total control over the focus of my business.

This same awesome thing can be hugely dangerous for a person like myself who has obsessive focus and drive, but can switch gears quickly and often, especially if something new is more interesting (or potentially more lucrative).  For example: my present focus in writing is divided in three. I am doing some short stories, a novel, and some personal essays.  I am thinking about learning graphic design. For a time, I was obsessively pursuing additional proofing and copy editing work.  But the last two are not my passion.  They are a distraction.

At the core of what I want to be now, and what I have always wanted to be, is a wordsmith tapping away at the keyboard for 8 hours a day (or more), journaling at the park while her kid plays, and 10-year-plan style, retreating to some secluded place in the summer for writing solace and fulfillment.

And on more levels than some other people with my same credentials, I am successful.  But I’m not there yet.

So thank you, people who read this blog: those of you whom I know, whom I don’t know, whom I hope to someday know.  Your consistent visits here encourage me on a daily basis.  And any greater success I obtain will be yours, too.  Since what I write doesn’t matter a lick without you who read.

And thank you, Jane Friedman, for lending me your audience.

Onward.