Tuesday, November 6, 2007


I mentioned the panel discussion I went to at the Country Music Hall of Fame on Saturday. It featured Scott Miller, Chris Knight (both singer-songwriters), William Gay and Silas House (both novelists), and was generally a discussion about music and writing and the places they meet. The writers were talking about how music influences their work, and the musicians were talking about literature and how it inspires them. It was a really great experience. They all played songs or read excerpts, and it was a great pairing of Southern artists who share some history in different ways. William Gay read part of a biographical essay he'd written about Bob Dylan, and it was touching and funny and a beautiful depiction of an era I can only imagine.

They also took questions from the audience. Someone asked, when they write about people they know, do they ask those people for permission first? And Chris Knight answered that none of the people he writes about would recognize themselves. They all talked a little about how much of their real lives they are willing to reveal, and Scott quoted someone else (I should look it up): "Reality don't rhyme." He says you write about what you know, but you take poetic license in transferring it to song (or words).

This weekend I read Which Brings Me to You, by Steve Almond and Julianna Baggott. I really enjoyed it, it was a quick and slightly guilty read, a novel written in the format of a man and woman getting to know each other through letters. The letters were "confessions," mostly of the sexual/relationship variety. Pretty intense, a little bit graphic, and very detailed in truth. And I know it is fiction, but I'm also guessing that a lot of this book is based in real life, on real experiences, on real people from these authors' lives.

When I'm reading good fiction, I usually end up mimicking the language and style (unintentionally) in my subsequent writing. Just like when you talk to someone from Minnesota and find yourself saying, "Ya! I knoooo!" So the things I've been thinking about writing this week have been rather confessional in nature. I think about what I would say if I were to write an essay about the first heart that I broke, or the first time I cheated. I wonder if I have the right to write about those things, who I could hurt by going there, the men who I was dating at those times, or my Mom, who probably doesn't want to hear about it. There are a lot of things I think I can't write because I don't want my mom to read them. Truths about our family, or about things I've done that I regret. And those are the things that, I think, I write about the best. Do you know what I mean? That is the creative gray area where I find it easiest to use my own language, my own style.

My mom is a really private person. There are aspects of her past that are locked up in a box, and that has always fascinated me, because I know I'm just not, naturally, that way. I wrote once about that feature that I share with my father, the "artist's death wish to rip open our ribs and show the world our blackened, smoke-spun entrails" (I was in college when I wrote that, I was a little wordy). I very rarely keep secrets, particularly not my own, and I'm not shy about discussing personal details. My father, as we all know, will always say the thing he shouldn't have said. The thing that makes you say, "I really wish I did NOT know that, Dad." And it's mostly humorous, he's a quirky guy, and an amazing writer, and brave in the way only writers are.

I guess my point is this: what should I allow myself to say, out loud, to the world? Should I be more aware of private information, of other peoples' lives? Should I say the bold thing and stand up for it later? Should I start the anthropological self-study that I have always threatened, to start picking apart the web of similarities and differences between my sisters and me, how we ended up the way we are? I think they probably don't want me to do that. It's against my nature to be secretive, but that isn't the same thing, is it? Secrets and discretion, not the same. Privacy and hiding, not the same. That's what I remember about my childhood; we lived in privacy, we were not hiding. There was no avoidance. Just effort withheld? I wonder what I really mean here.

Many members of the blogosphere put a lot of effort into privacy, maintaining their anonymity and that of those around them. They use initials or nicknames, they don't put their own name in their URL (!), they don't post photos. And I understand why they don't, but I've just sort of not felt the need. You people know who I am, right? I'm not keeping any secrets, that's what I tell myself. I use my family's real names, I provide pictures of my home, I use details from my real life that aren't that hard to find. And now, today, I sort of wish I didn't. I'm realizing that there are probably people out there, in the big bad world, who I don't want to know where I live. Who I want to pretend are just not out there. My Myspace profile isn't private, I've put links on blogspot to my online photo albums, I hope I never have to regret this. Today I'm on the fence.

The best writing that I've done in my life, the writing that has made me want to not move away from that aspect of myself, has all been, to a word, biographical. I'm not a fiction writer, and when I tried, I just wrote the truth. But what have I done in my life to justify a biography, a memoir? I'm only 30. I'm not famous, or accomplished, or well-traveled, or particularly interesting in any of my experiences. All that I'm doing is journaling, documenting, observing. We live in an era where everyone keeps diaries again, and anyone can read them. I used to write lies in my diary when I was a little girl, tall tales about boys I had kissed or money I had found, and then be certain to leave the diary where my sisters would find it, and tell myself that they were secretly in awe of my wild, false accomplishments.

Now I'm blogging, and I'm doing this NaBloPoMo thing, and as with writing classes in school, the writing is there for me now, more and more every day, the words and the ideas are more accessible if I keep them towards the surface, need them daily. I'm trying to find the right place for them, the right use, to press the righteous truth to the forefront, and not fall back into the show-off little girl, with her lies and manipulative placements. But I also don't want to betray anyone with a truth that is theirs to hide, and I don't want to later wish that I was in hiding and safe behind a nickname, safe from anyone who would misuse my personal life, or misconstrue my habit of sharing with a desire to be shared.

It's dark outside, and I'm still at work, and I've got to run home and scoop up my dog and take her to puppy class and then rush to Book Club, for the best of Girl Time. I'm not sure that I have even said what I mean here today, but I'm glad that I'll have the chance, tomorrow and the next day, to keep looking for it. Thanks for letting me do that with you.


k said...

I totally understand what you mean here. Respecting privacy, but still writing about what you want/need to.

Someone famous (can't remember who) said something (can't remember it exactly) that was something like:

"There is no greater curse than to have a writer born into the family."

Very true.

Vickie said...

Well, I am a private person because I give heavily at the office and I learned to keep things to myself as a kid, but it may be time, Grasshopper. You, me, and the battered brown suitcase that may or may not have belonged to Grandpa Isleib--I've dragged it to every home I've lived in since I was 18. Love letters circa 1964-1974. Remember when I cuddled up with you to watch "The Long, Hot Summer" on that Christmas Day when you were 14? I do believe you're ready.

CDG said...

You know, this is the first time I've thought about the flip side of you writing the sister book. I've always thought it was a great idea, but then lately I've been reading David Sedaris and I always think "his POOR sisters!" But I still support it. I imagine anything you said about me that I didn't like (regardless of how completely accurate it is), I would just decide that you were wrong, right?