10 October 2013

31 Days - Talking About People I Know

I am participating in a 31 Days Campaign and am finally going to finish my memoirs. About her.


Writing about real events inevitably involves real people who sometimes don't say or do the best of things at a time of great vulnerability. It's hard to write about those events without hurting the person who said or did them.

For example, shortly after Abigail was born, a person very close to me said something with the most loving of intentions that really hurt. In fact, it still kinda hurts today.

That was a really bland, vague, boring two sentences. But it hints at something really juicy. Something that readers would probably find way more touching to read about. But if I do get really explicit, I'm gonna hurt people's feelings. I don't want to memorialize people in a book as "the one person who said that one mean thing." And how terrible would it be if it turned out that I just mis-interpreted someone's actions and they really didn't mean what I thought I heard?

But the blatantly honest truth is that almost everyone I know said something that hurt. No one's life turns out how they were expecting, but my life got turned upside down in a way most people's don't. So most people don't understand the turbulent pain, frustration, depression, hopelessness that overcame me at the time. So they said stupid things. But the truth is this: I don't even know now what I wished people had told me. I'm not even sure I know what I would tell other people going through this. I think I'd say something along the lines of: "Welcome to the club. It sucks at times. A lot. But it gets better too. Eventually, you'll even feel good again." Mostly I'd just be there for them. Promise to watch their kids. Promise to go with them to doctor's appointments. Promise to make them dinner. Promise to let them cry. Promise to gather whatever resources they were craving at the time. Not many people were just there for me because I shoved everyone away as my form of grieving.

So I can't really blame them for saying mean things/things I took as mean things. And I don't want to call them out on it in real life. Sometimes, when I felt a story was really important for a reader, I just changed some key details. Now it goes something like this:

Shortly after Abigail the nurses brought up the suspicion that Abigail might have Down syndrome, I confided in my friend, Michelle. As I stood there, about to break, tears welling up in my eyes, ready to fall, she tried to console me: "I'm so glad my children will be able to grow up around someone with Down syndrome!"

What an awful, shitty thing to say, amiright?  Now the real Michelle might remember saying this to me, might realize it hurt me, and might feel bad. But I gotta talk about some of these things and this seems like a respectful compromise. And hopefully if she is mad, she won't be on the defensive because no one knows it's her.

I can't talk about all the touching, tragic, and memorable stories because sometimes I can't change the details without it affecting the impact of the story. Like, if the offender is a family member. Changing it to friend or acquaintance takes away the impact, but if I leave it as family member, everyone whose a member of my family will know who I'm talking about. Significantly stickier.

Anyway, this is one detail I'd really like to research as I go through the editing process this month. There must be advice from other memoir writers on this delicate topic. If you know of any in particular, feel free to send them my way.

1 comment:

In A Perfect World said...

I remember all the hurtful things people said to my cousin when her 2 year old son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I think people mean well, and just don't realize what they are saying is hurtful. However, that doesn't mean it should never be addressed either! I think changing names/relations works best. You're not outing anyone specifically, yet making a point that they should be more mindful about what they say in the future! And it may even cause the "offending" individuals to apologize to you and resulting in much needed reconciliation/healing from the harmful words.