Last April I went to visit my Grandma in the hospital. She was suffering from a broken hip and was having trouble keeping track of reality while she was there. She is much improved now, back at home and back to normal. Yet during that time we all worried for her very much. I did what I usually do, which is to blog about the things that were going on. My dad read the post, told me it was good, but then requested that I be careful about what I post because there are times when grandma reads my posts. This seemed to be a fair and reasonable request to me. I always try to be mindful of possible audience when I say things in public, particularly on the internet.
Yet, my brain was full of thoughts, memories, and emotions. They swirled in my head and I knew that the only way to calm the noise was to pin these thoughts into written words. Writing clarifies me to myself. It is how I sort and make sense of the things that happen to me. I talked to Howard and his wise advice was for me to write it all anyway, just don’t post it. So that is what I did. I wrapped words around all the things I was thinking and I delved deep to figure out what I was feeling. Because I knew I was the only audience, I was freed from being careful. I wrote what I needed to write without fear that it would hurt anyone else.
I have many beloved people in my life who choose not to be public on the internet. They are cautious about online interactions and generally avoid social media. I love them and respect their choices. However I have thoughts and experiences about things which include them. There are stories I would like to write out, except that I fear it would upset someone. I see this often with my children. They have friendship troubles, emotional trials, and health concerns with affect me. I have to think these things through, sort them out for myself so that I know how and when to help. I write it all down and don’t post it.
Lately I’ve been reading the blog of C. Jane Kendrick. She recently posted about telling her life story and why she thinks it is important for her–and all of us–to do so. She had one reader ask her the question “I want to write my story but there have been some terrible experiences that would scare someone to read, should I still write it?” Jane’s answer sounded wise to me:
Don’t we all have those experiences? Terrible, scary experiences? Hurt, pain, anger? Threatening ex-husbands?! If we gloss over those parts how will our children navigate those experiences when they have them? Are the deep wounds as important to flesh out as the times of joy? I say yes. But cautiously, and only when those stories asked to be plucked.
–from The Thing About Mary by C. Jane Kendrick
Yes some of life’s stories are hard, but not talking about them just means that everyone who faces these same hard things feels alone. We need to be willing to share our hard stories because my hard story can be someone else’s road map to survival. I know that I’ve used other people’s experiences as maps for my life. This is why I’ve posted about radiation therapy, my sister’s cancer, my anxieties, diagnosis and selecting medication for my children. Hard things will come to me in the future and I’ll write about those things too. When I write about a hard thing and it becomes useful to someone else, then that hard thing is redeemed for me. It has a point and a purpose.
Yet my belief in telling the hard stories often comes into conflict with my desire to respect the privacy and feelings of others. I have in my heart–and I apply it to all my writing–a version of the Hippocratic oath, First Do No Harm. This becomes difficult when my head is full of hard stories that I need to write, but worry will cause a problem for others. Sometimes I need to post them anyway, because the value is important. Mostly I write them but don’t post.
Sometimes I forget about the option to write and not post. I get so tangled up in thinking about things and respecting others that my brain gets clogged with stories I am not telling. My brain becomes like a slow drain which needs to be cleared. Last night I wrote three different essays of 800 words each. They fell out of my brain one after the other, filled with stories that I needed to write knowing that I would not post them. When I was done I read back over them and realized that 90% of what I’d written was perfectly fine to be public. The remaining 10% could be re-written so that the story was told without doing harm. This is often the case, but I first have to write the story without fear.
Memoir and blog posts are best when they do not pull their punches, when the writer does not shy away from telling the hard stories. However I enjoy them most when the writer is not vindictive or angry, but rather expressing calmness and forgiveness. I try to do that. I try to make sure I tell my stories in ways that do not injure, even though I know that this sometimes weakens the stories. But sometimes I need to write without softening anything. Even though I know no one else will ever read it. Even when I sometimes erase it as soon as I am done. The act of writing the hard stories changes me. I emerge with a clearer sense of where I am and where I need to go. This is why I sometimes write things that I do not post.