Sibling! (Photo credit: Gus Dahlberg)
Great post from Romanian writer/blogger Christian Mihai:
A lot of writers out there, if asked, will say that writing isn’t easy. But it’s not because of the rules you have to obey, or the conventions, or the need of a vivid imagination. Writing isn’t easy because you have to relieve the most painful moments of your life, over and over again, and then you have to write them down, hoping that they’ll matter to someone else other than yourself.
I plan to write a second memoir, some day, about my family, as people have urged me to do and as I want to do. But it won’t be easy or simple or fun. I have three half-siblings, one of whom refuses to speak to me and one of whom I’ve never met; the only time we spoke, on the phone from London to Quebec in June 2003, she said “See you at the funeral.”
Readers of this blog know I occasionally touch the third rail of true honesty about some of the darker, tougher stuff in my life, like this post about how my mother and I have no relationship anymore, and have not spoken since May 2011. That post has 66 comments, and prompted some of the most honest and compassionate conversation we’ve ever had here.
My mother and I probably won’t ever speak again. I’m her only child. It hurts every single day.
But I don’t write about it, here or elsewhere for a few reasons:
— There’s no solution. She has dementia and is attended to by a woman I loathe who has made sure to paint me as a demon and she as the avenging angel. That script is deeply seductive to my mother.
— She lives a six-hour flight away from me and my limited time and funds for leisure travel don’t make me eager to step back into that minefield. I spent too many miserable years watching her gulp alcohol while I waited for the inevitable shit to hit a very large fan. It did.
— I loathe confessional writing that’s supposed to tug at my heartstrings. I don’t write it and I don’t read it. If I even have heartstrings, they are wrapped in five layers of Kevlar by now.
There is much I will never write about here. One female reader, from Kenya, asked me to write more about my struggles. I wrote her back to ask what she meant, but she never replied to my email.
Frankly, I’m not persuaded that focusing on struggle by writing about it to an audience of strangers accomplishes much. Writing about it can feel whiny and self-indulgent.
Although this writer, (a journalist and Hollywood veteran), who has produced only a few blog posts — each of astonishing emotional clarity — makes me feel differently about this subject:
I don’t know what my boss saw in me but I was relieved some good quality shined through. It was clear on the first day that we had a connection. She had lost her mother recently, and when she asked why I was jobless I said I’d moved home to take care of my mom while she was sick with cancer.
The day my boss hired me, she asked about the type of cancer and my mom’s age, and I told her the story. She was so sympathetic, I had a hard time not crying. Finally a workplace that was sensitive and nurturing, capable of seeing my pain and not finding it a turn off or unattractive.
Suddenly, all the things I didn’t enjoy about working in media and in Hollywood became obvious — the unspoken competitiveness between writers, the constant insecurity that you’re not young enough to be employable, the expectation that you will always be or act happy, the arbitrary way with which your work can be cast aside by a studio exec or an editor after months of toiling. Not knowing why they said no to publishing or producing your writing. It all creates this paranoia and lack of trust that permeates every action.
If you never read Freshly Pressed, you must start! I read it every day and almost always find something astonishingly good there; they’ve really upped their game from a few months ago when all they featured were photo, food and travel blogs.
I know someone, only peripherally, on Facebook, a male writer my age who is suffering — and that is truly the word — from Parkinson’s disease. I have very mixed feelings about the endless medical and emotional detail he spills there. I feel compassion but I also, I admit, feel irritation at so much uninvited intimacy.
That may be my problem, of course.
Here’s a lucid and lovely blog post by novelist Dani Shapiro on the disconnect — and it’s a very real one — between how private many writers really are and how public we must be in order to grow audiences for our work:
What I’m getting at here is the complexity of being a person at once deeply private and shockingly public. A person who spends days — weeks — speaking as little as possible, a person for whom the word “hermitage” is appealing, and a person who sits in front of an audience, speaking into a microphone, telling stories (jokes, even!) and looking — in fact, being — comfortable. It’s a split-screen, this writer’s life…It requires a kind of armor…
The absolute vulnerability necessary to write something real, honest, and universal is at odds with the public self. Yesterday, during my event, there was a woman in the back row (there’s always one) who, every time I looked her way, rolled her eyes. I mean, really rolled her eyes. A full eye-roll, heavenward. Her body language said: I’m not buying it. It said, I’m bored to tears, when will this be over? Now, the rest of the audience seemed very engaged, even rapt. But because I’m a writer––because I am a sensitive creature with less armor than most––and, because in order to give a good talk, I in fact need to be vulnerable, I directed my talk to the eye-roller. I couldn’t stop thinking about her. How was I failing? Where was I going wrong? Why, oh why, didn’t she like me? It’s the next day, and I’m thinking about her still. This is no different from writers who can quote you chapter and verse from their negative reviews, but not a word from the glowing ones. Or writers who troll their Amazon pages, only stopping to take in the one star reviews.
So what is the armor, then, that allows us to take part in the world around us, a world that will sometimes feel like just too much, a world that might insult us, or hurt us? For the writer, I think there’s only one answer, and I’m doing it right now. It’s to return to the solitude
What are you not writing about — and why?
What do you choose to focus your writing or blogging on — and why?