When Telling the Truth Pisses People Off

04Mar13

Writers are always selling somebody out. Joan Didion

Yesterday, a talented writer took her blog down.  Her writing was fearless and raw, mixed-up and confused.  She wrote about living with mental illness in an unflinching way.  Sometimes, it was so real, hit so many nerves I wanted to look away.  That’s how good it was.

She took it down because, in order to tell her story, she revealed the stories of others.  Since her subject matter was real and complicated, it showed a varying range of experiences and emotions brought upon by other people’s mental health conditions, too.  And someone felt they had been crossed, pulled out-of-the-closet, made vulnerable without agreeing to it.

I’m supporting her decision.  She’s decided that the consequences of telling her truth are too great and too painful for those close to her.  It will damage her life more than it will save it.  This I understand.

I often think about Joan Didion’s quote when writing.  I know, on some level, that by sharing my experience, however individual and subjective that is, I will reveal my perceptions on character traits, actions, and motives of other people who affect me.  Good.  Bad.  It’s all there.

Because I am a writer seeking to publish, I have made it clear to those I write about that I try, like my fellow blogger, to be unflinching and brutally honest.  I am not a malicious, mean-spirited person.  I wouldn’t intentionally hurt someone.  I think long and hard if certain scenes need to be in the piece to properly illustrate the experience, to assist with the telling of the story.  I have had a few requests to change names, appearances, or pull minor scenes because it might hurt their career. I am very sensitive to the privacy of my children and family members.  However, that doesn’t mean I keep quiet about events that are crucial to my life.

I posted a few weeks back about ex-husband #2 threatening to sue me if I write about him.  This is a case in which I feel I need to rally against his threats and WRITE.  Because that time in my life was so dark and ugly and confusing that I think it needs to be explored, not hidden.  I wish I could tell the tale without him being there, but the fact that he was there adds to the landscape.  It is essential.

I draw my line there.  Is it essential?  And yes, maybe I’m betraying some people in a sense. In my mind, it is for a greater purpose. I have made an informed choice to tell my truth.  Maybe the consequences will be great.  Maybe people won’t talk to me anymore.  I’ll let you know when the times come. But I’m gonna keep writing.  Even if it pisses some people off.

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17 Responses to “When Telling the Truth Pisses People Off”

  1. Thank you for this. It’s very current for my life right now. I’ve been judged and misunderstood by people in my non virtual life who read my blog. Someone just accused me today of attempting to harm their reputation with something I said in passing without identifying them as anything other than “my sister”. I’m frustrated with this aspect of blogging. I think if people are offended by what I write then they can choose not to read it. My blog is essentially my journal. And I take the risk of allowing it to be public. I suppose I should accept the consequences associated with that risk. But it still frustrates me. I don’t want to censor myself in order to please others. If I do, then blogging no longer serves a purpose for me.

    • I was hoping this post would do just that! Spark a discussion about blogging and writing and honesty and how others view it. It’s a fine line we walk, isn’t it?

  2. If it were poorly written, or without merit, no one would be getting pissed off. The fact that they are is a sure sign of the honesty, truth and importance of what you’re doing. Glad to hear you’re going to remain at the keyboard.

  3. 5 BehindMyBooks

    I think this is brilliant, and agree with all of it. I’m also, quite literally, blushing. Thanks for the kindness!

  4. 7 lucewriter

    It’s a fine line we all walk as we write about our lives, that’s for sure.

  5. 8 fojap

    This matter, of not hurting other people, has kept me from saying things I’ve wanted to say in the past. I’ve started writing because I really have things I want to bring up, although I don’t know how to do it except in a painfully slow way. However, it’s one of the reasons I’ve chosen to write my blog anonymously and not call anyone by their real names.

    One thing I’m definitely going to have to bring up is engaging in light bondage with my high school boyfriend. It’s relevant to things that come later and can’t be avoided. Yet he’s married and probably has kids, etc. He certainly didn’t sign up to have his private behavior from thirty years ago suddenly revealed. In the unlikely event he reads what I write, he might recognize himself in it, but few other people would. That’s just one example. I could probably think of at least a dozen more.

    It’s definitely a dilemma. The fact that I’m not trying to get published does give me the latitude to hide, or at least obscure, my real name.

    I think your ex-husband is a bit extreme to threaten to sue you, and I doubt he can do so, not that I know anything about the law. Asking you to use a pseudonym would be a reasonable request. I’m going to have to deal with ex-hubby issue eventually myself. Yuck. I hope he doesn’t read blogs in English, tabarnack!

    • These are very real issues to the CNF writer, for sure. I think the question comes down to relevancy, importance, and the best way to conceal identities that are crucial to the story. However, not everyone will be happy no matter what we do. Hell, I’ve had people get pissed and say, “Why didn’t you just use my real name?”

      I’ve taken to having a thicker skin (most of the time).

  6. One more thing. . .

    When I was in my twenties I had a good friend who was trying to succeed as a writer. We worked together and he would bring his writing in to work for me to read and critique. One time, I found some anecdotes I’d told him about my sex life (What else! It was the only thing that was interesting about me at the time.) in one of his stories. Then it happened again. It felt a little funny, kind of like when someone rips open the dressing room curtain when you have your ass hanging out of a pair of pants that are so small you had to be out of your mind to even try them on. It took a few minutes of “self-talk” to decide that it really didn’t matter and my sense of embarrassment was silly.

    • I would be irritated because they were my stories! As a writer, I would be like – “Man, that’s my material, not yours!” Haha!

      I don’t know what it is like to be on the flip side, though. So I can’t relate to how it feels to be written about. That being said, I would hope the author would be careful, kind enough to know what to put in and why. Though, not everyone is like that, sadly.

      • Well, part of the problem is that it’s up to the author to determine what he or she wants to say. I think the weirdest part about it is that subject/object contrast. Normally, we think of ourselves as a subject and when we suddenly realize that to other people we’re the object, it makes us feel a little powerless for a moment. Most people put it in perspective and move on, but it’s a weird feeling. We’re all extras in the drama of other people’s lives.

        My college sweetheart was a creative writing major with a particular interest in poetry, so I got really used to having the world know about every bump and grind of my sex life. I got a reputation on campus as the sexiest thing since Aphrodite. It’s funny to look back on now.

        I’ve also posed for photographs, both nude and clothed, and worked as an artist’s model. Those are two other instances where you have to let your ego take a back seat to someone else’s work. I keep meaning to go back and comment on your post about the portrait.

      • So interesting! I like the way you said it: subject / object. I know that I even have a way of turning myself into an object in my work in order to have some distance and perspective, in order to be more honest and let my ego go.

        Great discussion!

  7. 14 pinklightsabre

    It’s tricky, and for me, one of the things I hate most (when something I’ve said or written hurt someone), but you’ll find the right balance.

    • Oh I agree. Which is why taking this stance is hard for me. The last thing I enjoy, want to do is upset someone, even if I don’t care for them. But I’ve let that fear seep into my work too often. As you said, I’m trying to strike that right balance. It’s a constant battle!

  8. I started my blog to write about the crazy things that have happened to me in my life but I did not go anonymous. That said I now have friends and family reading the stories and I tend to take a humorous and self deprecating approach as to keep myself and readers entertained while I tell stories about everyone including myself and my memories of things. I debated long and hard over if I was going to mention the truly fucked up things that aren’t funny and I chose not to in detail for nothing else than to not hurt some of the people reading. I still write it, I just don’t publish it. I’ll instead make a small mention in the post and I’m sure those who are supposed to get my hint do. It is a slippery slope and a balance because I also feel like some of that is my best material as it deals with the hard issues and some of the things I struggle with the most.

    • There are some benefits, for sure, to writing a blog anonymously. I do feel tied down, at times, boxed in a bit. However, I am trying to make a name for myself as a CNF writer. One of the the things (good) CNF writers do is walk that line well. I’m trying to discover exactly where mine is.


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