Writing about real life can be tricky.
I am currently writing a new KQED Perspective that includes less than entirely flattering assessments of several former boyfriends. The piece is not mean-spirited nor does it call anyone out by name, however these men would surely recognize themselves by my descriptions. And although I am clearly telling my side of the story, I can’t help but feel a little prickly about doing so in such a public forum.
I am a product of my experiences. And as a writer, I write about these experiences. I share my stories, my viewpoints. I decide how much to reveal about myself, and have the power to portray myself – and others – as I see fit. Because it’s my version of events.
But what about the other half of the equation: the people with whom I’ve shared many of these experiences? How do I walk the line between MY story and THEIR version? If we were both there, whose story is it anyway?
If this new Perspectives piece is accepted, I will record it in my own voice, and then it will be broadcast to thousands of people across the Bay Area, and very possibly to one or more of my former boyfriends. For the sake of the piece (length, tone, etc.), I portrayed each of these complex people and my relationships with them in one sentence; it’s not quite an emotional sucker punch so much as a sharp pinch. But I doubt anyone would be pleased to hear him or herself summed up in this way.
It’s unclear to me how to balance people’s feelings with my version of the truth, and also create compelling work. Do I cross my fingers that none of my former boyfriends ever hear my Perspective (or read this blog)? Or do I kill the piece all together in order to avoid potential strife? After flip flopping on this for a while, I started to wonder how memoirists tackle this conundrum. So I asked my dear friend Mari, who has published two graphic memoirs and has a third in the works. She encouraged me to tell my truth, but also noted:
“If there’s the remotest possibility they could hear it, you should give them a heads up before the rest of the world knows, as a courtesy. Trust me, it’s ultimately far less awkward this way.”
In short, if my Perspective is accepted, I’d better be prepared to send out some slightly uncomfortable emails. And be prepared for some less than favorable reactions.
When it comes to sharing our real life experiences, I think we writers must ask ourselves this question: Is the story worth a potentially awkward conversation? If the answer is no, then the story must not be very good.