Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Written Apology

Against my better judgment, I would like to become a writer. I have an interesting life and I would like to document my escapades for the amusement of my future readers. I'm a little concerned that my friends and family may be upset to see themselves featured. Is there any way I can avoid awkwardness?


Nope. They are going to hate you and probably sue you. Sue you hard. You will be lucky if they don't sue you for the roller skate theme you wrote in the 5th grade. Your first skill as a writer should be learning to apologize, because writing is just a endless cycle of making people upset and then apologizing until you either give up or become too famous to care.

I tend not to share too many personal details about my life because it jeopardizes my natural desire to judge people without fear of reprisal. However, this is a topic that cries out for self-indulgent nostalgia, so sit tight; I don't like to be interrupted once I get going.

The first time my work was published, I was in middle school. I had written a poem about the death of my grandfather that the teacher had selected for the county literary booklet, aptly named Pencilworks, because we still wrote with pencils. As a poet, I was, and continue to be, sentimental and cloying, but, in middle school, editorial staff is just happy to find someone willing to do something as socially destructive as exert effort. My poem was adequate and its publication earned me a first-class ticket to the guidance office to explain why I was so obviously depressed. Lesson learned: Sharing emotional personal stories leads to uncomfortable conversations with strangers and parents.

The next time I was published, I was ostensibly an adult. I wrote a series (2? It seemed like a lot of work at the time) of articles for a professional newsletter that highlighted the foibles of various characters at my workplace, including my boss...who was also my dad. Unlike my little poem, the  articles were light-hearted, humorous and well-received. At first. Eventually what had been gentle humor was interpreted as disrespect. Called to the carpet, I responded with the typical righteous indignation of a tortured artist. Lesson learned: Sharing funny personal stories leads to angry conversations with co-workers and parents. Also, total writer's block and an irrational urge to become a dance therapist. It took years of silence and therapeutic sarcasm to recover.

Based on my prior experiences, you can understand both my dire warnings and my reticence to share. My kids have permanently destroyed my abdominal wall, so becoming a dance therapist is no longer an option for me (not that it ever was). Once I graduate from law school, I'll be less afraid of being sued and practically judgment-proof due to my crippling debt. At that point, I plan to publish a complete tell-all. Until then, I'm going to keep masking my true feelings with snark and hokey literary devices like fake advice solicitations.

If you really want to write your personal story, you are going to have uncomfortable conversations as some point, assuming you are writing a story that is remotely compelling. Alternatively, you can write something banal and hope the Hallmark channel options your book into a movie. If I were you, I would scrap the whole thing and write about werewolves with substance abuse problems.

Now, if you don't mind, I have to go apologize to the people I've mentioned in this post.

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Linking up with yeah write on this post. Check out the other great blogs and vote for your favorites on Friday. It is a wonderful community of talented and supportive writers!

38 comments:

  1. Uncomfortable conversations - how true. I think it's important when writing your personal story to make an effort to reach out to those who will be written about before posting - not to censor your work, but to prepare them, so there's no questions about your intentions.

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    1. Exactly. People will be more receptive if they aren't caught off-guard. Some people won't be happy either way, though, and then the question is whether the story (or the writer) can survive without them.

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  2. Dear Shiftless Mommie,

    You think just like me but write...just like me, but better ;)

    I haven't enjoyed a blog post as much as this one in weeks. Absolutely spot-on. I'm constantly fighting my own apathy viz-a-viz libel and slander, people finding out where I live and my kids' identities etc. I wish you luck in achieving a level of debt that will ensure judgment-avoidance in perpetuity.

    Jade
    http://jadeluxe.wordpress.com

    I am so glad I found your blog. SUBSCRIBE!

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    1. Right back at you! I loved your post this week!

      I've softened my anonymity resolve significantly since I started blogging, mostly because I'm lazy but also because I want to guilt my friends and family into reading. I think people want to read personal stories, but it is a fine line between genuine interest and voyeurism--a line which can be identified based on supporting characters' level of rage and indignation. Also whether the words "restraining order" are volleyed around.

      "judgment-avoidance in perpetuity" made me laugh at loud.

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  3. Have you seen "Peep World"? very recent movie and a little bit close to what you described earlier - a book about family and getting sued for it.

    Liked this post. :-)

    www.mamaandthecity.com

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    1. It turns out it is free on-demand for the next week, so I'm making a date with my husband to watch it. Thanks for the tip!

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  4. "My kids have permanently destroyed my abdominal wall"- exactly the reason my kids are the topic of most of my posts. That and the fact that they don't have the means to sue me yet. I figure I am safe until they are at least 8 and 5, around the same time they are smarter than me! Your posts always make me laugh out loud!

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    1. Thanks! I struggle with how much to write about my kids, pregnancy is fair game, though.

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  5. Is it dangerous to apologize to werewolves with substance abuse problems? I have heard they are too stupid to know what a subpoena is, so there is a bright side.
    Appreciate your rapier wit. Ellen

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    1. Thanks! Let's hope they are abusing something that mellows them out...

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  6. This very topic is something I'm struggling with at this very moment. I'm semi-anonymous yet htere are family members who read my blog, and I have so much more to write - about them - but can't. What a compelling post! Thanks

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    1. I think we write best about what we know, so our lives are an attractive option. At the same time, our friends and family may be our biggest supporters, which we would lose if we tried to be anonymous. It is a tough call. I like to think it provides a natural defense against over-sharing things we may regret later, but some stories should be told.

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  7. Heheh this is why I'm anonymous on here...

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    1. I actually have another blog that could have been anonymous...except I used my first name in the title. That's why I will never be a secret agent.

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  8. This is exactly why I didn't tell anyone in my family that I have a blog. I can feel free to blog about them at my leisure without worry of reprisal. Of course if they ever stumble upon it I will be apologizing till the day I die.

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    1. ...unless your blog has made you so famous and rich that no one cares/everyone is afraid of you.

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  9. I know what you mean. I was chastized by mentioning having sex in a blog post. with my husband. by my husband. I just wrote a post about my 3 year old's defecation disaster and was admonished that he might read it one day! Are these people kidding? They may never sue, but it does make me want to censure myself. And if my mom and father-in-law weren't my two most loyal readers I'd have a hell of a lot more interesting to say.
    - Mama Mzungu

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    1. This comment was flagged as spam, I assume because you dared mention the "S" word, so I apologize that I didn't respond. I try to respond to all of my commenters.

      I think about whether my kids will read my writing someday and I've just come to terms that they will and they will come to terms with the fact that their mom was crazy.

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  10. I have a wealth of blog posts I'd love to share, but I also value my marriage so I don't. Some day though... Enjoyed your post!!

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    1. Why is that husbands are such a great and yet untouchable source of writing material?

      Thanks!

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  11. Haha! This is why I have my world famous blog and my tiny top-secret blog.

    ~The G is Silent

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  12. Ha! This is so, so, so very true. You hit the nail on the head. I struggle with this problem every time I hit "publish" on the blog. And yes, you do have to become very good at apologizing. Luckily, I perfected that skill long ago due to my Guilty Conscience Syndrome, so yeah, I'm pretty well covered.

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    1. I need to contract that. I'm still recovering from "How Dare You Stifle My Creativity"itis.

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  13. pshaw. didn't your guidance counselor know that all great literary artists are depressed? that's a badge of HONOR, after all. :)

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    1. Thank. You! No one believed me. My melancholy was career development.

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  14. Such a great post and oh so true! I have had the strangest conversations with my family since I started blogging and I NEVER write anything remotely bad about them. But now and then I might forget to cover every single remote possible interpretation which leads to ridiculous conversations and ultimately me shaking my head as I apologize over the phone...amazing! But alas, I will keep trying and hoping I can hang on to those lyrics from my 5th Grade Roller Skating Song!:)

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    1. So true. Most of the time I offend, I had no idea I was saying anything sensitive.

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  15. I totally have foot in mouth syndrome, and I always say more than I should. But it means you write honestly, and that is the best kind of writing. If it makes people talk, that just means it's that good! Keep it up!

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    1. I'll keep repeating that to myself. At least then when everyone else is giving me the silent treatment, I will have someone talking to me. :)

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  16. Ahhh, exactly the reason I don't write about anyone who does not live in this house. :-) The boys are too little to care (for now) and my husband and I can have a rational discussion about my writing (eventually, anyway), but as the child of divorced parents, I know there are some things I will never write about because I value those relationships too much to hurt anyone (and since they read all my posts, it really would). And anyway, I like the fake advice column route. It's working for you!

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    1. Thanks! I hear you about divorces and leaving some things unsaid. I have worked with too many kids and adults who were subject to knowledge about their parents that they didn't need to know. Can't un-ring a bell.

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  17. I sometimes wish I would have stayed a little more invisible with my posting. I would have loved to truly exorcise some of those demons I have deep within, but I'm not good with apologies, and I hate groveling.

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    1. I hear you. I almost feel like I need to be a little less anonymous to reign myself in a bit. Some of my demons should stay in the depths. ; )

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  18. You're right - If you choose to tell the truth there will definitely be some uncomfortable conversations coming. That will be me for sure. I'm putting if off at the moment, but it is on its way. I can feel it. :)

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    1. Anticipation. It always makes me want to start the fight preemptively.

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  19. How very true. Like seriously, everything you said. There are so many things that I have either not written or written and hidden away about close friends or family that I could never publish until I have reached the fame and prestige that allows me to share it with the world, without it being just a scathing rant.

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    1. It's a delicate balance. You want to tell a good story, which means you have to be "real" but you can't rely too heavily on the stories of people who can yell at you in person.

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I love comments. They make me feel like I'm not talking to myself. I try to reply to all of them, eventually.