I won’t write about my grandparents, at least not about their impact on my life, until they leave this earth. It’s not because they are horrible people or did something terrible in their lives; in fact, they are immensely loving, kind human beings. It’s just that I believe in honesty on the page, and to be honest about them, I would have to probably say things that they would not like to have publicly said (their ideas of privacy are different than mine), and if I said those things, I would hurt them. I don’t want to hurt them. So I don’t write about them.
I also don’t write about my ex-boyfriends and ex-husband very much. In this case, it’s not a matter of protecting them as much as it is about protecting myself. These men have given me some of the best memories of my life, but they have also inflicted my worst wounds. At this point in my time here, I’m not able/ready to write about those experiences, so I don’t.
Last week, I blogged about the line between honesty and malice in writing, and for me, these two categories of stories cross the line from honesty to malice – to others in the first case and to myself in the second. But beyond those two subjects, I don’t think there are any things I would not write about. Perhaps as life continues, I’ll find there are, but for now, I feel confident saying that.
I’ve written about my parents and brother, not always in a flattering light, but they trust me and understand my work, so I trust that they know I only mean to bring light, not darkness. I’ve written about friends and work and political issues and social issues, all subjects which are complex and might not be accepted easily, but because I trust this work, I trust that sometimes the writing is more important than easy.
I sincerely believe it is my right? duty? privilege? responsibility? honor? – let’s go with responsibility and honor . . . I sincerely believe it is my responsibility and honor to write life as I see it and to do so with as much depth and detail and honesty as I can muster. The stories I have lived and those I have witnessed are mine to write because they are part of who I am, and the stories that someone else has lived or witnessed – maybe even stories that overlay mine – are those to tell as well. If we speak honestly from what we know from our perspective and realize that it is only what we can see from where we stand, I think we can write anything we please.
That said, there are some people who cannot or will not or maybe even should not (although I’m hesitant about that one) write certain stories. If a writer isn’t ready for someone to read something, then she probably isn’t read to write it, at least not for reading by another person. If a writer is more worried about what readers will think than about telling the truth of the experience, then he should probably hold back. If the pain a writer will inflict on herself by writing is greater than the good that will come out of the experience for that writer, then, that story may have to remain untold for now.
Each writer has to set his/her own boundaries here. Maybe you don’t feel a need to hold anything back. Maybe you feel like you’re just not ready yet. Maybe you don’t want to hurt someone and think that the telling isn’t worth the hurt. Maybe there are some people who will understand, but you can’t bear the thought of those who might not. Whatever your reasons for writing or not writing, honor them and don’t compare them. Just as your stories are yours alone, your reasons for writing or not writing are yours alone as well. We – as a writing community – do well to honor and respect those boundaries for each other.
So please write what you can. Write vigorously and honestly. But if you can’t or won’t, know that’s okay. The story will come if it should. Until then, rest in the integrity of your choice.
Are there categories or types of stories, essays, poems you won’t write? How do you feel about what a writer should write or should leave unwritten?