Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Writer's Dilemma

Writing is fraught with danger.

I used to think I could write whatever I pleased, and rip out my heart in the process. It wasn't a destructive act, quite the opposite: I felt it to be the most creative expression I was capable of. However, in the course of saying exactly what I think--which involves revealing myself in the most intimate of ways--I have offended, provoked, angered and disappointed members of my family, my friends, and even people with whom I work. Of course, that was not my intention; I was simply finding my way of relating to the world around me, of documenting my reactions to the people who confuse or stagger me. I certainly never anticipated the reactions to some of my posts; sometimes it appears that I have led my (small) audience astray, since they have no context for understanding me; they are ignorant of my history and my peculiar eccentricities.

There are writings of mine that involve others and invade--inadvertently--their privacy. I don't know why I feel no need to protect myself from others, or why it seems OK to me to discuss date rape in a public forum, or any other number of topics that most readers would consider wildly inappropriate. I have always suffered from a total lack of self-editing. Is it a violent reaction to incomprehensible situations? Is it rebellion against having to show self control all day long at work? Is it a way to work through pain and disappointment? Is it an attempt at self-integration, at the kind of introspection that leads to liberation?

It is all of those, and more. I have learned, though, that I hurt people with my analysis of the human condition, with my willingness to expose myself to the public. Others are affected, dragged in when they don't wish to be, and so I have to change how I approach the public forum of the Internet. My (tiny) readership has misinterpreted my intentions, my feelings and my expressions of angst. Not everyone, of course, some people get it immediately and appreciate it for what it is. But I don't want family or friends to feel stung or shocked by what I reveal. I always thought revelation of one's heart and soul was the best way to define and refine who I am; now I realize that all I accomplish is discord and confusion.

So, from this point forward, I will try to do what has been asked of me by those I love: practice a little self-censorship. Stop burrowing under the skin of those who love me, cease and desist the ruthless personal revelations, and try to stick to less controversial topics. This new direction saddens me a bit, but I don't wish to trample on the privacy and anonymity of the people that matter to me.

I don't know how this will look and feel for me, but I will find out. My ex used to tell me that "I had absolutely no mystery" about me. He did not enjoy my transparency. I will attempt to learn the art of self preservation. I hope I have something interesting to say. Stay tuned.


Luke said...

Self-censorship is fraught with danger.

Writers never write whatever they please; they write whatever they feel driven to write. Something triggers an idea, and the idea becomes a series of ideas, an extrapolation of the original thought, and that becomes the foundation of the story. Without the concrete foundation of an initial idea, there is no story.

Writers have no control over the source of an idea. It might be a poem or an article in the newspaper. It might be a personal experience. Whatever the source, any story will inevitably contain pieces of the writer's real world- and the most engaging parts of that world are often the parts that others would rather not share. That desire for privacy is completely irrelevant to the writer and (especially) the reader. The reader doesn't know what the writer saw and what the writer made up. If you have a friend who likes to murder puppies and eat them, and you write a story that features a man who likes to murder puppies and eat them, the only person who could know the inspiration for that would be the puppy eater - everyone else would have no clue what was pure fiction and what was "impure" fiction.
And just because one part of a character's story or actions might be recognized as coming from real life doesn't give any indication of what else is true or false. If I write this:

Ty threw the grease-stained bag of seasoned-salt-loaded fries from Tommie's into one of the saddlebags, hopped onto the worn fake leather seat, turned the key, and waited. When the motor switched from uneven sputtering to a smooth putt-putt-putt, he gave a little gas and drove off. He found the moped on craigslist. He paid practically nothing for it- and most people would say practically nothing was what it was worth. The "engine" was nearly dead; a fast ten-speed could (and often did) pass him. It was impossible to tell where the faded orange paint stopped and the rust started. It was slow, ugly, and dangerous. But it was his.

He didn't have his helmet, but it was late (or early) and there were no cars on the road. Besides, he liked the wind. He read each street sign as he passed, even though he had long ago memorized all the names. He rode along, reaching back for fries as he headed to Diane's apartment, letting the motor do most of the work, only pedaling when he hit the big hill at the end of Victory. He was nearly to the top of the hill, the motor little more than a symbolic gesture at this point, when he saw the other light. By the time he realized what he was looking at, it was too late. The aliens from Planet X had him.

Some of that is true, some of it isn't. Some of it is how I remember things from Ty's life, and some of it is completely unrelated. I'm sure you recognize some true parts (and some false parts), but you don't really know for sure about most of it. Even though I mentioned true (as I remember them) events, the only person who would really know what is true here is Ty. If I'd changed the name of the character - to, say, "Katrina" - it would be even less possible for anyone to separate truth from fiction.

I guess I'm saying that as long as you don't write purely autobiographical information, anything is fair game for a story. After you've written the story, if you're really concerned about sensitive elements based on true events, see if there's a way to work around them. If there isn't, either accept the potential for offending, or put the story in a drawer to be discovered after everyone is dead.

And for the record: Feel free to incorporate anything from my life into anything you write.

Danny said...

please stop being a sellout to the wishes of others. Not everyone is cookie-cutter perfect. if you have a need to express your true self to your audience then do so. we continue to read your works for a reason.
Here's some food for thought:
When the japanese bikes started to show up on the american sceneback in the 60's and 70's, many people thought harley-davidson would have to be like them to survive. but, instead, h-d went the other way, they went more hardcore, and the achieved immortality in the eyes of the hell's angels and other biker gangs.

If we wanted to read cookie-cutter stuff, we would have gone elsewhere. define yourself, dont recess to something boring. there's nothing wrong with analysing human interactions.
I read this book recently: Intimacy by Hanif Kureishi.
I think you'll like it, its an analysis of the thought process of a man the night before he walks out on his family. check it out.

Frosty said...

I agree with Luke and Danny. It's one thing if someone asks you not to write about THEM online. It's another thing entirely for someone to ask you to censor yourself. Elaboration and embellishment are two of my favorite things to do when writing about people I know. Do it enough and they won't even recognize themselves. Like what Luke said.

Kitty said...

Well, I certainly do appreciate what Luke, Danny and Frosty have to say on this matter. And Luke, I'm mighty impressed with your story telling skills. Danny, thank you for reading!!!! Frosty, I know what you mean about exaggerating beyond all measure, since I do that too . . .

However, I've run into situations where the person/people I'm referencing are very uncomfortable with my mix of fact/fiction/exaggeration . . . their problem? Not entirely . . . it becomes my problem when they are upset at this reference, because it's either too obvious or it's unflattering. Regarding my own tendency to say too much, the ruthlessness of the writer only works when said writer doesn't give a damn about offending/upsetting/depressing those closest to her/him. So, I really do have to be careful. People lose jobs over indiscreet revelations; it is also possible to alienate those referenced to the point that they close down and refuse to provide you with more "material". I wish such a thing as total freedom existed for writers, but it doesn't. Of course, one can say whatever one wants, but then be ready to spend a lot of time alone. I guess I'm not ready for that. Problem is, I'm not really writing fiction where I could get away with oblique references and fuzzing the line between fact and fantasy. I write what I consider to be truth, albeit my own version. Therefore, given my pretension to write the truth, I have the capability of hurting and insulting friends/family. I suppose what I am saying is, in theory one should be able to speak the truth always and in any context. However, in practice this can lead to some very undesirable real world consequences. I am just not ready to piss everyone off, or get my ass canned because I discuss work issues. So yeah, as much as I hate it, sometimes I need to either be quiet, or find something controversial to write about that doesn't involve anyone else in my life. Or stick to Kenny. He's not all that controversial, except for the fact that we bathe him so little that some cat society might bust us. You know??

Luke said...

Well, there is a difference between "drawing from real events" and "using confidential work information in a public setting." Which isn't to say you can't write about the worst student/administrator/class ever, but that you'd better be very sure that the work is seen as fictional and not a roman a clef.

...and thank you for the writing compliment! I might have based parts of it on someone you know.

chris (he belongs to skylar) said...

Hi Professor Thorne, I enjoyed reading your musings thoroughly, and am sorry that I am not here to solely comment on those. I wanted to contact you at school, but you are not teaching a summer course.

I recieved a C for Spanish 2 in your class last semester, which I am almost positive is a clerical error that accured somewhere, since I was most confident in your class out of all that I took last semester. It has completely altered my plans because my GPA was lowered from a 3.6 to a 3.0, and I was supposed to apply to other colleges this summer. If you could PLEASE oh Please contact me and let me know if it was really the grade I recieved, or if not if you could sign the grade change petition at Pierce, because this is sort of an emergency. I am Christopher Suard, I was in the 11:10 class with Danny and Bahar and Aaron and everyone.

Thank you so much,


Luke said...

Good idea: using non-standard channels (when standard channels have failed) to contact a professor.

Bad idea: giving all the details of a grading issue in a response to a blog post.

...and you're applying in July? That seems late...