Why does someone share opinions or ideas with anyone? Not just on social media, but in real life, either atop the peaks of success or attainment or in the valley of sorrows? It’s akin to attending a reception where the doorman punches each attendee in the face before entry and then demands $50 and an explanation regarding each attendee’s intentions.
It’s always a risk. There’s always someone fearful of the wrong opinion, a slight to one’s perceived reputation, or of secrets spilling out into the world. No one wants an unfiltered look at their heart laid bare for others to witness, even though the total of our words and actions does precisely that each day that we survive to walk the earth. It’s like a nude selfie after going to a pizza buffet. Our choices are plainly visible to anyone who bothers to examine us.
No matter the depth of gauze you might use to soften your sentiment or words, the truth is that each of us brings our baggage with us – and filters which bend our perception.
A few years back, a local writer who is now deceased saw me use a quote of Anne Lamott’s that I had written about over and over: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” It encapsulated much of the struggle he had endured trying to get his story out without bruising other people’s toes. He read one of my earliest blog posts, one in which I described a discussion I had with a cousin, one who attempted to defend the indefensible regarding my alcoholic and violent father.
The writer fell in love with Lamott’s words precisely because of their simplicity and unassailable truth. He said, “Holy #$%t!” when he read the link I sent him. “There’s no market for that, X.” Maybe not, I told him, but if someone’s writing for themselves, market and reception are distant concerns.
Here’s the excerpt from one of my first, and absurdly long, blog posts:
“…Years ago, a distant cousin in the family (who I will call Tom because his name is Tom) asked me what right did I have to talk about another family member’s misbehavior, especially the things that “ought not to be talked about.” He initially asked me in my Aunt Barbara’s living room. We were standing next to the stuffed mountain lion that stood guard there for as long as I could recall. I asked him where he learned the difference between what should and could not be discussed. He laughed when he realized that he was about to say “from family.” I then pointed out that despite the idea that things shouldn’t be discussed, somehow, through some mysterious force, everyone seemed to know all the deep, dark secrets, just in differing amounts. While probably no one knew everything, everyone knew something. I then went on to say that the things that happened in my life or that were done to me were MY life, too and that perhaps people should stop and think about the things they say and do, or to make amends at the point in their lives when they realized that they might have gone too far. Tom and I talked about dad’s legacy and how he and I had come to the point that dad would have been able to start a new relationship with me, given enough time – we just ran out of road before we could run the race. Tom was surprised that I could talk openly about some of the meanness of my father and still laugh and want to hear stories about the hell-raising, fun-filled dad. I told him that I would have loved for dad to have had a carefree life or to have been able to come to terms with his hateful way of drinking the world away. Mom and dad weren’t huggers, and they didn’t express themselves in tender ways. Had they been merely distant instead of angry at times, that would have been at least a step toward normalcy. I told Tom that it seemed deceptive for the older generation to keep some of the secrets because it kept us from knowing our parents and family fully, whether it be warts and all. I still feel that way. Tom walked away with a new perspective about me and certainly a different one about my dad. It was the first time he talked to me as an adult, and it was the first time that it sank in that the behavior that Tom loved in Dad from a distance also made him a monster to me, his son. I remember asking Tom whether it was a bigger sin for me to talk or write about my dad’s mistakes than it was for him to inflict violence on his family? Tom had no answer for that rhetorical question. (Note: this discussion would have been markedly different if I had truly known the depth of what my Dad had done in his life. I would not have been so kind.)…”
Regarding the above note, I included a picture of me when I was young. I edited it to protect the privacy and identity of another family member. The other family member wasn’t at the point in his life where he felt free to speak openly. Not publicly, anyway. It’s unavoidable to conclude that my carelessness in openly talking about “things that ought not to be talked about” probably saved my life, even if family members threatened, shrieked, and denied.
If you are sharing yourself authentically in the best way you can, I believe that silencing your narrative is a loss for everyone. So what if you don’t get it quite right? Which idiot decided that perfection is the goal of communication? None of us are going to feel exactly what we do today when tomorrow greets us.
It’s easy to pick and choose your criticisms, especially of anyone who shares stories. It’s why most people choose silence. Just as silence does not grant consent, it also does not convey honesty.
I don’t sit and spend hours taking the time to write what I clearly label as my opinion to seek sympathy. The stories, the opinions, and the words are mine to share. Hopefully, it is obvious that I’m not sending them as aimed barbs when I’m not. I am a fairly heavy-handed writer and it’s inescapable when I’m pointing the finger. The parts of my life I share are parts of my life, even if they intersect with the lives of others.
Also, I completely agree that we are all villains in someone else’s narrative. There’s no escape for me in this regard, either.
If my stories sometimes seem harsh, it’s only because the fury or depth of what I experienced is reflected there.
Life is both bloodied lips and serene sunsets.
Anyone who reads my posts knows that I have constantly asked that everyone take the time to write their stories in any way that they can. I put out in the world what I would enjoy hearing from others. We are all repositories of stories. Many are joyous and humorous; others are numbingly horrific. They are all pieces of us.
Each time I’ve shared a piece of myself, someone has reciprocated and reached out to share a bit of their humanity with me. I’m always surprised and humbled. It’s both a reflection of trust and an expression of the need to share with another person. It’s fundamental.
It’s also true that sometimes I’m misunderstood or my motives maligned. I can’t control the unexpected reactions, no more than my writing can alter one second of history. Writing about it, however, changes me. It softens the otherwise fall-without-a-parachute plunge that some days bring me.