A couple of weekends ago I had the pleasure of visiting one of my favorite book stores, really favorite places on earth, Jackson Street Books in the Old Market in Omaha. I spotted this quote, written out quickly on an index card, and tacked up on the bookshelf holding all the memoirs. "Memoir is a genre that leaves blood on the tracks."
I haven't written a memoir. But I've been thinking about it. I guess this blog is sort of an ongoing, in the moment memoir, of tiny chapters, events and my random, disconnected thoughts. This quote struck me as so true and something that I struggle with from time to time on this blog. How much "blood" am I willing to shed myself or draw from the people I love? What personal information do I share in public and what do I hold back? Usually it's pretty clear cut, but occasionally that becomes a more nuanced question.
I'm certainly not the only person dealing with this question. Anyone who uses Facebook or Twitter or Foursquare or many of the thousands of other social networking sites has to decide everyday, every time they write a status update or tweet. How much should I say here? Should I be bitching about my boss? Should I mention getting drunk when I'm barely 16? Is my fight with my husband something that my old high school softball teammate really needs to know? It seems like so many people don't even stop to think before they spew their lives all over Facebook in particular. Fourth DUI, why not? Third marriage ending cause you cheated again, even Grandma wants to know that, right? Who am I to say that those people are sharing too much? Someone could easily read what I write here or what I write on Twitter or Facebook and think I'm over sharing. But honestly, I love it when people share the dirty details of their lives where I can read it, and sometimes snigger and feel a touch of guilty schadenfruede while I look at their ugly baby's pictures.
For me there is a sense of empowerment and freedom sometimes in sharing something intensely private with other people. I feel less alone and less ashamed when someone else can relate to my secret or my flaw. But I get to craft the story and share it on my own terms. The risk is that complete strangers can judge me without really even knowing me. Oh, and I've opened myself up to judgment from friends and family too. And they know me and probably don't need anymore ammunition. And I can hurt people without even realizing it if I'm not careful. Because with that sense of empowerment comes a level of responsibility.
I wrote a blog post last week that will never be printed. But the sheer act of writing it, and then visually previewing it as a real blog post in Blogger, gave me the satisfaction that I needed without ever hitting the publish button. It was the kind of post written out of anger and frustration and not the kind of thing that I would be proud of in a day, or an hour. I'm not proud of it today actually. The fallout would have been bad. It was vitriolic and cruel, and I like to think I'm neither of those, most of the time. And more importantly it would have been hurtful. On the one hand, I think a lot of people would have agreed with me and related to what I was saying, but that didn't outweigh the pain that it would have caused some people that I care about. And that's the part that I think more people, including myself, need to think about before they post things in public. Because whose life am I writing about here? It's not just mine. I share my life with other people, people who mean the world to me, people who have saved me and loved me and sacrificed for me, and laugh with me and hold my hand when I need a friend, and their opinions and feelings matter greatly. And as I think about writing a memoir, that's something even more permanent and potentially dangerous than any status update could ever be.
In thinking about writing a real memoir, I have started to question how much I am willing to expose: of myself, my family, my friends and my inner crazy. I love memoirs. It seems as if every fifth book I pick up is a memoir these days. It's a trendy and popular genre. In part because there are so many fascinating people out there willing to share themselves. And willing to expose themselves and their loved ones to the glaringly, unforgiving spotlight of the true story. Am I one of them? Am I willing to mildly eviscerate those I love? Am I willing to disappoint and portray certain people, myself included, in ways that are deeply unflattering and personal? I don't know. But I think I just might dive in and see what happens. I can always change the names and cities and call it a novel, right?