Won’t I Hurt People If I Write a Memoir?
Some people are prevented from writing what they really feel about events or people in their lives (i.e. their memoir) by the fear they will hurt people they care about in doing so.
The difference between hurt and interpretation
In my semi-autobiographical novel, Kimono Spring, this is how I depicted my sister:
When we got home, Mommy cleared the pepper and salt and napkin holder off the kitchen table. She brought out the package she had gotten at Ogilvy’s.
Diane held the paper bag the package had been in. “Go away,” she said, turning to me.
“Oh yeah, says who?” I said bravely.
She took a step towards me and I backed up involuntarily. “Says me,” and she stepped even closer.
“Enough,” said Mommy in a tired voice. “Julie can see, too.”
“But it’s mine.”
Mommy folded back the tissue. “It’s just looking, Diane. It doesn’t matter.”
I bustled past a molten Diane and pushed myself right against the table, just to show her.
I depict my sister as overweening, superior and mean. Obviously, she would not agree with that interpretation. But I wrote the novel from the point of view of a seven-year-old, dealing with her ten-year-old sister. As an adult, even I might agree that the portrait is very black and white but that is how a seven-year-old would see the world and therefore, the people in it.
What you write is always going to be from your view. How can it be otherwise? You’re not trying to write your life story from someone else’s perspective.
And anyhow, unless your memoir is populated with saints—never angry, vindictive, destructive or sly (boring memoir, by the way)—nobody will agree with your characterization of themselves. Despite your efforts to be honest and even-handed, you’ll still get I never said that. You started it, not me. My son is not a bully. I don’t have a big nose. Etc.
So what others might read as hurtful you may see as interpretation of what happened.
How to deal with the fear of inflicting hurt
Still, you don’t set out to hurt people in writing a memoir. But writing with this fear in mind will restrict what you record even if you’re not aware of it. Unconsciously, you might gloss over an important event because it puts your mother in a bad light. Or soften the impact of an action by your brother so that its hurt doesn’t look as if it stung as much as it did.
Write it as if no one will ever read it. As if it is a very extensive diary. Not meant for anyone but you. That way, you can tell your truth and not somebody else’s or worse, how you think they want you to think/believe.
When you’ve got the whole thing, revisit the issue. You may be surprised that over the course of the entire work, your depiction is more generous or even-handed than you had thought, even when writing it. But it is a question to pose once you’ve recorded what you want to say—not before.
I’ll do a post sometime on how to handle reactions when you do release your memoir to a larger audience than your computer.