This past month I’ve been working pretty steadily on a book-length memoir. It was prompted by a medical memoir piece I had to write for a class I took this previous semester. The entire book revolves around my relationship with my mother and the autoimmune disease we share (I’m aware that this sounds boring, but it’s too early in the game for entertaining back matter anyway).
I’m used to opening up about my private life on the Web, but a memoir takes things to a whole new level. While it’s okay for me to talk about my writer-ly musings here or about my experience living with a disease on My Battle With RA, a memoir almost always involves other people in some way. Sometimes, the people who show up in memoirs aren’t always portrayed in the best light. Memoirs are chock full of skeletons and deeply buried memories. That’s what pulls readers in. I speak generally, of course.
I’m totally cool with putting my stuff out there. No shame. Problem is that I don’t know how well Mom or any other people I mention will take it. I’m working diligently to make sure that the information I give is accurate and focuses mainly on my childhood interpretation of things, because the last thing I want to do is humiliate my mother and piss off relatives.
This is an issue I’ve thought about a lot. My fiance is trying to break into standup comedy. As artists, we realize that our relationship and our individual careers are going to coincide more often than the norm. He’s going to want to make fun of me on stage, and for good reason. I’m going to want to base fictional characters off of him, include him in future memoir pieces, or write about him here. We both have the mutual understanding that we can never flip off the artist switch for the sake of the other’s feelings. It’s unfair to stifle art, especially when it’s another creative doing the stifling. We’re pursuing things that require life experience the same way a car needs gas.
We have an agreement that anything goes, but if it’s something of a sensitive nature, we’ll at least inform the other beforehand. There’s a scene in my memoir where I write about a particularly serious conversation we had regarding our future, and I made sure he was aware of it. Still, I know he won’t try to stop me.
How does that translate with other people though? I’m not the first to face this dilemma. How many stories have been abandoned simply because others didn’t want them published? I don’t think I have to worry too much, but the thought hangs over my head like a black cloud whenever I sit down at the computer. I know my mother is supportive of my career and would never accuse me of intentionally trying to hurt anyone, but what if she tells me that my memoir makes her uncomfortable? Do I respectfully accept that it will never get published? Do I publish anyway and expect her to “just deal?” In my opinion, this piece is one of the better things I’ve written recently. Do I deny myself the opportunity?
Sometimes being a writer sucks with its many “what-ifs.” I try not to let too many outside influences dictate my projects, or I’d never get anything accomplished. I’m going to need to mention this project eventually. I’m deciding to wait until I’m finished with a draft. It’s like going into a board meeting with a fancy Powerpoint presentation and selling an idea. I’ll let you know how that goes.