The Line Between Writing About Me and Writing About You

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“I was sorry that particular essay hurt my mother’s feelings, but I knew that it was a strong, honest piece. I also knew that as a writer, if I started to censor myself for expressions that might upset someone, I could not write. My life, and all that has touched it, is the raw material in my work. It is the soil and the seed for my produce. With words, I only add water and keep it in a sunny spot until fruition. So my intent in writing is not offense, it is growth. That’s my best apology.”

-“Raw Material” by Valerie Shultz featured in A Cup of Comfort for Writers

I’m writing a lot these days. A LOT. It’s an important part of the healing process for me (and frankly, cheaper than a therapist.) I believe in the power of the written word. Writing gives me the ability to not only express myself, but to be understood. I can rewrite a post half a dozen times, use a thesaurus, consult a friend, and proofread the final draft for a week before unleashing my thoughts on the world. These are things realtime conversations don’t allow.

When I write, I can’t be interrupted (unless, I suppose, you just close the window?) I can’t be talked over. And my readers know exactly what I said. No reframing my sentences. No mishearing. No gas lighting later.

But all the time and effort I put into my writing means I have an elevated level of responsibility for my words. It’s easy enough to say “I didn’t mean that. It was said in the heat of the moment.” When I write, that excuse isn’t open to me. I have to own what I say.

And that’s why telling my story is so, so hard. Because my story, unlike my thoughts, involves other people. People who may read this. People who might be friends, family, and loved ones. People who can see and be seen on my Facebook page.

I try hard not to name names when I talk about people who have hurt me, but some things are too obvious to hide. It’s not a leap to assume that when I talk about “the culture in which I was raised” my parents might factor into that culture. When I talk about my ex-husband, some of you have a name and a face to go along with the tale. Some parts of my story are impossible to address without dragging others into the spotlight a little.

I try hard to be respectful. Truly, I do. I try to give people their due, being clear to absolve blame where appropriate, and speaking about the good in my relationships as well as the bad. But the line between talking about me and talking about you is blurry.

The fact is that I can’t properly tell my story without all the characters. I didn’t get where I am today all on my own. I didn’t wake up one day with my thoughts and opinions having mysteriously blossomed in my brain. I – like everyone – am shaped by my relationships, past and present. That means in my story, you’re a character too.

My hope is that if you see yourself in the subtext of my story, you’ll understand that my perspectives are just that – my perspectives. I was told often in my childhood (hi Dad!) that “it’s not what you say – it’s what they hear.” People with loving, well-meaning, loyal, kind intentions can still impact you negatively. This doesn’t make them bad people. People who think they are being clear in their communication can still have their words misunderstood. I learned a lot of lessons no one ever meant to teach me, but their intentions didn’t prevent those lessons from taking root in my heart and shaping who I am.

So I ask that if you do read (and truly, you never have to), please read with a forgiving mind. Please read knowing that the nameless person I describe as having hurt me may have loved me with every fiber of their being, but that hurt still matters. It’s still who I am, and it’s still going to be a part of my story.

At the end of the day, I don’t believe that hiding your story and pretending hurts didn’t happen is healthy. I don’t believe that painting over the bad parts of life makes things okay. But I do believe that words can heal, and I’m clearing out my brain the only way I know how.

I love you all. Here’s to truth in love.

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