Sunday, June 25, 2006

The question at hand...

Does writing about a relationship change it?

The question begs others. For example, who can you write about? Your friends, your family, coworkers, strangers? When they’re living? When they’re dead? Is it ok to write about people if they read what you write – or would you cringe if they found your blog? And where is the line on tone? Does it matter how you feel about them when you write? Do you write when you feel angry and judgmental about someone? Do you only write nice things? Do you try for the illusion of objectivity?

A writer friend and I argued this one a few years back. His stance is that a writer’s job is to be completely truthful – take no prisoners, tell the stories as you see them. And because it’s writing like that affects me most deeply when I read, I could see his point, but something about going at it full-out doesn’t sit well with me – and it isn’t only cowardice, although that’s certainly some of it. There’s a line that can be crossed from honesty into self-righteous judgment. My test is whether I could face a person who was reading what I’d written about them. Not whether they’d cheer. Just whether I could face them and not avert my eyes.

Telling the stories that matter to me, I try to feel my way to the shape they take inside me and then I try to be true to the shape. It’s a middle ground that I’m operating in, in-between surgical precision and fuzzy niceness. And my view is all I can be honest about because I do not know the story from anyone else’s point of view.

In light of the recent combustion in a relationship, though, and the fact that I’ve been writing about in its’ various phases, the question reopens…

Did it change the relationship? Of course it did.

But you don’t have to write a thing down to change it. The minute, the nanosecond you move from directly experiencing a moment, I figure, and start filtering it through your brain full of history, experience and opinion, it changes. It changes if you tell a friend. It changes if you scribble it privately in a diary. It changes when you remember it. Which is what you are doing that nanosecond later.

So why write it (think about it or remember it)?

I conceive of the universe through the personal. Having been well-advised that I stink at polemic, I stay away from it. Relationship reveals meaning to me and writing is how a big part of how I process meaning. I think in stories – from the taxi driver who sings me a self-composed song for his pet Iguana, to my neighbors pushing stolen grocery carts, to remarks my friends make, to my relationship with the Scorpio. There’s another reason I write – but I’ll come back to that.

Fact is, I don’t have much of a relationship with the Iguana loving taxi driver, so it’s not a matter of great consequence if our relationship is affected by my writing about it. But did the Scorpio read my stories? No. Did anyone who personally knew him read them? No – or, out of respect, I likely wouldn’t have written them. But I often read them to him. They made him laugh and he liked seeing how things looked through my eyes. He encouraged my writing, whether the topic was him or anything else. We made it through at least a year without my writing habit blighting the territory. With or without publicity, it has been a relationship full of Hindenburg conditions: hope, idealism and static electricity. And the chemical combination that sent us crashing to the ground was far more immediate than my writing. The story we got wrong was the one I didn’t write.

Reason for writing, number two – the reason I was coming back to…

It’s important to scare yourself. It keeps you awake to yourself and the world.

One writer (Telling Lies for Fun and Profit) said that writers ask for honest opinions but don’t really want them. If an honest opinion is unkind or critical, he says, it’s a lot like showing someone your baby and being honestly informed its head is too big.

If you are a vulnerable person, it’s damn good practice in stating your truth and letting the rain fall where ever it does. It teaches you how to tell who you are from who people think you are…

And it also lets you know that you are, under absolutely no condition, in any circumstance or emotion, a population of one.