An essay I wrote about a former lover is being published in an anthology called Precipice. In the essay, I use the person’s actual first name because, when I wrote it, no other name seemed a good substitute. And the story I told isn’t a flattering one, really about either of us. It’s about him engineering a visit to see me more than thirty years after our relationship ended and showing up in a way that just dripped of expectation that I had been waiting all that time, instead, I guess, of getting married and having a lot of children and pursuing a career and doing the things people do in life. He came back as if I had been waiting at the bus station since the day he left.
I was queasy about writing the story but knew it was a good one because of how it had stuck in my mind. Something you think about for a long time, on and off, usually has some kind of good message in it.
So I wrote the story and it’s being published in this anthology in the fall. I have no idea how many people will read it and certainly no idea if he ever will. I doubt it. I’m not going to mail him an autographed copy.
Thinking back, I wonder if it the relationship that I had had with this man or the weird visit that happened thirty years after was fair game for an essay. What’s fair game and what isn’t always is the question if a person writes personal essays or memoir.
Whose story is it? That’s always the question I ask myself? Is this my story to tell?
I think that’s one of the hard parts about writing a lot of personal essays knowing where the rights to one’s own story run up against other people’s rights to their stories.
I think there’s a risk when a person writes memoir of leaching the juice out of other people’s stories to make up for the feeling that one’s own story has gone dry. When I get in that place, I start writing about current events. The important thing to me is to be a writer, so if sometimes I’m writing something very personal and, hopefully, compelling and other times I’m commenting on the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, that’s fine. Can I put together a coherent piece, turn a good phrase, and say something new without borrowing feelings and perceptions observed by me but owned by other people?
In the case of the Precipice essay, I probably come pretty close to the line, my own, self-imposed line.
I’m not going to make a habit of that necessarily. This was maybe an exceptional case. Maybe he deserved a little leaching.
#37/100: 37th in a series of 100 in 100