Who reads what you write and does it matter?

Yesterday, my cousin, a brilliant guy, several years older than me, who travels the country attending conferences and making speeches because, he claims, he can’t sell his business and retire, although I’m pretty sure he believes if he quits running at top speed all the time, he will keel over in a heap, sent me an email, written at the very crack of dawn, to tell me I was a “very brave lady.”

He said he’d ‘stumbled’ on a post from a few years ago.

It had to have been “The Wire,” I thought.  Nothing else would have elicited that kind of response from him. I wrote back. Yes, he answered, it was “The Wire,” an essay about my abortion experience in 1967, six years before the legalization of abortion in the U.S.

It was a raw piece, written in a moment of intense frustration and anger about idiot new laws being proposed to restrict access to safe abortion. The particular trigger was something some two-bit Congressman from Missouri had said, I can’t even remember what it was. Neanderthal, misogynist, disgusting, worse than the stuff that was said when the original abortion debate was going on. When we go backward in time policy-wise, is it also necessary that the dialogue becomes so exquisitely dumb? Is noun-verb agreement too much to ask?

Anyway, when I got this email yesterday, it was a jolt. My cousin, my older, handsome, accomplished cousin, the one we all looked up to, well, he’d just read about my illegal abortion 48 years ago. Not a secret anymore, I guess.

Everything I write, I write with the expectation that some of the people who read it will be people I know, some of them will be relatives, like my husband and children. My niece and nephews. My brother. My brother’s email just showed up as a new subscriber to my blog. If he reads the new posts when he gets those email notifications, he will meet a person he doesn’t know.

Do I make that my risk or is it his?

There have been times when my husband has closed his iPad after reading one of my posts and say, “I didn’t know that about you.” Or “I didn’t know you felt that way.” No. Why would you? I think. I don’t even know. Like Joan Didion said, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.”

Sometimes I write it down, fill this beautiful clean WordPress box with words, read what I’ve written, and delete it all. Usually for no reason. Just because it’s not right or not ready, often because even in the writing of it, I still couldn’t figure out what I thought. It was a piece going nowhere.

But sometimes it’s because I think about who might read it and whether that person would feel bad because of something I wrote and whether that person deserves to feel bad because actually some people in a person’s life actually do deserve to feel bad if an honest piece of writing exposes their behavior. If I feel like it’s hurtful, too big a price to pay for the joy of getting something out of my head, then I deep-six it.

How do you handle what you write about? What goes into your decision process about what’s ready for prime time?

Talk to me.