Offending Family

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I was in tears over a piece of writing, and it wasn’t because of a poorly written manuscript or because it had been panned. In fact, the few people I’d sent this essay to read/preview/critique were excited and touched by the essay.

I was in tears because my family wasn’t happy with the essay, a personal piece about one particular in-law, someone who passed away in the last few years. I’d sent copies to get their blessing, assuming I’d receive the same kind of support I’d received from writer friends, but when I got the email saying, in so many words, that it was not a good idea to publish the piece, I felt destroyed. They asked for a few changes, but all I heard was “No no no no no no no….”

I hadn’t written anything derogatory–it’s just that they didn’t want family to be mentioned in my writing whatsoever. As a member of the family, I felt deeply hurt because I didn’t know what could be so wrong about a tribute to my relationship with that person; in fact, I felt that I was not being allowed to grieve, and display my grieving, in my unique way. At the same time, I understood their desire for 100% privacy, given circumstances. But as a writer, I felt censored, my creativity stifled.

A “good girl” at heart, someone rule-driven and eager for the approval and acceptance of others, I felt demonic for wanting to express myself. A writer, I hated the “good girl” for allowing myself to consider censorship for the good of the family and to the detriment of my work.

How did I deal with this internal conflict? I sat in the car in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s and cried, my sobbing breaths fogging up the car windows. Eventually the “good girl” and “the writer” working together, got me to call a friend intimately familiar with the conflict of artist/family expectations (her book pissed off her family), who texted me back with what I needed to hear: permission, for the “good girl” to allow the writer to thrive. She told me to go for it–to make some concessions, but to try to get the work out there.

So I’m putting the piece out there. (In the end, my family said it would be okay so long as I left out names). I know this will not be the last time my writing might conflict with family comfort levels, but maybe someday, I won’t have to call someone to give the writer in me, permission, to go go go.

And maybe maybe maybe, someday my in-laws will understand what it means for me to be a writer.

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3 Comments

Filed under Life, Writing

3 responses to “Offending Family

  1. An excellent professor I had for a memoir workshop liked to say this: “As a writer, you don’t owe anyone silence.” Your writing is your experience, your memory, and your version of events. And it is also your art. It may be hard when others don’t want your words out there, but you have to think about what is right for you, as a writer.

    • You are very wise, and so is your professor–I am keeping those words close to my heart as I brave my brief forays into memoir and personal essay.

      Thank you for your supportive words, elizabeth.

  2. I’ve been in that awful place before — between “good girl” and writer. The writer who helped me accept that was Richard Rodriguez, who addressed that very issue in a speech at a conference I attended a few years ago. He said, “It is a writer’s business to betray the family, to betray the intimate circle. And I learned at 32 when I first wrote my book, what little girls know when they are 7 and 8 years old and they keep a diary — boys never keep diaries, little girls keep diaries — and they write because there are things too personal you can only say them to a stranger: Dear Diary. Today I fell, today I knew, today I met.”

    The takeaway for me there was the idea that it is sometimes impossible to stifle the need to write down those things too personal to say to the people closest to you, that the very nature of those things compels the betrayal. So don’t be hard on yourself for doing that.

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