Dredging up. Is that what we do as memoirists? A fellow writer shared her challenges with her mother, trying to understand, feeling her mother’s unwillingness to examine their relationship. I wanted to tell her, as well as remind myself, not everyone thinks like us. Not everyone has the need we have. We’re compelled to articulate, to process into words that which lives in our deep brain, that which for most people is just the water they swim in.
We harken back and scoop up big old slimy handfuls of muck from the bottom of the pond, ripe and stinking, and ask, “what is this?” People close to us look at us and recoil. “EW! Put that down. Why on earth would you plunge into that? The pond was just fine before you muddled it up. Now I can’t see clearly.”
“Yes, I’m sorry,” we memoirists say, “but what is this? Help me understand, it’s been below our feet, and a part of us all this time and I want to understand and bring it to the surface.” It makes those we love uncomfortable.
Anne Lamott said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” I get that, but it almost feels too harsh for what I’m trying to get at. Lamott is referring to the product, the piece written, finally outside ourselves and subject to the opinions of others.
It’s this process I’m curious about. The compulsion to dredge, and the realization not everyone has it. I’ve learned to carry on, interact without being disingenuous, politely smile, engage in small talk. Still, there are so many questions I have, questions I admit only serve my purposes. Big questions. Questions that fill the room, fill my mouth and make it difficult for me to speak.
I like to dive down and see what’s beneath. I want to know your story, what makes you tick. I want to hear about your thoughts, beliefs, how you feel. And that line of questioning makes a lot of people uncomfortable, like standing in water when a virtual stranger submerges to swim about, brushing against ankles, bubbling up beside them unannounced.
So then, back to Lamott. Discerning what I own, versus what I’m just nosy about. Where is the line, what am I allowed to dredge up, ask about, write about, share on a blog? When is privacy breached? Murky waters, indeed.
Meg Kinghorn is the big weirdo of the Ella/Meg Salty City Writing Workshop collaboration. She teaches Creative Non-fiction and Memoir at the University of Utah and gives herself and any other writer crossing her path unmitigated permission to write whatever the hell they want.