I've written poetry and won some awards for it back in college; I've tried my hand at short fiction, but my most successful story was written at the age of 8 and featured an intrepid pioneer family whose ideas were far ahead of their time. Lately, creative nonfiction moved to the front as my forte. Which can be a problem, because unless I choose a subject that's completely outside my range of experience (which I've been known to do from time to time, and from time to time I spectacularly fail), I worry about crossing into the danger zone of Other People's Experiences.
This is nothing new for memoirists. Basically every memoir published lately that features living people is blasted for falsehoods or for caricaturing—and alienating—the friends and family members whose personal stories have been mined for content.
Blogging, as it happens, is a Chinese finger trap for the serial diarist. (And let's face it, anyone who writes a blog is a serial diarist, commentating on professions or current events or life with varying degrees of personal exposure.)
Lately I've struggled with telling bits and pieces of my daily life story, because the stories of other people have been careening in and out of my own. As a minor character in someone else's drama, or as a member of an ensemble cast, I hesitate to write about what I really want to write about, because...well, I don't know really. Because I don't want people to be angry with me? Because these other people didn't choose to document their lives in a public way, even though they live their lives in a public way?
I hate when other bloggers do the whole I have a big juicy secret or You would not believe what just happened or My life is so crazy but I'm not going to talk about it posts. Why titillate? Why even mention something that you can't or won't write about?
Oftentimes examining the worst parts of life, with specificity, is far less sensational as all the cryptic hinting and artful dodging, and it's certainly more helpful. We could all do with more light cast into the shadowy corners, I think. The dark bits are where the monsters live and feed, and they will inevitably come out anyway.
For today, I'd like to leave you with something Russell Brand wrote about Amy Winehouse's life and death.
When you love someone who suffers from the disease of addiction you await the phone call. There will be a phone call. The sincere hope is that the call will be from the addict themselves, telling you they’ve had enough, that they’re ready to stop, ready to try something new. Of course though, you fear the other call, the sad nocturnal chime from a friend or relative telling you it’s too late, she’s gone. ...
All addicts, regardless of the substance or their social status share a consistent and obvious symptom; they’re not quite present when you talk to them. They communicate to you through a barely discernible but un-ignorable veil. Whether a homeless smack head troubling you for 50p for a cup of tea or a coked-up, pinstriped exec foaming off about his “speedboat” there is a toxic aura that prevents connection. They have about them the air of elsewhere, that they’re looking through you to somewhere else they’d rather be. And of course they are. The priority of any addict is to anaesthetise the pain of living to ease the passage of the day with some purchased relief. ...
Now Amy Winehouse is dead, like many others whose unnecessary deaths have been retrospectively romanticised, at 27 years old. Whether this tragedy was preventable or not is now irrelevant. It is not preventable today. We have lost a beautiful and talented woman to this disease. Not all addicts have Amy’s incredible talent. Or Kurt’s or Jimi’s or Janis’s, some people just get the affliction. All we can do is adapt the way we view this condition, not as a crime or a romantic affectation but as a disease that will kill. We need to review the way society treats addicts, not as criminals but as sick people in need of care. We need to look at the way our government funds rehabilitation. It is cheaper to rehabilitate an addict than to send them to prison, so criminalisation doesn’t even make economic sense. Not all of us know someone with the incredible talent that Amy had but we all know drunks and junkies and they all need help and the help is out there. All they have to do is pick up the phone and make the call. Or not. Either way, there will be a phone call.