I have heard writers discuss what is off limits before. What they won’t write about, who they won’t write about. Many author friends say things like, “I’ll have my husband read it, and if he has a problem with it, I won’t print it. Our marriage is worth more than a book.” And others, “Nothing is off limits, and no one is immune. Friends, family, my ex-husband, even when we were married – if I feel the pull to write about it, I’m going to write about it. Well everything except for my daughter. She is off limits.” Some of my friends who don’t write essays or creative nonfiction, but stick to blogs or articles may be more restrictive, and others may not. But it is a valid question that I faced for the first time a few weeks ago. And it got me thinking.
When I started this blog, I was big on anonymity and privacy. I didn’t post anything beyond my name (first name only), show off any pictures, etc. And as the blog grew – several personal and identifying pieces of information came out. My various medical problems, my husband’s name, the state we live in, my history with my blood relatives, etc. But still no pictures or last name, which made me feel anonymous. And being anonymous is freeing – at least it is for me. One of the big reasons I have never had a blog before and waited so long to start one was: “I don’t want people that I know reading it and getting upset or hurt. I don’t want to write for them.” But that was countered with, “But then who the hell will read it?”
I don’t blog to appeal to anyone, one big reason I have boxed myself into a niche, even though I would probably have more followers if I did, etc. But I go through the trouble of self-editing, posting, finding images when applicable and putting it out there for the world to see. So I can’t say I don’t post to not have anyone read it either.
But regardless of being read or not being read, I wanted to be in control of at least the people I didn’t want to read it. About ten times, probably less, since I started this blog I have posted a link on my Facebook. BUT I have also edited my privacy settings so my relatives, Roy’s relatives, any friends of either of our families, and other people associated with either of us I didn’t want to have access to my blog and/or that particular post – couldn’t see the status. Well something got through. I’m not sure if I just spaced, and forgot to block someone I should have on a single post, or if Roy ran his mouth, because he is proud of the blog and I love him, but the word “Secret” just doesn’t penetrate with him sometimes. I’m not sure. But now I know I’m not anonymous – I mean I still am to the people who don’t know me in real life, but some of the people that I don’t want reading my blog, and I don’t want the knowledge of reading my blog – are reading my blog, at least sometimes. Well… crap.
Basically what happened was I wrote a blog about how I felt about something that involved other people. It wasn’t a blame blog, or mean, but I shared my own insecurities and frustrations and gave two examples of how I felt like, “Well, what do I do about this?” And someone read it. And they reacted. And I get it. I mean I think this person kind of fixated on one or two statements and it colored how they read the blog itself, but it wasn’t about that. Feelings were hurt, and that was never my intention, so I took the offending post down and deleted it. And we had a conversation (me and this person) and it was good.
I’m sorry that feelings were hurt, but I’m not sorry for posting the blog, because A) it was how I felt and it was honest, and B) it unintentionally created a dialogue between me and this person that wasn’t there before. And while I don’t thrive in confrontation, I don’t even like it to be honest, I don’t shy away from it because I am a direct person. Sometimes an uncomfortable talk is entirely necessary and there is a point. And this was one of those – a silver lining. I really admired this person for coming and talking to me about their concerns. They were upset, but also worried that someone who had yet to read it would be even more hurt if they did. It was a protective instinct driving their reaction (how I took it) which made me understand it that much more. If someone said one or two things about my husband, even if they were true and fair, and I knew it would hurt him – you better believe I would react. And I would be biased. And I would want it taken down. I relate to this, and can understand it.
And that situation brought me to this age-old question that I have never really had to deal with before. I mean first of all, I made a point of never writing nonfiction or anything personal until I was in my final years of college/beginning graduate school. I still wrote about things that happened to me, but I disguised everything by using fiction as my medium. When I finally did start writing all of my closest friends were also writers who understood where I was coming from. As far as my biological family went, they had been out of the picture for years; I was emancipated and rarely had any contact anyway. And as far as any boyfriends went I never let them limit me creatively (I just let them do that every other way instead). But now things are different. I have people in my life who matter, who are not writers or like-minded and I have to revaluate.
I asked this person if I had let him/her read the blog first, and talked about it, would it have mattered as much. But since I don’t go around writing about other people (most of my blog is about my medical experiences, my life as a writer and books I review – hardly touchy subjects) it hasn’t come up before, and so he/she did not have an answer. Then he/she said that perhaps some things were best left in a notebook. I didn’t argue – they are entitled to that opinion, but I disagree with the statement on a fundamental level. It goes against who I am as a writer, and a person. That doesn’t mean I’ll write about everything, or about anything and use the whole, “Nothing is off limits,” belief as justification for being reckless, but that is what I believe. Nothing should be outlawed when it comes to writing. If I write about something – fine. And if I don’t write about something – okay. But having some ban on a particular area of my life doesn’t work for me. Because writing is my truth, the main way I am able to make sense of the world and come across to others in an undiluted, but not too harsh or direct manner.
So forget rules or bans – I don’t need them, and this person never asked me to have one – it was a comment made in passing. Again, I’m just thinking. But what I need now is a plan. What to do if it should come up again. I don’t have a foolproof solution – I think a lot of this is going to be trial and error. For now, I am going to be extra mindful of what may fall into this: This may hurt someone’s feelings thing. Not from a logical point of view, which is what I have been doing, but from an extra sensitive point of view. I am not calling anyone oversensitive, but it is the only way I know to be sure I catch anything potentially problematic. And when I do come across something – I’m going to give that person a head’s up, and talk to them about it if that is necessary. If they ask me not to go through with posting it, I will decide if I feel compelled to post it or not, which is at least 90% of what is here. If I am, I’ll see if it is possible to rewrite them out, choose another example, etc. But if it isn’t doable, and I feel strongly about it, I will probably still post it. I’m just being honest. I mean I never tell other people’s secrets or share their pains on this blog – ever, which would be different. Still, there are so many variables to consider it doesn’t mean that will happen. Maybe I won’t care enough. Or maybe there is another way to make my point. Or maybe after talking with the person in question, it isn’t an issue with them. There are so many maybes.
But I want to make that effort because this person and the people he/she was worried about are more important to me than my blog is, and figuring that out was a no-brainer.
Now the only other thing that I am left with is: Will this affect my writing? For me the biggest issue of certain people reading my blog is not about their feelings because I don’t gossip or rant or have these negative and hurtful posts – that it won’t come up almost ever, and when it does, like this past incident, it will be a misunderstanding, not a reaction to a personal attack or an overreaction to nothing at all – it’s just that messy gray. So, I’m not worried about that, plan or no plan. But writing without knowing that so-and-so reads it was freeing. I don’t curse a lot, but I could without giving it much thought. And I could talk about love and sex (though I rarely even mention the latter, I’m a tad old-fashioned there) and family, and I could talk about past traumas that I definitely don’t want family or people I see on a daily basis to know about! And crap all over again.
I hope I continue to not censor myself. To not think about who may or may not read it, and just stay out of my head and write from my heart. And to hell with everything else. But I can be hyper-rational sometimes (my husband and friends call me this) and so I wonder if it will be that easy. I hope so. Because when you start censoring yourself or hiding a specific area of your life it takes away from the whole picture. My past contributes to my personality and who I am. And the present is how I come off and the things that I say and do now, and my future is combined of these two things equally. Survivor of terminal illness, book nerd, violent trauma survivor, writer, activist, redhead, deaf person, orphan with two living parents, animal lover, liberal, anti-religion-but-still-spiritual, Native Midwesterner and so many other things make up who I am. Take one of those away, and what you’re left with is a little less.