Welcome to Day 19 of “30 Days of Brené Brown.”
I can’t let another sentence get by without mentioning and offering a moment of remembrance to the events that occurred a year ago in Newtown, Connecticut. My heart goes out, still, to those families whose lives were changed forever. I try not to editorialize stuff like this; it needs it not.
I’m feeling a little off-center from a sequence of events which have dovetailed in my life in a very short space of the last 48 hours on an energetic level that I can’t even beGIN to comprehend. Wrapping my head around it boggles me. So I’m just going to not bother. I am saying all this because I might not be as “WITTY!” as I usually am. I am grateful for it all though.
If we share our shame story with the wrong person, they can easily become one more piece of flying debris in an already dangerous storm.(page 10)
― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
This quote smacks. It just does.
Being a writer means that we write. There are some of us who write fiction; I can do that. I can whip up people, space aliens, rodents who speak, raindrops which sing in a matter of seconds based on where I am, anywhere; and what I’m doing, anything. But to make those characters relatable (which is the WHOLE POINT OF WRITING), we need to give them dimension: age, temperament, personal history, height, tone of voice, cadence of dialogue. The ability to do so is often a dream, a gift, and a curse.
I’m reading Pat Conroy’s The Death of Santini. It’s rich, as most of his work is, with fragrant passages and textured settings, and robust moments. I feel as though I am there with him, writing. Or at least watching. This “book” is hailed as a memoir; at least in the jacket. Memoir connotes nonfiction, does it not?
Interestingly (trust me, I’ll get to my point), in the book, the Library of Congress bibliowhatever page has a litany of categories enumerated at the bottom of the page: “Military life — Fiction. Domestic violence — Fiction. Suicide — Fiction.” and on and on. I thought it was memoir. Even in his own introduction, which I usually snooze through but never do in a memoir, Conroy said it was essential in The Great Santini, which was also a fictionalized memoir based on his father that he, “fictionalize my father to make him [seem] human,” or something like that. I’m hazy.
Does Conroy base his characters on the ether? No.
Writer or not: do you reference your life’s experiences and the people with whom you share them as though they are irrelevant to one another? Do you? Do you think that one event has nothing to do with another and that all events are not at all related? Even if YOU are the thread which relates them? Do you stay silent? Do you not share?
My point is this: Brown talks about releasing shame. But she also said, quite early on in her book, that sharing our shame with the wrong people puts us at risk of damage. I am so safe to someone who holds shame; I might share about it, because the release of the shame affected me, but I would NEVER betray a confidence.
In The Death of Santini, Pat Conroy wrote in his prologue of The Great Santini, “there were many things I was afraid to write or feared that no one would ever believe,” (p . 11) when he first wrote it at age 30. It was his debut.
That fear is shame-based. While it’s organic and his; that projection: that no one would believe him or parts that he was afraid to write, wasn’t. It was externalized, as is most of the shame we all carry, based on the stuff (as in Shakespeare –stuff) of other people.
I have lost friends in the course of my lifetime whom I believe now, were only meant to be with me for whatever term they were. I was even accused of writing about one of them several times in this blog. The accusations were unfounded. I’m good with it all.
Never, however, have I been dismissed because of what I write about MYSELF: that I might share too much; that their personal comfort level with my content is difficult for them. Nor, have I been dismissed based on an unspoken fear that I would write about someone else –this is mine: in a way that would be so succinct, so crystal clear, that only the two other people who know I know this person would be able to determine, without a doubt, that I was writing about that person. I have tons of ambivalence about what I write all. the. time. Even these words, right now <– –>these for a matter of fact, are choices I make fully aware that I’m letting my slip show. But every time I share I feel a little better about myself.
That dismissal implies that I am the ‘one more piece of debris’ in a dangerous storm.
Gah. People can be so fake.
It reminds me of NSA. The wiretapping or cell phone surveillance stuff. Here’s me: heck yeah! I write about other people all the time. I write about myself more. I write about how those other people affect me almost constantly. I write about how I’m so confused or amazed or impressed or enlightened or hurt. That’s what makes me human. That’s how I’m able to share my story. I have nothing I am ashamed of.
I have privacies, absolutely; I don’t share them because c’mon: who wants to hear about my toe fungus or my ear wax statues? But: do you want to hear about my ear wax statues OF my toe fungus? Sign me up.
I get that people, myself included harbor shame; but as far as nurturing shame?! Mmmmmno. But about 99.8% of all shame is bullshit. It belongs to someone else or it’s so OVER, so last century, so second grade, that it’s time it come out and guess what: when you do share it, people are either “me too!” or kind. Or… silent.
Shame is an epidemic; a scourge on our emotional and spiritual health: it keeps us isolated, fearful, judgmental and ironically: caustic. It engenders parsimony and the more parsimonious we are — with ourselves, love, resources, time, gifts, truths, etc., the more we allow shame to grow in us. Like toe fungus. No, like toe fungus on Ebenezer Scrooge. Before the three spirits. (Hey, it’s the yuletide season, I’m feeling it.)
So yeah, I was dismissed by someone this week. The fear was that I would write about us. I hadn’t yet, in any specific fashion. But I might now. Hmmm. No. I won’t. It was never that remarkable.
Yeah, I’m being petty. I’m also full of crap; I don’t mean it.
The fact is that this person’s shame kicked me to the curb about two years ago, but I was never told. It wasn’t revealed to me, in fact it was repressed, until I asked about the radio silence that had deafened me to a point where I couldn’t think of anything else. I was hurt. The math didn’t add up. If anything, I am someone that anyone can talk to about anything. I’ll own that I’m not always super easy about it, but I eventually get my act together and rally. People are important to me.
I had known this person for about 14 years. The thought to share our relationship never entered my mind. I thought everything was OK and that things on that person’s end were just busy or whatever. For two years. After a major death in my life. Y’know… it happens.
OK ok ok. I felt that something was amiss; it’s just hard to be soft. It’s easier to be hard. But it was really apparent (enter: falling piano) when my mother’s death was comPLETEly blown off. I received nary a call, smoke signal, email, morse code, owl-gram, text, telepathy, sky writing, FB note or y’know… card from this person. Nada. Zip. Dilzh (that’s supposed to be “zilch” but I didn’t look when I was typing). That happened to me. My brother’s awesome friends FLEW IN from NYC just for Mom’s funeral and this person did nothing. I get it: death does crazy shit to people, but 13+ years of friendship means nothing?
Ok, I’m not being fair. Eventually, I did get a card. It was my birthday card, three weeks after Mom died, and it didn’t even mention her death. Just blasé plastic bullshit: “thinking of you [for this nanosecond of unbearable vulnerability] and hoping your next year is [who the (&@$ cares] is [superficial trendy adjective]. xo Bipsy.”
It should have just said, “Gee. Sorry your Mom kicked. Happy birthday.” But that would’ve taken too much blood from that cold fish. Look, if you’re going to drop the .22 cents for a stamp these days, why not use it on the card; or spend the .10 cents to call me from a pay phone.
The irony is, of course, that this person was no more perfect than you or I; in fact this person’s ability to flap the gums and chew the fat was on par with yours truly. So let me get this straight: TALKING about it, and I’m sure about me and our relationship to other people is OK, but my writing about it isn’t?!
So here I am, NOT writing about it.
As Anne Lammott said of writing,
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
Swear alert: fuck yeah.
I have NO clue if I attended to that quote or not. I just got hit with some debris.
I think that Ann Lammott quote is really true and funny until I think about someone writing about me! Then I find myself thinking that the writer wouldn’t know my whole story or wouldn’t understand that I was doing my best at the time. I keep thinking about how I didn’t understand some of my parents rules or behaviors until I had a child myself. Suddenly, with a three year old, I have more empathy and understanding for their shortcomings or just plain weirdness. If I were to write about them now versus 10 years ago it would be a very different thinly veiled, fictional memoir. It’s important to have perspective and empathy when you are trying to humanize or even understand someone. Even a fictional someone!
I am glad you are writing and letting your slip show. I think writing about life including shameful moments is one of the most healthy ways to let it all out. I mean, people can choose not to read it, but people can also choose to read it and nod and say, “Yes, this is me too.” There is time to think before responding. There is time for reflection.
I seriously hope you put that toe fungus ear wax statue graphic on a T-shirt. I am dieing over here. It’s so funny!
“I think that Ann Lammott quote is really true and funny until I think about someone writing about me!”: yes! you’re so funny and so real. i love it.
I would hope, of myself, that I wouldn’t write about someone too deeply without giving a dimensional view of them.
t2 is taking an honors english class and he’s learning all about the elements of fiction: flat characters, round characters, plot, antagonist, protagonist — it’s very cool stuff. i’m sure i learned it, but not until HS. then i forgot it. anyway, i think it’s essential, as a good writer, to do our best to round out a character and allow them some humanity otherwise it’s all spoonfed. i get a pit in my stomach when i’m not being fair to a character. this post gave me a pit in my stomach; it still doesn’t sit well with me but i have to chalk it up to maybe a little heartbreak too.
as for your point about being a parent: absolutely. i see / hear so much of my mother and father in my comments or the ones i edit to be slightly softer even though i’m a tempest inside. it’s hard to parent. it’s impossible to please them all the time — even when we think we are pleasing them, there is definitely something we could be doing differently, i’m sure. i have fond memories of my parents; in the memoir, they are coming to me and it’s really nice. i thought there was something wrong with me, that i’d only remember the harder things, but that’s not fair to me either.
the t-shirt idea… it’s so out of context! i’d have to clean it up before i did. i love that you love it. it was a blast to draw… i thought, “naaah, i’ll do jacob marley instead…” and we were off.