Adults Behaving Badly

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”  Anne Lamott

I’d like to tell you the stories of my family and friends – the flaws and secrets that abound.  They make juicy narratives of affairs, alcoholism, drug abuse, unexpected pregnancies, lies and deceptions.  They are full of people who are vain, controlling, and self-pitying.

At the same time, these are stories of people I love, who are also kind, generous, and trustworthy.  I can’t reveal their confidences.  Even the list in the first paragraph seems too revealing.

I’m not sure how to reconcile the dilemma as a writer – to express what I observe without hurting feelings.  I find the people I know best to be fascinating, especially with their mix of wonderful attributes and their inadvertently destructive behavior.  However, to present just one side of them – all sunny or all dark – oversimplifies the matter of these complex personalities.

For now, my observations remain hidden in my private journal, but I hope to find the right place to write about people more publicly, as they touch my own life.

I ask the writers in the SOL community, “What do you do?  Do you write about the darker side of people you know well?”


10 thoughts on “Adults Behaving Badly

  1. Oh, my gosh. I can so relate to your feelings. Like you, my life is people by a list of “characters”. Unfortunately, fiction is not my forte, and I would never hurt the ones I love so deeply, but their stories are amazing. Observing and recovering from the effects they have had on me, steer me to either write about myself or about general topics (like alcoholism) in a way that I hope helps others. Thanks for sharing this. I don’t feel so alone in this dilemma.

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  2. You raise the thorny and necessary questions that we as writers need to resolve again and again but not always the same way. One question that seems linked and has helped me decide what or how much to reveal is: Is this my story to tell? Often times it is not and I have to find alternative and/or not tell that story. Of course our loved ones are so much more than characters who make for compelling storytelling. I do think there are ways to honor those we care about without skimping on the truth but I think before anything becomes public that we need to be clear about why and for whom we are writing and what we would like to shift in the world by making it available far beyond our journal pages. Wishing you all the best as you wrestle these questions to gradual resolution in your own mind.

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    1. Thank you for your very thoughtful reply. “Is this my story to tell?” and “What do I want to shift in the world by publishing this?” are great questions.


  3. You’ve presented a tough dilemma. In her book “Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir” Beth Kephart tackles this issue. The book is superb. I’m more comfortable Ss hating stories about my father and mother because they are dead. I do not write about my children, even though my story intertwines with theirs. People have a right to privacy. I echo Sheri’s sentiments. During the March SOL challenge I found myself experiencing much discomfort when I read posts that vilified those living in the writer’s orbit, but this has much to do w/ language, both syntax and diction. I suppose a good rule is “first fo no harm.”

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  4. Such a slippery slope, and I don’t have an answer. I think if I could write in a way that would keep the person’s identity unknown, I may consider it. I have written many posts about students, but try to mask their identities. It is usually the reflection or lesson that I want to share, not really the story. Good luck with your decision.

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