Drawing the line in memoir: How far do you go?

A few months ago, I went searching for my teen years online. I dug through my AOL account, read a couple of AIM transcripts I’ve saved for a decade, and finally, googled my way to an old, old, old blog. Reading that blog, I was surprised that even then my naïve little brain was still conscious of just how much I wanted to share.

Like most teens, I thrived on status updates that were vague enough to be denied if I was cornered, but obvious enough for people in the know (aka my trio of friends and, I wished, my crushes and frenemies) to get the gist.

I’ve owned a series of blogs. There was a Xanga in middle school, then a Live Journal in tenth grade, then a string of WordPress blogs that carried me through my undergrad career, studying abroad, and my first job. Now, I’m here at Ingenue Diaries (and over at SeeBrittWrite), and I beg you not to go digging for the old stuff, which does still exist, much to my occasional embarrassment.

In the beginning, I depended on song lyrics and a peculiar array of pet names, code words, and initials to reference the characters that floated in and out of my not-terribly-angsty life. I cringe to think of what the subjects of my rants would have thought of what I wrote ten-plus years ago. Today, my strategy of choosing subjects to write about boils down to avoiding that cringe factor.

I’ve thought about this a fair amount, as I’m sure (or I hope) most memoirists and personal bloggers do. When it comes to writing about real life, the question is this: How much—and who—do we want to expose?

For me, it comes down to two points.

First: Do you remember when Lena Dunham’s memoir was released, and there was that controversy over whether or not she’d assaulted her young sister? There was a story (that I’ve not read) about Lena and her fascination with her sister’s vagina and, well, you can read all about that yourself. For me, it results in a flashing neon sign that reads “DO NOT WANT!” in obnoxiously large letters.

Second: In one of Grey’s Anatomy’s newest storylines about Hunt and Meredith and this whole dramatic thing, Mer makes an important, essential, foundational point: Whatever Hunt’s story is, it’s not hers to share.

Tangential though they may be, these are the two legs my storytelling strategy here rests upon.

The third thing (because tripods are sturdy and also, this is true): I don’t want to turn other people’s most essential, poignant, upsetting, affecting experiences into moments that are, on my blog, all about me. I have my selfish moments, many more than I would like, in fact, but I am endeavoring to limit them and to not give them life or spotlight or anything here.

So, there is a framework, then. There are stories I don’t want to share and may never share. There are stories that I could share, but won’t because they aren’t mine. And then there are moments that I could pretend are all about me, but I don’t want to do that.

The thing about memoir is that really, it’s your call. It’s your life, and it’s how you remember experiencing it—and then how you decide to relate those experiences. For me, this works. My framework makes me feel good about what I share here. It creates a cathartic space that I am comfortable with. Here, I feel honest and free, and those are two things I strive for in my writing. The other big thing is personality. And you get that in droves, regardless.

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Here’s my best meet-cute

Several years ago, a college friend did the whole white dress/”I do” thing. It was summer and it was hot, and the reception hall had zero air conditioning and one water fountain. He was a groomsman and I was a bridal party groupie.

Several years ago, a college friend did the whole white dress/”I do” thing. It was summer and it was hot, and the reception hall had zero air conditioning and one water fountain. He was a groomsman and I was a bridal party groupie. Two of my best friends were bridesmaids, so when my dancin’ feet got tired, I plopped myself down in a vacant chair at the wedding party’s table. It was just the two of us—my roommate and I—until he caught my eye and slipped into the chair on my friend’s other side. He introduced himself, and we held an entire conversation around my roommate (polite, much?) until she rolled her eyes and excused herself.

Then, there was pie-cutting and first-dancing, and that was that, until the party ended and my friends and I decided we were hot as hell and going to Rita’s, damn it. That’s when I marched across the room and told him very assertively that he ought to come with us.

And he did.

So there we were, standing around a table at a shack of a Rita’s Italian Ice in God-knows-where Maryland, when he slid his phone into my hand under the table and asked me for my number.

Did I mention this was the summer of “Call Me Maybe”?

Naturally, everyone knew what was going on, and proceeded to ignore it for 10 minutes—long enough to swap numbers—before teasing us mercilessly until our beet-red faces bored them.

I’m not telling you this story because we’re planning our own wedding in a meet-cute triumph. I’m telling it because, in my last act of birthday bravery, I deleted his number from my phone. After I did it, the memory flashed through my brain and I felt sorry for a moment. Not sorry that those ten digits are gone (I haven’t talked to him in two years or seen him in three). Sorry, I guess, that my sweetest story of new beginnings wasn’t much of a beginning after all. And sorry, I guess, that after so little, it still hurts my heart to remember.

Do you lie about your September 11, 2001?

Apparently, a lot of people do. When I saw this Washington Post article (via Gala Darling) about a psychiatrist working in New York after the worst terrorist attack on American soil, I wanted to smack a liar.

Apparently, a lot of people do. When I saw this Washington Post article (via Gala Darling) about a psychiatrist working in New York after the worst terrorist attack on American soil, I wanted to smack a liar.

Continue reading “Do you lie about your September 11, 2001?”

Rant 001. Assault is assault and one more thing to think on.

I’m checking in off-schedule because there are some things this week that are driving me batty–OK, one thing in particular–and also something that I just read that you guys need to read, partly because I said so and mostly because it’s excellent and insightful and important.

I’m checking in off-schedule because there are some things this week that are driving me batty–OK, one thing in particular–and also something that I just read that you guys need to read, partly because I said so and mostly because it’s excellent and insightful and important.

Continue reading “Rant 001. Assault is assault and one more thing to think on.”

I’m a judgmental person. (But I’m trying to stop.)

Three years ago, when I was working 9:30 to late at a stressful job with a difficult boss; three years ago, when I was so sick, I weighed less than 100 pounds and didn’t know what to do about it; three years ago, when the only thing that made me happier was hearing about the drama in everyone else’s lives—three years ago, I was a very judgmental person.

Three years ago, when I was working 9:30 to late at a stressful job with a difficult boss; three years ago, when I was so sick, I weighed less than 100 pounds and didn’t know what to do about it; three years ago, when the only thing that made me happier was hearing about the drama in everyone else’s lives—three years ago, I was a very judgmental person.

Continue reading “I’m a judgmental person. (But I’m trying to stop.)”

Amy Dunne was totally right (about being the Cool Girl)

It took me three years and my cousin’s “read this now or else” death stare to get me to pick up Gone Girl and actually read it. It went from slow to awesome in about 120 pages, I think. And for me, the thing that made it awesome was the brilliance of Amy Dunne. When Amy turned up (spoiler alert) alive in that car, being a total badass boss of a bitch, it was about 3 in the morning, my time, and I was fist-pumping and cheering her insane plan on, much to Mr. Ingenue’s dismay.

It took me three years and my cousin’s “read this now or else” death stare to get me to pick up Gone Girl and actually read it. It went from slow to awesome in about 120 pages, I think. And for me, the thing that made it awesome was the brilliance of Amy Dunne. When Amy turned up (spoiler alert) alive in that car, being a total badass boss of a bitch, it was about 3 in the morning, my time, and I was fist-pumping and cheering her insane plan on, much to Mr. Ingenue’s dismay.

Continue reading “Amy Dunne was totally right (about being the Cool Girl)”

Stop. Wait a minute.

In the three months since I my last check-in, things have changed. Again. It’s actually been a few weeks since I’ve sewn anything. What happened? I pushed too hard.

In the three months since I my last check-in, things have changed. Again. It’s actually been a few weeks since I’ve sewn anything. What happened? I pushed too hard.

Continue reading “Stop. Wait a minute.”