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.