Writing about loved ones – to do or not to do, that is the question

So I’m in Australia, after a long journey from Laos that had its ups and downs. We’ll get to those later this week, but first let me stop and say how lovely it is to be here at McKay’s Pregnancy Resort and Spa. It’s sunny but cool, the dawn light is gilding the bank of clouds out to sea, and there are no roosters. Oh, and the shower is kick ass.

My parents, despite some teasing, seem quite happy for me to base myself here for the next five months. They have, however, tried to impose one condition upon my stay.

“We’ll raise your rent,” my Dad said over ricotta pancakes and lattes after we stopped at a café on the way home from the airport yesterday morning, “if you don’t agree to one thing.”

As my rent is currently zero this was quite some threat.

“Oh,” I said, spearing a strawberry, “what’s that?”

“That nothing that is said by us in this house goes on your blog without prior permission,” Dad said.

“I know you think I reveal too much of my own life sometimes,” I said, “but have you seen me cross the line with Mike or someone else in ways that makes you particularly blog-shy? Do you really think my filters are that poor?”

Well… no, they admitted reluctantly. They couldn’t think of any particular examples right then, but they remained wary nonetheless.

In the end, as Dad went to pay for breakfast, I said I’d consider it. But between you and me I just don’t know if my artistic integrity can accept such fetters. Nor do I understand exactly what are they so afraid of.

Well, actually, now that I pause to think about it, perhaps they’re worried that I’ll reproduce conversations like this one.

8:30pm last night. Mum, Dad, and I are sitting around sipping Milo and watching television.

“How long is your visa valid for for this trip?” My mum asked while fast-forwarding through commercials.

I took a sip and tried to make some sense of this. I failed.

Then Mum laughed.

“Oh,” she said. “I forgot. You have an Australian passport, don’t you.”

And some people wonder why I set out several years ago to write a memoir with the initial aim of untangling my deep-seated issues around the concept of “home”.

Speaking of the memoir, it should be ready to go to my agent within the next week (wheeee!). Speaking of home, I miss Mike and Zulu terribly already, but I am lucky indeed to have another home on this side of the equator. And speaking of crossing the equator, more on that later this week.

Writers and bloggers, how do you deal with this issue of writing about the living (particularly those you’re living with)? The rest of you, do you think I should agree to Mum and Dad’s request?

25 responses to “Writing about loved ones – to do or not to do, that is the question

  1. So, here’s what you do: Write about everything. Even exaggerate if it makes the story better. Some people call that ‘lying’ but you and I can call it ‘creative non-fiction’. Stock pile the blog posts. Then, publish them after you return to Laos. It’s a win-win. Sort of. Well, not really. But you’ll have a lot of blog posts!

    • Hmmm… food for thought. That could come in handy for those first few months of parenthood when I’m so sleep deprived I suspect I won’t be able to type straight. But, then again, I sort of want to come back here someday, too… 🙂

  2. I guess it depends whether writing or your family is more important to you, right?

    • Yeah, were this a deeply serious issue with all parties concerned firmly dug into their respective trenches, that would indeed be the core question at the heart of the matter! And a couple of times when the two loves have collided I have already had to grapple with that particular one. Luckily, I think, this time they’re not (entirely) serious. And neither am I. But there’s still enough serious there for us to have to talk it out more 🙂

  3. Did you ask permission for this blog or is the question after the event anyway? (BTW rent raised from zero muliplied by anything still equals zero doesn’t it :))

    • Well, not exactly. Unless you count announcing, “I’m putting that on the blog” as asking permission :). But they were fine with this, honestly. And you are totally right about the multiplication implications for zero. Unfortunately I believe dad had additive functions in mind.

  4. I tried to concentrate on the rest of the blog, but I got stuck dreaming about being at McKay’s Pregnancy Resort and Spa. *sigh*

    • Yeah, as usual my life seems to be a mixture of extreme suckiness (long term separation from mike) and outrageous blessing (getting to hang out up here for a couple of months pre and post birth). It’s a pretty good spa!

  5. I think you should respect your parents’ wishes. Some people value their privacy. As a 63 year old, I am probably closer to your parents’ age than most of your readers and can understand their feelings. In any case, if you give them the opportunity to read your entry before you post it, they’ll probably soon learn that they can trust you not to overstep the boundaries of their privacy limits. Remember, even though you are their daughter, you’re also a guest in their home. Well, that’s my 2 cents’ worth.

    • You will be pleased to know this comment gave my Dad and Mum a charge and a smile, and it lead to a discussion on privacy. I also want to reassure you though, that although I was partly serious in posing this on the blog as a dilemma, I was not entirely serious (I am rarely ENTIRELY serious in anything). I do not think I have the right to have free reign to make their lives public, the core issue for me is to what extent they trust my filters. And Mum’s answer to that seems to be, “mostly, but not entirely” :). Thanks for chipping in with your two cents.

  6. I’ve been on borh sides of this one. My ex-wife Barbara used to write about me in Time magazine on a regular basis. Not fun. But, on the other hand, I was an ex, and ex’s are fair game, I suppose, even if you still like them. She wrote about her (our) kids, too.
    And I wrote a memoir that ended when I was in my mid twenties, because the rest of the memoir would have been about the living — and often loving. Seemed like a betrayal. So my vote is”no.’

    • Oh, yeah, Time magazine. That’s a whole different level of exposure. And kids is a whole other basket of worms, isn’t it? One I’m going to have to deal with in upcoming years if I keep writing “memoirish” stuff. Thanks for sharing from your experience!

  7. I blog (fairly) anonymously. I don’t Facebook my posts. I’ve considered posting some on Twitter, but haven’t yet. My blog posts consists of some themes and beliefs that would cause strife with my family, so I don’t take the risk. That’s probably cowardly of me, but I just don’t feel like dealing with it for now.

    • Oh, I don’t know. Only you can answer the question of whether it’s cowardly or whether there are more noble reasons for not rocking the boat with family or throwing stones into the pond or whatever metaphor you’d like to use. Sometimes (despite what my parent’s seem to believe) I think there are very good reasons for discretion – with your own stories as well as other people’s.

  8. When I write about family, I don’t mention names. Not sure why since they don’t actually read my writing and I have yet to publish; but my writer’s group will be reading my work soon. Maybe it’s to protect their image from people who don’t know them. I don’t know.

    As for the situation with your family, my first instinct was that maybe they are right. My second response was, “Wait! Isn’t that emotional blackmail? Shouldn’t they have mentioned that BEFORE she arrived instead after she’s gotten settled in at the Spa?”

    So, I’m not sure what to tell you. My overall impression of your blog is that it’s a bit self-deprecating. How are they injured by that? Or, are your parents so private….

    • Yeah, it’s pretty tongue in cheek – including this post and their request. Not entirely tongue in cheek, mind you, I think they tabled it less as a “rule” and more as a warning shot over the bows that they’d like me to be extra careful if I put up material about them. And I put this post up knowing they’d just laugh, and indeed they did. So I think the core of the issue is real, but so far it’s stayed in laughing and teasing territory. Let’s hope it stays that way.

  9. Have you read, “Lucky: A Memoir” by Alice Sebold (the author of Lovely Bones)? It’s a harrowing account of her rape and subsequent trail when she was a freshman at Syracuse. It’s compellingly written but I couldn’t believe how she disected her friends and friends. She looked at all their traits under a microscope, and though she probably never said anything that wasn’t brutally honest, I came away thinking, “I could never do that.”

    Yes, I blog about my husband, friends and family. I have an advantage over you in that my parents are both partying in heaven. (It’s not really an advantage as I miss them both desperately). With my husband, I ask his permission for certain things. My closest friends have put up with a lot from me, they can deal with what I write.

    I don’t think you’ve stepped over any lines, Lisa, but then where are the lines drawn. When I read “Lucky” I so admired Sebold’s courage and honesty. I think good writing, especially a memoir needs that. If you haven’t ready “Lucky” I’m putting it on your TBR list. Now that you’re at McKay’s Pregnanacy Resort & Spa you should have plenty of time to read 🙂

    • I have read Lucky – I went out and tracked it down after reading Lovely Bones – and it was very harrowing indeed. And she didn’t pull her punches. To be honest I’m not sure I could go that far, either. Maybe with my own story and strengths and weaknesses, but not with other people’s traits and lives and actions. If I think something is high risk with Mike I always run it past him now, and I’d do the same for Mum and Dad. I just balk at feeling like I’d need to “ask permission” for every reference. I don’t think that’s what they have in mind, but I’m not yet sure where the line is with them. We’ll see.

  10. Sorry – subsequent “trial” not trail. Need spell check!!

  11. I’ve been away for a while, so I’ve come to this late. I realize from the previous comments and your answers, that this post and your parents request were a bit tongue in cheek, but regarding your questions: I no longer live with anyone, but I seem to have a sixth sense about my daughter and my sister. I don’t say much about Sis. But for my daughter’s birthday on the 4th of May, I wrote about her and put up her baby picture and a picture of us now. I’m proud to say that she didn’t come after me with a pointed stick. Now that I think of it, I may just have been lucky.

  12. Pingback: Writing about people from the past | Wandering. Wondering. Writing.

  13. Pingback: Family talk about the memoir | Wandering. Wondering. Writing.

  14. Pingback: A skype date at 37 weeks pregnant | Wandering. Wondering. Writing.

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