1. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    person essays and our truths, memories, and blood on the page

    Discussion in 'Non-Fiction' started by deadrats, Nov 1, 2020.

    I think there if often pain in honesty, pain in writing our truths. Some of that has to do with subject matter, but a lot more of that has to do with our reflection, memory, and what those memories me to us now. How deep do you go when writing personal essays about yourself? When it hurts to write something is it a good thing?

    I'm an essayist as much as I am anything else. I write and publish these regularly. So, knowing that my essays stand a good chance of being published factors in a little. At the same time, if I bleed all over the page, those are the essays that stand an even better chance at selling. I feel a bit conflicted as to how I feel about the essay I'm working on now. I had a different idea in mind, but as I wrote it what I should be writing became more clear. I talked about feeling exposed in a different thread. But I guess there are pieces of me I'm not sure I really want to even expose to myself. This is nothing crazy or anything like that, but when we write about ourselves we revisit different times in our lives.

    If you write personal essays or memoirs, what was the hardest thing for you to write about? How did you get through the piece, especially one that didn't have a good outcome? I feel like I'm going to scratch what I had been working on and tell a different story, but I feel like I need to prepare myself to write this one. Does that make sense to anyone? How do you prepare yourself to write your most personal stories?
     
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2020
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  2. Malum

    Malum Offline Supporter

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    Had to think about this one pretty hard. Not so much prepare, but to spit in the face of personal shame/embarassment. Haven't asked myself that before, good question.
     
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  3. RMBROWN

    RMBROWN Active Member

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    Every good lesson is life is learned on dark cloudy days when everything goes wrong, nothing is learned on bright sunny days when everything goes right.

    I have written a lot of personal stories about failure and success. I have been in 14 businesses in the last 43 years. Some I lost everything, some I closed the doors on, some I sold and made a lot of money on, others I continue to run to this day. My success today is a direct result of everything I learned the hard way. Those days when it looked hopeless, those sleepless nights, that sickening feeling in your stomach and not knowing what to do next. Each failure lead to a change, it forced me to shift gears and change my focus. Every good thing I have today is the result of something going horribly wrong. While I am a optimist by nature I have no fear of failure or being hurt, it is hard to explain but I have never felt ashamed of giving it my best shot an missing the mark. I have succeeded in many things failed in many more, true failing is letting fear hold you back

    The ability to share those dark days and pass on first hand information to another is what the true gift of writing is, to any reader.

    Two stories of mine come to mine. One is the story of being caught in the drive shaft of a machine and having my clothes ripped off and having to cut myself free as the machine wound in my clothes in its effort to eat me alive. I was sure I was going to die, and just wanted to make it look like I fought until the end. I ended up needing 33 stitches in my leg where I stabbed and cut pants off. I managed to survive something most do not. I wrote the story for my grandson and included the pictures and what was going on in my mind as it was happening. I gave him the knife and the stories and pictures so he would know something about his grand father.

    The other story is of being hit by the top of a tree that blew out in wind storm knocking me out, breaking my shoulder, collar bone three ribs, puncturing my lungs, it got my knee and my ankle plus a host of internal injuries. I got helicopter ride to the hospital and spent 7 days in the trauma ward before coming home. It forced me to sell a business I had run for 30 years, and change the scope of things that I do today, it was a blessing that it happened. While the level of pain was intense, in the end I am fortunate that I was able to make not only the best of it, but turn it into a real plus in my life.

    Blood on the page, blood on the ground, is probably the best story line of any tale. Being able to share that stuff is the whole reason people read non-fiction verses fantasy. Is it hard to write, no... it is much harder to not write.
     
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  4. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    The way we have to confront those things sure is something. And that's what can be really hard at times. Just remembering something is different than the experience of confronting who we were during some of those times. It can painfully shift your views or miss yourself, and I think you get it when it comes to the shame or embarrassment. There's more than one way to write an essay. The hard way to tell a story might be the best. What do you think? The thing is that what I'm writing about wasn't a story until now. It's like certain pieces are fitting together. My essay is focused on just one night or a million years. In a good personal essay, I don't think things like that matter. But I now see what it did, what I did, why it's a haunting of my past. It aligns with current issues so telling this story is timely. I'm going to write it and I'm pretty sure this editor I work with will buy it if I tell a story I in the way I wish wasn't true. I don't know if that makes any sense. It's just that my chest feels real heavy and this is a lot harder for me than I thought.

    I guess my initial writing led me to this place. I do a lot of scribbling. Right now I feel like I have to pause.

    @RMBROWN -- We've all got some crazy stories to tell, and it seems like you've got your fair share of them. But were those hard for you to write. Say you cheated on your wife. Would that be a harder story to write. Of course, that's just a hypothetical. But imagine contending something like that with one of your examples. The same events become quite a different story. I'm sort of talking about the different layers writers go through and how with some things you've got to go all the way to the core. Maybe you always do. So, no matter what happened the story is really about something else. And, I guess, with the piece I'm working on, I wasn't ready to confront myself this story, but accidentally stumbled upon what I need to do to write this essay and how this story needs to be told. Of course, there are many ways to tell a story. Being an essayist is an interesting form of writing. I don't know if I've quite taimed the beast.
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2021
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  5. RMBROWN

    RMBROWN Active Member

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    Your question all boils down to how you view yourself. When you look in the mirror do you see reality or see and honest reflection? We often lie to ourselves to gloss over our faults, both to ourselves and to others. It takes a confident person to be honest and frank with themselves and with others. What I can share from personal experience, is that those listening to the story, those looking for light at the end of the tunnel, sense whether we are being honest with them or not, are we trying to kid them along with ourselves.

    I am reminded of an exchange that took place between my brother Dave, and someone who I was working with in the ministry. Dave had built a large church from a handful of people, no money, no building, a true success in either the business or ministry. This guy was in charge of a dying ministry, wondering if it was all worth it, how come he can't seem to make things happen. He asked the question,"what does it take to build a ministry?" Dave paused for a moment, realizing that he was looking for the short Readers Digest answer to a complex problem. He summed it up in one word, that set the tone for this guy. Humility. Sounds so simple to say but looking back on that it is the key to gaining empathy from anyone.

    You asked, What if I had cheated on my wife. The answer would be that yes I would be willing to share my inner most feelings hoping that maybe I could save someone else the grief and heartache of my mistake.

    I can only ask, are you writing this for you, or for someone else? Feel free to take this to a pm if you wish to discuss privately as I would be curious to know a little bit more about your journey...Bob
     
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  6. Malum

    Malum Offline Supporter

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    The most difficult things to write are usually the best I think, be it in the content or the prose. Depends how much you value your own legacy/image.
     
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  7. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    There is no self preservation in my essays. I think writing them makes me confront myself. The one I'm working on now is something I wish was different in life, but if it was different there wouldn't be much of a story, much to write about. Do you think about your image when you write essays? I tend to think more about what sells, take a deep breath and just go for it. The actual writing feels hard. Each word feels like I'm exposing myself until I'm standing there naked on the page. And I don't think I look all that great naked. The more honest I am, the better the writing. It's just hard at times, you know?
     
  8. Malum

    Malum Offline Supporter

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    Yes....I think about an image that no longer matters. Or ever did.
     
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  9. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I think having and trying to maintain a certain image can be a real setback. At the same time it can be difficult to really be honest with ourselves, especially if being honest means being uncomfortable. I seem to profit off my misery and mistakes, though, I never portray myself as a victim. I just try to bring people into my world. Sometimes I just don't like my world so much, and writing about these things forces me to confront myself in ways I wouldn't to otherwise.

    Do you write a lot of essays? Have you noticed any sort of trends for yourself when it comes to what sells and what doesn't with your essays?
     
  10. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    My main source of income comes from selling my essays.
     
  11. DifeTig

    DifeTig The skeleton, ghost, and living dream are one Supporter

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    Last edited: Dec 3, 2020
  12. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    This is a really good thread—it's important to tackle these deeper issues sometimes, rather than just discussing fantasy or science fiction tropes or how to describe a dress. Really, becoming a writer is about learning to see life in greater depth, depending I guess on what kind of writing you do.

    2 things I want to say about memories:
    1. I studied a lot of brain science and one thing I learned is that when we call up a memory, it really doesn't come up pure and exactly the way it happened. It changes a little each time, probably depending on how you contextualize it when you remember it. Then when you let it drop back into memory again, whatever has been changed remains as a part of the memory. Basically, memories aren't Read Only, they're Read/Write, and you can't help but rewrite it slightly each time you call it up.
    2. Story is possibly the most important thing to us as human beings. Far more important for the most part than information. The mind works largely through story. And when we bring up memories and recontextualize them (see #1 above) what we're really doing is crafting the narrative of our life. A year after something tragic happens it will have one meaning for you, and you need it to mean that. 10 years later when you think about it in relation to the rest of your life (a lot has happened since then) it takes on a different meaning, possibly radically different. It's partly because with enough time we can see things more clearly. But it's vitally important that we do keep crafting and occasionally editing the narrative of our life. It's what gives a sense of meaning to it all.
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2020
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  13. Malum

    Malum Offline Supporter

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    I haven't been entirely happy with a whole novel yet, being as useless as I am. Sorry I didn't respond to this. Everything I try and address is either me being a scumbag or putting the stuff I've been through into words - albeit never in the most overt of ways. I try and dissect other people along the way. To be understood is what most often motivated me. In the past three-five years I always used to just write out of spite, so as not to be forgotten by those around me should I have ended up suffering a pre-mature demise. Sounds dramatic and morbid, I suppose... but I never so much considered a wide-spread audience as I did just flexing my abilities on those that know me personally. That is, in my later years, anyway. When I was a lot younger I had much more belief...but I have never entertained the idea of a 'target audience' as is so often recommended and probably never will. Registering here has helped, but I have a lot of recovery to do.
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2020
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  14. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    This time I'm going to respond to the actual point of the thread. I apologize in advance it it gets lengthy.

    I've said before that much of my writing was a series called The Beastseekers, a collaboration with a friend begun in early high school—the cusp of adulthood. I started it with a very short story where a couple of ogres appeared for unknown reasons and we had to fight them. It was just for fun, no real thought put into it. He loved it and started writing his own stories with the same characters, though his were completely different from mine. As we went forward, mine became longer and more involved, and I started to differentiate us as characters, based on our actual personalities.

    Well, he was very unhappy about that. To me, the whole point of writing, no matter the genre, is to disclose realities about human beings, those glittering moments of truth laid out on the page that sparkle like diamonds strewn in a field of coarse weeds. For him a story was a refuge from truth, where he could be a total badass and have none of his real-life failings and weaknesses. This decades before the term Mary Sue would appear.

    I kept going deeper into our actual personalities and the way they interacted, and he got angrier about it and went the opposite way in his writing.

    Cut ahead several decades. I'm no longer writing fiction but my deep interest in dreams has led me through Lucid Dreaming and eventually to Freud and then Jung. At one point I realized Jung was a genius and had probably gone farther than anyone else toward understanding the human condition and laying out the road to psychological health and wholeness, which he calls Individuation. I became obsessed and acquired an entire shelf full of books written by or about him and went to work in deep study mode.

    The work begins with discovering and accepting your Shadow, the dark frightening or embarrassing aspects of yourself that you've disowned and tend to project onto other people. The way to find these shadow aspects is if somebody really gets under your skin and you hate something about them, it's probably a trait you have yourself but refuse to admit to—a Shadow element. So I've been ferreting these out mercilessly, through brutal honesty. This is difficult to do, largely because no matter how much you want to, it's hard to recognize them and accept them as parts of yourself that need to be welcomed rather than disowned and projected onto others.

    I haven't written much since then—fiction I mean—but when I do I always try to include these harsh truths in some way. And I don't write essays, not for publication or anything, but I do journal, including writing and analyzing my dreams, and it's in the journal where I practice harsh self-honesty. It can take a long time to really accept these truths, and even after you have, it's very common to regress and fall back. Jung did say that the road is a back-and forth matter, and there's no other way to walk it.

    I think if I were going to publish this kind of work I'd be tempted to leave some things out or change them a bit to soften the blow.
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2020
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  15. RMBROWN

    RMBROWN Active Member

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    Xoic, You have interesting take on the human experience, or one very different than mine. You sound very complex, or at least enough for you to feel like there is so much more going on inside your head, that you have spent this much time trying to understand all the under currents of who you are, and what makes that way. I must be the polar opposite of you, which is why I find your perspective so interesting. I am what you see, and what you hear and or read. There really is nothing behind the curtain, zero mystery. Spend a few minutes with me, you will not have to guess what I am thinking or what my opinion is on anything. While I spend a fair amount of time forming my opinions, I do thrive on what I call just plain old thinking time. I can articulate why I do and say the things I do and the why and hows of how I am where I am, which all kind of make me kind of dull.

    I'd buy you a beer and spend the evening with you, just to know what makes you tick and learn of some of your adventures in self awareness, I bet it has been a journey.
     
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  16. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Cheers man! I'd love to take you up on that beer some time.

    I envy people like you—I guess I'm complicated on the inside but dull on the outside. Most people never know all this stuff that goes on inside me, and if I try to talk about it, most don't care or just think I'm weird. Maybe that's why I need to write.
     
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  17. B.E. Nugent

    B.E. Nugent Senior Member

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    As the great man said, "I'll tell you all my secrets but I lie about my past".

    I think this comes down to how robust you are with those things you're willing to disclose. Fiction allows you to walk naked down the street in fancy dress.

    The two examples cited by @RMBROWN have the distinction of relating entirely to himself. While he can write about his vulnerability and internal struggle, those experiences can be categorized under "shit happens and here's how I dealt with it" .
    In these situations, it's down to the writer as to what is appropriate to reveal.

    The problem with some sensitive and secret matters is that they don't just belong to one person. Within families, friendship groups, work environments, et al, secrets are a shared thing. By writing your tell all, it is vital to respect others'right to privacy and to continue their personal journey on whatever the issue might be. That's where you have to weigh up being real and causing harm to people who might be important in your life.
     
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