Yesterday, Esther got us thinking about blogging and children but what about the rest of the family? Those lovable, irritating, fascinating, annoying, fun and funny spouses (and ex-spouses), siblings, cousins, parents and in-laws. When it comes to sharing their stories, how much is too much?
Families have made good comedy and drama for centuries. A daughter told-all in Mommy Dearest while an entire family was lovingly lampooned in My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding and an ex was basted and broiled in Heartburn.
But what about people like you and me who don’t have Academy Award winning mothers or celebrity ex-husbands? I first grappled with this problem four years ago when I began publishing a weekly column. Around the Table is part food, part memoir and has been published in a handful of New Hampshire newspapers, including my hometown paper. Since I live in a small town, there’s no such thing as anonymity for me or the family. The column eventually became a blog, exposing our fun, faults and foibles to an even larger audience.
Around the Table is no tell-all. While there isn’t a whole lot to tell, I leave the dirty laundry where it belongs (on the floor in the back of the closet). My dad positively beams whenever I write about him. My brother periodically asks for royalties. From time to time someone suggests my memory is flawed. But hey, it’s my story; they’re free to write their own version of our adventures and misadventures.
All that changed last spring. After mulling and muttering for several months, I finally began another blog. This one is not based on cheerful childhood memories and cooking advice. While Susan Nye’s Other Blog is still figuring out its identity, I frequently write about my mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.
My mother’s story is part of my personal campaign to raise money and awareness for the Alzheimer’s Association. My posts are more haphazard than I would like. My goal is once a week but I rarely make it. I’m pretty sure my too busy schedule has little to do my infrequent posting. It’s painful to realize that my mother doesn’t always recognize her home, her friends, doesn’t always recognize me. Does my pain give me the right to tell her story? I persist, albeit haphazardly, because reports provide information but rarely show the impact this horrible disease has on individuals and families. I share my mother’s story, our family’s story to show what the statistics can’t.
I always take a deep breath before I hit publish. After all I am a New Englander and there are some things we just don’t share. Particularly with strangers.
A few thoughts on writing about family:
Once you hit publish, the story is out there in cyberspace … forever. Whether it’s an ex-husband’s cocaine habit or a cousin’s cross-dressing, it’s a good idea to think twice, maybe three times, before sharing. While a family’s quirks, bad habits and adventures may make for great stories or life lessons, writing about them in a public forum could have a long term impact. Many potential employers, review boards and blind dates Google first and ask questions (or don’t bother) later. Are you ready to accept the consequences your words could have on a loved one?
Before you publish, ask yourself two questions. First, would you want this information on the front page of your hometown newspaper, the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal? And second, would you sit down and share this story with your grandmother over a cup of tea. If it doesn’t pass both the newspaper and the Nana tests, you might want to keep the story to yourself.
There are alternatives. If writing helps you cope with a particular family dilemma, you can go old school with notebook and pen. Keeping a private journal may be the perfect solution. If an audience of one is not what you had in mind, many blogs offer privacy settings, limiting who can see your work. You can still vent, rant and rave but only your nearest, dearest and most trusted allies will be able to read your tirades. It won’t get you famous but it could save you from getting barred from Thanksgiving dinner.
Baring your entire soul is not mandatory. Maybe it’s the New Englander in me but it’s okay to tell-some instead of all. My mother always believed that maintaining strong family bonds was more important than being right. I think it’s fitting that I keep that philosophy in mind when I write about her and the rest of the family. And finally, I recognize that what I chose to write about and how I tell the story says as much about me as the people I write about; probably more.
Do you share family stories? Do you include the dirty laundry? What worries you and what self-editing do you do when writing about your family?
Susan Nye is a corporate dropout turned writer. Her favorite topics are family, food, green living, marketing and branding. Feel free to visit her website, food blog Susan Nye – Around the Table, photoblog or the cleverly named Susan Nye’s Other Blog where she writes about other stuff. © Susan W. Nye, 2010
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