On writing and the perils of honesty

Any writer will tell you that authenticity is the key to writing something substantial.

They may use their own words to convey this, but regardless of the finished product — whether it’s  fiction or nonfiction, prose or poetry —  a piece of writing won’t mean anything to the reader if it doesn’t first stir the senses of its creator. And to do so, the creation must hold some nod to the truth.

The idea of truth in writing is an apt lesson for life, too. For example, I’m currently half-way through a memoir-style book that chronicles some of the more memorable experiences I had or witnessed during several years working at a one-hour photo and camera store on Cape Cod. From the dominatrix that came in once a week with photos of Grade A naughtiness to the paparazzo who ran in one day soaking wet screaming ‘John-john Kennedy pushed me off the dock!’‘, my former customers have given me at least a paperback’s worth of anecdotes to share.

I’ve been stalled for months — nay, years– on this project, though, for a number of reasons. There always seems to be something missing. I’ve realized recently that what’s not there is my truth … in essence, the ‘me’ part of the story.

How did I feel about that dominatrix? (For the most part, intrigued.) How did I feel about the paparazzi? (We in the photo lab saw ourselves as their allies. The fact that one Kennedy in particular used to routinely look down my shirt bolstered this attitude).

Just to get to that point of explaining my own point-of-view on things at the time, I’d need to tell a little more about why I was in a one-hour photo store in the first place, what I was trying to achieve, and what I had already failed at miserably (or was about to). It needs to be real. It needs to be visceral, and at times even a little ugly.

It needs to be the kind of thing that, in parts, your mom will hate.

Ah yes… therein lies the rub, said the Bard’s faithful disciple. I could always turn my memoir into an inspired piece of fiction a la The Devil Wears Prada, I suppose, and guard my truth behind a thinly veiled air of imagination. But deep down my parents and any other influential people in my life of whom I live in fear of disappointing will still know the chapter about accidentally breaking up someone’s marriage came from somewhere.

I’m in the process now — the slow, painful process — of realizing that if I continue to write to please others, my dream of seeing my book in print will never be realized. And if I continue to live my life the same way, sooner or later the universe is going to call bullshit.

Don’t get me wrong, readers (who include my mom and several other relatives), I’m not saying anyone in my family ever did anything but support me and my desires to both write to live and live to write. This is all me.

I am an over-thinker, a passionate feeler, and an old soul. In part because of these traits, writing has always come easily to me. But life has always come hard. I’ve had friends tell me they think I’m the kind of person who has no fear. I have had people tell me they thought I was one of the most confident people they’d ever met. Those people are wrong … I’m scared to death most of the time, and I’m usually not even sure what’s scaring me.

To quote Lewis Carroll, ‘the time has come … to talk of many things.’ Some things will make everyone happy. Some will only make a handful smile. Some might even prompt anger or sadness in a few. It’s all quite terrifying, but I don’t see any other way.

In writing, as in life, there has never been a story that was understood in the same way by everyone who read it. I assume, as I move ahead, that my story will be as clear as a bell to some and as murky as Boston Harbor to others.

But it will be mine, and it will be the truth.

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