There’s nothing like healthy doses of hate mail, from people you care about, to get the blood flowing. Yeah, the whining I’m doing about life with my father is somewhat pathetic, but in the purest sense of the word. There is a pathos here, and I am allowed to contemplate it, especially during this time in my life. There’s a tricky balance to maintain here: how do I speak the truth and work through memory without hurting people I love?
This isn’t the movies. I don’t want to sit in front of my father, him all clueless and rough, and scream at him about how he’s failed me as a father. Then tell him I’m gay. I don’t want any of that drama, but reading over the entries, what is essentially a series of rough drafts, I can see that my first impulse as a writer is to pour things out. All of this is natural.
It’s the balance memoir writers have to negotiate all the time. When I was in graduate school, I helped initiate a change in how writing workshops were done. Initially, the workshop groups were separated into distinct “fiction” and “creative nonfiction” groups. Sitting in an exclusively nonfiction group turned my stomach and made me as resentful as the two students who have been sending me hate mail the past week or so. I didn’t want to hear the other memoir-writer’s problems with man-hating, or coming out, or past abuse, and yes, I thought they were pathetic. I didn’t have enough compassion for them, and it was a mistake.
I wanted to be with the fiction writers, mixed in with people who wrote thinly-veiled nonfiction. The problem was that they didn’t want the likes of me, either. They didn’t want to hear my problems. What I came to realize is that I wanted to be in the fiction workshop group because I could hide there. You can’t hide if you’re in a group that writes exclusively nonfiction.
So the question is: How do memoir writers express themselves without their words sounding overwrought and pathetic? With me, it’s still under negotiation. But I’m not hiding anymore.