Discover more from Transparent Tuesdays
How do you write about other people without invading their privacy or offending them?
Write of Passage Cohort 10 wrapped last week, and some variation of this question was asked of me frequently.
You might think I don’t worry about this, given my pseudonymity, but it’s something I think about every time I’m about to publish. And that’s because I assume everything I write will eventually be read by the person I’ve written about.
I haven’t always done a great job of this. I once called my brother-in-law an asshole. In that piece, assumptions were made. I was defensive and indignant, which is a fine way to write but a foolish way to edit. Thankfully, I’ve written so many of these newsletters that when my identity is finally revealed, the asshole comments will be hidden. Maybe Gary won’t ever know. And if he does find out, I’ll apologize for being an asshole.
I read an article recently written by J.R. Moehringer, a memoirist and also the ghostwriter for Prince Harry, Phil Knight, and Andre Agassi’s memoirs. Dude’s a legend. He was asked the same question by Agassi of how to write about other people:
“Sometimes, in order to tell the truth, you simply can’t avoid hurting someone’s feelings. It goes down easier if you’re equally unsparing about yourself.”
When I’m angry at my mom for not calling me on the phone, I also write about how terrible I am at hard conversations. When I judge my sister for not taking control of her health and finding a new doctor because she doesn’t like the one she has, I also write about how my typical way of handling something is to just not deal with it and hope it works itself out. When I have an argument with Sam in which I’m definitely right, I also write about how I’m definitely wrong.
I do not have my shit together. I’m an improving mess. The things I’ve learned only make an impact because I continue to fall at the same time.
When someone gives my almost-3-year-old son a gift, I never tell him to say thank you. Instead, I say thank you as if the gift was for me. Seemingly as a result, my son gleefully hands out thank yous and you’re welcomes like he’s Oprah handing out cars.
I mean, yes, I just told you something true, but it’s certainly not a full picture of me as a parent.
Every day, there is a moment when I lose patience with my son and grab him forcefully or let him know I’m angry. The other morning he dumped his Raisin Bran onto the counter. When I told him not to do that, he proceeded to dump the rest on the floor.
And then cackled.
The cackling is what set me off. I grabbed him and carried him over to the living room, where I ripped off his pajamas and aggressively put on his outfit for the day. George cried out, “No Mama, too fass.”
He was telling me in his cute little voice that I was doing it too fast. He could feel my anger. And I immediately felt like the worst parent on the planet.
You guys, this happens every day, at least once a day.
It’s not a good look. It’s not something I like to admit, but it’s the whole truth so I have to tell it. I want you to trust me, and I know the way to do that is for me to trust you first. I’m trusting you with the parts of myself I don’t like, the parts I wish were better.
Someday, my family will find out about Charlie Bleecker. They’ll see that I’ve written about them, sometimes, in an unflattering way. I hope they can appreciate that I’ve written about myself in an equally unflattering way, and we can have a hard, loving conversation about something real, instead of just talking about what’s on the menu for our next family vacation. And if we can’t have a hard conversation, because hard conversations are hard, then maybe that relationship is not one I’m meant to foster, and I can make space for the ones I am meant to cultivate.
So go on and write about other people. Then be unsparing about yourself.
Until next week,
P.S. I received a Daily Dad email in my inbox the same day I wrote this. Ryan Holiday asks, “Does getting upset re-emphasize what is right and what is wrong, or does it just reinforce the power dynamic between you two? Does yelling make them hear you more…or tune you out completely?”
Gotta love a couple of Ryan Holiday rhetorical questions to start your day. I wonder what Ryan would do if his kid dumped his Raisin Bran on the floor and taunted him with laughter… He’d probably create a clear boundary — with love, of course. Although there’s no chance his kid is eating Raisin Bran. His kid eats fresh eggs from the chickens on their farm. And fresh, raw spinach leaves. And half a grapefruit.