Illustration of a woman's face with her mouth closed with a zipper.

Writing Well Means Sacrificing The Privacy Of People I Love

I erased every word. Painstaking hours of mental labor were being siphoned off the screen of the dusty family desktop.  You see, I’d gotten it into my head that I was going to compete in the Father’s Day essay competition.  And I’d gotten it into my head that I would write about the struggle of my own father: a working man, an immigrant, a man without a college degree.

I shaped my thoughts into elegant words about his sacrifices.  The lost father-daughter time that went instead to money… to his late night arrivals just in time for dinner and bed.  I had thought I was writing something glorious.  That is, until my mother read it.  She shrieked about how I had twisted his life into something unreal for public consumption.  We weren’t poor! Dad had a good job!  We spent plenty of time together! How could I write this slander, this vomit-filled garbage bin of embellishment and lies? How could I write these things about my beloved father?

She left me with tears and shame.  Shame I’ve never been able to shake off, not even after every single word had been erased.  The shame of being a writer.

It’s a hard thing to quantify, the underlying feeling of guilt that resurfaces whenever I sit down to write a personal piece. To write is to uncover the private, to expose the innermost parts of myself.  But my Father’s Day essay reminded me that it is not *only* about revealing one’s personal, it is the sacrificing of others’ personal as well.  None of us are islands, and the deepest, most relevant parts of ourselves inevitably involve others.  Spouses, children, siblings.  Parents.

Even now, as I write this very piece, I ask myself whether I should talk about this past memory, what inner workings of my yetzer hara now bring it forth.  Do I wish to exonerate myself for the self-love and arrogance that went with that 10 year old girl who wanted to win the essay competition?  The child who twisted the routine and ordinary into the amazing, the self-sacrificing act? Did I lie about my father, intending to mislead my readers and delude myself? I still think about that day, about what kind of child I was to write those words.  I think about it now, writing these very words about an incident almost 2 decades past.

Writing is personal.  Writing is exposure, vulnerability.  It is entering the beauty pageant waiting for the judges to rate your every detail… And yet, the judges see more than just you.  They see the others dragged along with you against their will as if by an invisible chain.  My parents are up there on that platform, as are my husband and my closest friends.  Some cower in fear of the spotlight; yet others glower in disgust.  But they are all there, being judged.  And as I wait for my rankings, for my applause or boos from the audience, they too must wait.

If only I could cut them away, send them off the stage.  Yet, I can’t.  They are what make me, make my writing burn with fire and tears.  They, not hobbies, not jobs, are the stories that rip away a little chunk of my heart to then be splattered onto this virtual space.  Because that’s what personal writing is: the heart splattering against a pristine sidewalk, attracting the passersby.  The pedestrians will look and point and weep, seeing my smashed arteries and my blood seeping slowly into the ground.  They will comment on their origins, their purpose, what this tragic spectacle says about the nature of the world we live in and the nature of the G-d who made this all happen before their very eyes.  And they will cry.  Oh how they will cry.

Tell me, will they cry about my hobbies?