“Writing Your Truth.” It’s a phrase I hear a lot nowadays. It implies there’s a hidden story, a secret one that no one knows. Maybe your voice has been stifled by more powerful voices in the room. Maybe a writer has been scared to share their truth for others to hear.
Writing is such a powerful tool that can expose the author and invite unrequested judgment and criticism. And, what if you do share your truth and it involves someone else? Is there a line where exposing my truth exposes their truth and they weren’t ready for that exposure? Do I owe that person their right to privacy? To what point do we censor ourselves to protect someone we love, yet still share our truth and create our authentic story?
There’re lots of stories I can share and not worry about repercussions. I can share the story about how in first grade Monroe Nugent threw me down on the playground and punched my gut until the wind was knocked out of me, how I cried and told the playground supervisor but she ignored me. And then, how I saw his name in the arraignment section of the newspaper 13 years later. There’s not a lot of risk in that story. My sharing is pretty vanilla and clearly the other party can’t complain about my sharing since it was in the newspaper for all to see.
I can share the story of how my grandmother got the passenger window of her Chevette shot out when she was driving at 12:30 a.m. on a Halloween night and got caught in the crossfire of some conflict. Grandma lived on the rough side of town in Saginaw. It was one of those cities that was racially and economically separated by a bridge and she was over the bridge. We asked her why the heck she was out driving at night that late and on Halloween! She said she had to take bread to someone. Grandma has been gone since I was in high school; so again, there is minimal risk in sharing her story and those who knew her are mostly gone as well.
But there are the good stories, the deep stories. The ones you really sink your teeth into and come out the other side all exhausted and spent. But, these stories often involve other people who are close to you and who you care about. As I want to share my truth, how much can I share the story of others? As I work to create my own boundaries of what is and is not acceptable, is sharing my truth going to cross my husband’s boundaries or my new found sister’s boundaries? I have a strong desire to write my truth. I know others can relate to my story and learn from my journey. My life is not a Hallmark Channel movie, more like a Lifetime Original. Can you tell your truth at the expense of others?
My husband’s grandmother used to write journals. She used those old spiral bound steno notebooks. By the end of her life, she had pile after pile of stories she had written about her life. She was a crazy lady. I have this series of pictures of her and her friends when she was in her 20s—laughing, smoking, and drinking in a park. She evidently ran with the Saginaw mob at times. She was in the psych ward of the hospital when my husband was born, diagnosed as manic depressive, going through shock therapy, and eventually going on lithium.
I was dying to get my hands on those notebooks when she passed. I wanted to read her stories, unearth her secrets, and really see her for her. Right before she passed, she purged them all. They were all gone by the time they entered her home to prepare her for burial. All those memories—gone. Her truth was never told. Maybe some truth is too much. To share or not to share is a question no one can answer for you. But, it’s nice to know I have the option to write my truth, in a little notebook, that may just happen to disappear before I die.
Cover image: Cathy Lu