In my English classes this semester, there have been discussions regarding how we preserve our memories, as well as how we choose to portray them. Writing memoirs and personal essays involves recalling memories and preserving them through the words we put down on the page, but there’s also the issue of facts to think about. Will the truth about my life as I see it conflict with the way others do? It’s an issue that comes up even when we’re dealing with cold, hard facts, such as dates and times at which important events took place. What’s important to remember, I think, is that everyone has their own point of view, and no matter how different some perspectives might be from each other, they are all connected to the truth in one way or another. If we look at a story from three different sides, each side will give us a piece of what happened, and if we look at each side carefully, then we have a good chance of getting the full story.
One of the questions that came up in my Intro to Nonfiction Writing class is how other people will view the personal essays we write. There is always the possibility that someone will be hurt or offended by what’s written. And while personal essays, research papers, books and news reports, among other types of nonfiction writing, can arouse negative, painful feelings, we must also come to grips with the fact that the best of these are a means of solving conflicts, creating resolutions and making a positive difference in one way or another.
A couple of months ago, my Nonfiction Writing class had to read a memoir called “The Liars’ Club” by Mary Karr. In this book, Karr deals with events from her childhood that are heavily charged with negative energy. Even though the possibility that people will be hurt by her words is very strong, she still has her side of the story to tell, and that is a right everyone has. It’s not just the job of memoirists or writers in other genres. Whenever we feel that we shouldn’t voice
our opinion, even though we think it might help others or even ourselves, we should remember that everyone has a right to give their side of the story, and like other rights, we can choose whether or not to exercise it.
That doesn’t mean we should voice an opinion that is purposefully meant to hurt someone. Derogatory remarks should never be used as a means of expressing our thoughts, no matter how strong our emotions towards a particular subject might be. While Mary Karr did not have a strong relationship with her grandmother, she did not purposefully insult her grandmother just because of her terrible temperament. Likewise, while you have a right to talk about a toxic relationship in a personal essay, for example, that doesn’t mean you can simply throw insults at the person who was causing so much pain. The Golden Rule still applies to all kinds of writing and storytelling, and no number of hateful comments or protests can make it otherwise.
I also want to point out the importance of using our voices in times like these to bond with others, especially when it comes to telling our stories. Mary Karr was able to use her search for truth to grow closer to her mother. When some of the family’s darkest secrets were laid bare, Karr did not use them in an attempt to make people pity her or to separate herself from others. It sometimes happens that people think themselves superior for having gone through certain kinds or amounts of hardships, or that they get that impression from others who have been through more terrible times than theirs. And while getting to the other side of those messes is something that should certainly be applauded, that doesn’t mean our experiences make us better or worse than other people. Everyone has their own unique set of experiences, and it is up to us to find the greater significance of the things that have happened to us, good and bad. It is by sharing these experiences with others and learning to listen to the stories they have to tell that will connect us. By developing a sense of empathy, we encourage others to continue telling their stories and come to grips with the truths surrounding their lives.