I once attempted to write the details of a conversation so I could express my thoughts on that conversation after the fact. The others that were present for the conversation found my representation of their words and intentions insulting. Among other things, I was accused of willfully misrepresenting the conversation to serve my point.
Within this contained example, I am forced to acknowledge the consequence of writing a story that claims to be nonfiction. Because, with so many people present and with so many perspectives, backgrounds and histories to consider, is there an absolute truth? And without an absolute truth, can it be called nonfiction?
Nerves surrounding my memoir
The closer my manuscript gets to reader-ready, the more nervous I get. I feel nervous and excited to share this thing that I’m so proud of with people I care about, but I’m also nervous about letting the story leave the privacy of my writing desk. As soon as I share it, it’ll exist in a world that won’t allow me to unwrite what I’ve shared.
My book is a memoir about the three months I spent in Morocco. I’m writing about a period when I came face to face with my feelings of isolation and with the conundrum of “am I running away from or chasing life?” while I navigated relationships, some based on love, some on convenience and some based on desperation. I write about my family, my past relationships and my experiences.
“Honesty is such a lonely word”
I aim to be honest in my writing, to show my faults, my excitement and my struggles with an unpolished veneer. I also try to show the people around me as honestly as I can. I’m trying to keep only that which is adding to the story, but it’s not easy. If I’ve written it down, it means something to me; writing it in the first place meant something to me. If I edit something away to save the feelings of someone else, am I censoring myself; am I choosing the comfort of someone else over my story?
A friend once told me that, “Everyone should be true to themselves and be as they are BUT sometimes you do need to filter. Honesty can hurt.” She went on to say, “I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
She and I had been talking about non-judgment. Well, I had been talking about it and she had been deflecting. My explanation detailed how the practice of non-judgement begins with ourselves; not judging a thing we said or did as good or bad, but as honest. When we offer ourselves this grace, it’s easier to offer it to someone else.
The things that happened to me in Morocco–in my life–and the people I have met during my journey are not all good or all bad or all anything. They are dynamic, and the ones I worry will be most offended by what I’ve written are also the ones I believe have the hardest time applying non-judgment to themselves; who have the hardest time living in honesty; who are more comfortable organizing the world into right and wrong, good and bad.
I fear they will organize me as wrong and bad, and because their truth is their own, they wouldn’t be wrong to say that I am wrong and bad in my retelling of events.
While it’s not my aim to drag anyone over the coals, I know some people are going to have an issue with what I’ve written and share about my story and the places they appear in it. People may feel attacked. I don’t want to attack anyone; I simply want to tell my story as I remember it, as it impacted me, and share my thoughts.
It starts to feel messy and overwhelming if I think about it too long, and I just want to sit down and cry. The weight of pleasing everyone, of making everyone feel safe and represented as they would want to be represented gets heavy, and I feel my importance in my story and my feelings about my story, lost in the effort to please others.
People aren’t going to like everything I say. Some actors are going to have issues with what I say about them. People are going to be angry and maybe say, “Why didn’t you bring it up to me privately? Why can’t you leave me out of it?” And somewhere mixed up in the series of events is this truth that they and what happened isn’t what I’m writing about; I’m writing about me.
Why am I writing the story anyway?
I’m writing about me and about how I experienced my life, specifically the events and relationships set during my three month in Morocco in 2018. I don’t need anything explained; I don’t need any apologies and I don’t feel the need to apologize.
I just want to speak my truth as best and as bravely as I can.
The book I’ve written–am currently editing and will soon share with a selection of beta readers–means something to me; it’s important to me. And I’m just egotistical enough to believe that somewhere in the world there is a person who will read it and understand how I feel in my life; that a person will read it and let go of a sigh because they’ll realize that someone in the world –me–understands how they feel in their life.
Plus, I think it’s a good story; it’s a long, meandering love letter to travel.
I love traveling, and I am constantly disappointed by the quality of traveling writing populare today. Travel blogs dominate the travel writing genre. “5 Best Beaches in the World” and “17 Things You Have to Eat in Rio” hide the experience of travel behind a to do list. In this way, a lot of writing in the contemporary travel genre covers up what I love most about traveling.
I love the way a place transforms into something familiar while maintaining all the exciting aspects that make it foreign; the way hard things and boring things mix with the good. All that doesn’t fit into the square images on Instagram; won’t optimize for Google searches under a competitive sub-headline.