Things You’re Not Allowed to Say

New Meditation of the Month is HERE.

By the time you read this, it will all be over.

And by that I mean the drama (or not), I’ve been anticipating / dreading for months now.

Usually, I write these posts sitting safely at my desk in my writing office.

Today I’m working on a train, heading to an event I have very mixed feelings about.

Part of me is authentically delighted to join the celebration.

Another is dreading what’s ahead.

For better or worse,I’ve stirred up the pot considerably (and continuously).

It was always because some urgent action was required or some important information needed to be revealed.

And please note: I don’t regret anything I’ve done.

Nonetheless, I can’t help but take a long look back on what, when, and how we need to reveal the truth, and, most importantly, how we can know when it’s a mistake…and when it’s absolutely necessary.

I’ve coached so many writers around memoir projects.

By far the most common set of issues is deciding what they are “allowed” to say.

Since I’ve attended many Authors Guild seminars and the like on the relevant legal issues (invasion of privacy, grounds for libel suits), I feel I’ve got a solid layman’s understanding of those potential snares.

Yet the conflict is always more subtle, more internal than courtroom drama.

It’s invariable about how much you are “allowed” to say about what’s going on in your very own life.

Of course, I admire the brazen brilliance of Anne Lamott:

“You own everything

that happened to you.

Tell your stories.

If people wanted you to write warmly

about them, they should have behaved better.”

(Note: in my own life, sometimes those people DEFINITELY should have behaved a lot better).

And yet, it’s rarely that simple.

Only a true narcissist conceives everyone else as just a bit player, temporarily sharing the spotlight in their own biopic.

After all, every “villain” has a backstory.

And these days, probably an attorney waiting in the wings.

Writers (and lawyers) love loopholes.

One of the simplest ways of getting around these problems in memoir is disguising someone’s identity enough so that they are not obviously recognizable.

You transform your oppressive first boss from a white woman in her 30s from Malibu to an Asian man in his 70s from Queens (or vice versa), and you’re safe.

You can settle your score––albeit against a different, and definitely somewhat fictionalized, defendant.

I realized when rereading Bruno Bettleheim’s landmark book The Uses of Enchantment that there’s something so basically human about this kind of transference.

Bettleheim writes that most fairy tale villains involve stepparents, not mom and dad directly.

It’s too close to home, too much to process, that that kind of betrayal could be so intimate.

Even without consulting their attorneys, children require a little distancing in the narrative.

Perhaps we all do…

I loved rewatching Lady Gaga’s 73 questions interview for Vogue from three years ago.

Here’s what she said excites her about fashion:

“I like that fashion can be both a form of expression and a form of hiding.”

The same is true for all forms of art.

Expression and hiding––paradoxically at the same time.

Indeed, it’s often the things that are unsaid that are most interesting in our writing.

It might take you, for example, until the last of Rebecca’s 449 pages to realize that the narrator has no name.

Or as Miles Davis famously said:

“In music, silence is more important than sound.”

Riding a train always makes me feel a little old-timey like I’m in an Agatha Christie novel.

Although I devoured them as a tween, it’s been a while since I’ve read one.

I do seem to remember that Miss Marple tended to solve cases sometimes based on memories of other people from her long life.

“Clive reminds me of the Vicar’s cousin, the one who cheated on his A-levels right before the Great War.”

(Or something like that.)

More and more, I tend to identify with that kind of processing, that use of interpreting events through accumulated psychological insights.

To go back further, a full 2,500 years ago, Heraclitus definitely said it best:

“Character is Destiny.”

I realize now that perhaps most of what I’m feeling is probably sadness.

Sadness that––as I’ve written about before––some people are more or less “non-learners.”

In this case, unable to evolve from a commitment to hide rather than reveal, to ignore rather than to address, to cling to forfeited rights of privacy no matter the consequences.

It’s sad because the thing that makes all art exciting (and life itself meaningful) is that characters can, and indeed MUST, evolve.

So….we shall see what this weekend reveals.

Will truth soar like an eagle…or disrupt like a swarm of murder hornets?

This morning, I drew the angel card of Patience, a reminder to:

Be fully available to the present and bring all your attention to what is actually happening now.

Relax into the flow of life.”

Please stay tuned…

Namaste for Now,

P.S. This month’s meditation is HERE.

You’re invited to leave a comment if it speaks to you.

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