Hitch

There’s this Kurt Vonnegut quote:  Write to please just one person.  If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

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This weekend, someone I don’t know all that well popped up on my Facebook page to debate politics.  I’d posted an op ed from The New York Times, so you could say I was asking for it, but alas this post had gone unnoticed and uncommented on for days.  I’d moved on.  A friend of mine, however, had not.  She engaged and the 2 of them went back and forth in long missives of “you’re wrong,” and “no, you’re wrong” until I went to bed Saturday night, totally exhausted from the stress of watching an argument I wasn’t even participating in.  I finally used humor I didn’t feel to get them to stop, and went to bed.  Still that timid little girl I once was, in an uncontrollable environment, voice lost.

I know a woman who has a story to tell.  She’s a little younger than me.  She is trying to write about her family.  She is afraid.  What if she embarrasses them?  What if they disown her?  What if her voice hurts them?  What if they start screaming “you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong”?

I just finished this book.  On page 49, Hitch writes:  about thirty-five years ago [my editor] informed me that an article of mine was well argued but dull, and advised me briskly to write “more like the way you talk.”  At the time, I was nearly speechless at the charge of being boring and never thanked him properly, but in time I appreciated that my fear of self-indulgence and the personal pronoun was its own form of indulgence. …  So, this above all: Find your own voice.

This morning I read the Katie Couric news that she was bulimic in her early 20’s.  So was I, though I didn’t know at the time that it had a name.  It never even made me skinny.  It was my PCM:  Perfection Coping Mechanism.  The first person I ever told was a doctor I saw last year, 20+ years after the fact.  I was filling out a clipboard-full of paperwork for an annual physical.  There was a box to check.  I was so scared to check that box.  I checked the box.  I wished I hadn’t checked the box.  Too late.  My glaring “x” in black ink.  But you know what?  The doctor barely even asked about it.  That’s how common, how un-newsworthy, it was.

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Who (or rather, whom) are you trying to please?

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28 thoughts on “Hitch

  1. LauraMaylene

    Half the time after I read about writers worrying how their memoirs will affect their families I think, “Huh, must be weird to actually have a family to scandalize/upset/piss off through writing…it’s too bad not all writers can feel as disconnected and free-floating and as responsibility-free as I do about this stuff.” Then the other part of me rears up and I’m petrified of writing anything, including fiction, for fear that anyone and everyone I’ve ever known or met will either humiliate or disown me.

    As I was writing this comment, I looked out the window and witnessed a metal scrapper drive up, grab some metal piece of trash from someone’s tree lawn, toss it in the back of the truck and hastily peel away. Take from that what you will.

    1. Teri Post author

      The whole FB kerfluffle threw me —- do I really care what some guy I barely know from back home thinks about me? Apparently, I do. Shocking, this was.

      Scrap metal trash, from someone else’s lawn. You know my mind has already given this an assignment.

  2. Averil Dean

    God, who am I not trying to please? And it’s awful, because I know what I’m writing is guaranteed to piss some people off. I know I’ll be skewered, but I just can’t help myself.

    Politics is a deadly subject of conversation these days, even for the most level-headed people. I find my blood boiling over the minute a right-winger opens his mouth. It’s practically Pavlovian.

    1. Teri Post author

      I believe the world exploded when this person wrote, (a) let me tell you my Tea Party perspective, and (b) the only goal is to get Obama out of office, and (c) it doesn’t matter who gets him out, because (d) Romney is not my 1st, 2nd, or even 3rd choice.

      You really can’t argue with logic like this. You must go to bed and panic instead.

  3. CJ Rice (@leapof)

    “I can’t live where I want to, I can’t go where I want to go, I can’t do what I want to, I can’t even say what I want to. I decided I was a very stupid fool not to at least paint as I wanted to.”
    ― Georgia O’Keeffe

    I’ve kept this quote in my notebook for many years. I think when people say they’ve found a voice in a piece of writing they mean the author has assumed authority for their experience. Said something. Not only that they need to say but that others need to hear. When I think I’ve done that I’ll have pleased myself, and that is no small accomplishment.

    1. Teri Post author

      This, truly, is success. I can’t tell you how sad I was to understand, subconsciously or otherwise, how much I care what someone thinks about what I write. It’s been a week of hard lessons.

  4. Jennine G.

    Definitely a shared conundrum. It’s neither a crime to want to get along with people, nor to disagree with them. Maybe it’s the fact that most people don’t realize you can do both and so we try to make them understand, “Hey, I can disagree with you and it doesn’t matter.” But people are too easily offended and on edge about everything.

    And when it comes to writing I don’t know that you can help feeling this way. You are bearing your soul…I’d be more afraid if I didn’t feel a little afraid of what I was writing.

    1. Teri Post author

      “I’d be more afraid if I didn’t feel a little afraid” — you hit it exactly right, Jennine.

      Every now and then, like today, I have these little crises. Tomorrow – onward!!

  5. Josephine

    i’m making my robert deniro face at you right now and pointing, “you talking to me? you talking to me?

    (ha! not that i should be so presumptuous or arrogant to think you would be, but a girl can dream.)

    this weekend, i attended a big party with three other women who i used to run around with in high school. we keep in touch mostly haphazardly, but this party was thrown by one of our oldest friends who was celebrating his Ironman finish. we made a reunion of sorts out of it.

    my high school sweetheart was there (does that read as cheesy as it writes?). anyway, he has not fared as well as i would have hoped for him. we haven’t talked in years (i saw him this time last year, but we said very few words to each other.)

    this year, he wanted to talk.

    at first it was awkward. we would both talk at the same time, or he would say something that wasn’t true, but still mostly inconsequential (like when he said, “you only know that because you took latin,” because i knew what carpe diem meant…who doesn’t know what carpe diem means?!…”no i didn’t, our high school didn’t even offer latin,” i said, “i watched dead poets society.” he didn’t get my reference. he just wanted to argue.)

    most of our conversation was harmless. and then a line got crossed. he wanted to ask me about things that happened in my family. things that happened in my family when we dated and i confided in him…things that happened 21 years ago when he was an 18 year old kid that knew even less about life than what he knows now. and for a moment it felt as if i was floating above the entire party. watching this surreal conversation between me and someone i didn’t know at all. but he knew something about me. something so core that, for a moment, it was as if he reached in and grabbed my spine and was trying to wake me up.

    “Tell me. What happened??”

    “Nothing. It wasn’t like that–you’re remembering it wrong,” I said. And, then I ducked out of our conversation, gathered my troops, and high-tailed it out of there so fast I felt a head rush.

    I lied to him. I don’t know who I’m trying to please.

    1. Teri Post author

      Wow. Wow wow wow. And I understand this completely. It’s so much easier to tell that happy lie and waltz out of the room, “Not me!” I so get this.

      Who am I trying to please? Apparently every fucking person on this planet. Who knew. I hate this.

      As for Mr. De Niro — it’s not you, but it could be, no? This person is writing a book about [redacted].

  6. Lyra

    That is one of my favorite Vonnegut quotes. I try to remember it when I’m writing and it’s so…blah. I feel like I’m almost there to wrap my head around Hitchen’s story. When I write up close, it’s so much more…interesting. But I don’t know how to do it, to combine my natural essay tendencies with a novel format. And I really, really want to write a novel.
    Who am I trying to please? You and Josey answered it perfectly.

    1. Teri Post author

      Who am I trying to please? Apparently everybody and nobody at the same time. No wonder I feel like hiding under the covers.

  7. jpon

    Mostly, I write to please myself, and then pray there are some readers out there who share my sensibilities. Sometimes they are hard to find, though. With every rejection I imagine some reader or editor saying, “I didn’t get it. What is this about?” But to write any other way would seem rather false.

    1. Teri Post author

      Oh dear, Joe, I hear what you’re saying about editors. Especially if I get a detailed rejection, I parse every word. “What does this mean, what does this mean?!” And yes, I understand even as I write this how ridiculous it is, but there it is.

  8. macdougalstreetbaby

    The thing about it is that if one who writes memoir does get published, that person is making public other people’s stories and I think people have a right to own their own stories.

    I’m always trying to please my husband. You see, it all started when my father abandoned me at age 3…

    1. Teri Post author

      Everyone has their story. And everyone also has the right to tell their story. Else how would we ever know the best and the worst of the human existence?

      I’m certainly no saint in my story — I’m the perfect daughter who, when they called and said your mother may be dying, screamed in my head: “No! I’m not coming!! I have a hard-to-get salon appointment on Tuesday!” Not so perfect after all.

      I love the quote by Geoffrey and Tobias Wolff’s mother: “If I’d known both of my sons were going to write memoirs, I’d have lived better!” Love her sense of humor.

      1. macdougalstreetbaby

        You are right, of course. I hope my kids all write their memoirs. My screaming will be the one constant in all of their work.

        I suppose I’m sensitive to the idea of thrusting someone who doesn’t want to be seen into the spotlight. As you can imagine, I’d be petrified.

  9. lisahgolden

    Oh, man. Those political arguments. Grrrr. Sometimes I want to call in for back up because I’m tearing my hair.

    I’m trying to please everyone. A losing game. But you already read that blog post.

    BTW, I just had a fifteen minute conversation with one of my favorite pilots. He just got back from Prague and Vienna. We googled Prague photos and he told me about his trip. It sounds as wonderful as yours.

    My next big trip is Prague. No question about it. Also, Doug’s grandfather is from there. A perfect reason to go.

  10. girl in the hat

    Wait. You checked the box and nothing happened. Wait.
    What an ending. It just keeps on giving.
    I’m trying to please my father, who wouldn’t notice if I took off all my clothes and bent over.

    1. Teri Post author

      The doctor did not even ask me about it. All that panic for nothing. Which is interesting, because I’m starting to think I have early-stage cataracts as a result of it. I can’t believe I kept the secret (read, the shame) this long, and for what? A good lesson for me in what I worry about and how inconsequential most of it really is.

  11. Sherry Stanfa-Stanley

    I have a long history of using humor I don’t always feel in order to make peace among people. At times, it’s worked to my benefit. Some of the funniest pieces I’ve written were forged this way.

    On the other hand, it’s often made me avoid things I should have said or written. As I’ve gotten older, I find I speak my mind much more often, but I still avoid writing the things I feel. It’s why I concentrate on writing fiction. I am ambivalent about this whole issue still.

    What I am not ambivalent about are the Tea Partier comments on Facebook. Have to wonder how many other “friends” I will block in the next two months…and beyond, once they start bitching when Obama wins.

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