Getting Personal

After years of self-loathing, or maybe because of it, I have become a narcissist. 

As a human, I can't be ashamed, because it's about time. Loving yourself is better than loathing yourself, and it definitely beats the psychological tricks I've played on myself over the years. This hasn't stemmed from an inability to consider others, either. I know how to care about people - often I care too much - and it's about time I started liking myself too. Once you make yourself a priority, life gets better - it's the truth. But as a writer, being stuck in a first-person mentality makes me cringe. 

Writers like to scoff at first-person, especially with all the not-stories that get published today. When the craft book I'm reading makes a jab at New Journalism a la Hunter S. Thompson, I laugh. Writing yourself into the story or writing around yourself has become a cliche, a joke, a meme. I don't want to make myself the story, but it's so much easier to frame something through my own eyes. 

Most of the time, editing myself is easy, like rearranging a sentence so it doesn't start with a prepositional phrase (my resolution for 2016, because starting with "as" and "when" is a nasty habit). It's just a little brain stretching, a constructive exercise. I've been trained to write about other people and not-people, because... that's the way things are. But I'm an empath, damn it, and sometimes I like to write about my feelings. I feel like I have a lot to say about the way I feel, and I want my readers to experience that. 

The problem comes down to other people, specifically the people in my life - they're there too, after all, and chances are I'm going to write about them. A lot of it gets stowed away or never leaves my computer, but I've written about everyone close to me in the form of angsty Tumblr posts, diary entries and fragments of stories I concocted in the middle of the night. Sometimes I bother people, but I get over it because there's a difference between publishing something and hitting "publish" on a blog nobody reads. 

But words don't fade as easily when they're really published. Google exists. I'm exposed. Other people are exposed. Right now I'm working on a story about divorce, so naturally, my parents' divorce makes its way in. It's going to be a 5000-word piece, and since I'm spending a lot of time on it, I'm going to publish it. There's way more to the story, like post-breakup animosity, statistics and Iranian marriage culture, but I've also announced that my parents split up in the first paragraph. 

Or take these sentences. As a writer, I love them, and the paragraph they're in is one of my favorite parts of this story. I'm getting ready to pack an emotional punch, and as a person, that might be dangerous. 

It’s unwise to cross an Iranian. We’re a stubborn, vengeful breed, and cling to grudges long after conflicts expire. It’s even worse to wreck one’s heart. 

I'm writing this post because part of me feels like what I'm doing is wrong. I'm perfectly fine with airing my own laundry in my work, but is it cruel to bring someone else into the story? I have plenty of nice things to say about my parents and technically the story isn't only about them. Divorce is universal, and that's why I'm writing this - because everyone is affected. I'm finding myself censoring and slashing a lot of details, and while some of it's just not relevant to the message, I'm holding back because I don't want to hurt or overexpose my family. But will that take away from the story and universality of relationships gone wrong? 

I know the editorial process will filter some of this out, but is it bad to share someone else's history with someone they don't know? And what about when some that person does know reads about it? 

What do you do? What should I do? 

We Don't Make Shit Up

While most of the students I know are gearing up for their first day of classes, I just got out. Last week, my class--a group that includes journalists, screenwriters and at least one author--met for our second residency. 

Being at residency is kind of like boot camp, but instead of navigating through a muddy obstacle course, you're sitting through hours of craft lectures and stretching your brain to come up with scenes and pitches. Time expands, and something that happened the day before feels weeks away. You crawl into bed at 9:00, and barely have time to think about how exhausted and stiff you feel before you pass out. 

The scheduling is a little intense, but after a while you get the swing of it, and I can honestly say the word that best describes my MFA program's second residency is "comfortable." Now, the process feels familiar rather than daunting. Instead of competition attached to new faces, I can truly call my classmates friends, and I'm excited to stretch my brain and my words over the course of this semester--and my life. I've evolved from afraid to eager. 

I feel ready for a challenge, so for this semester, I set a few goals:

  • Write a narrative about a person rather than a place.
  • Write pitches to accompany the pieces of work I submit to my mentor. 
  • Develop a solid structure in my work, no matter the scale.
  • Most importantly, write something because I want to instead of should do. 

And with those personal goals and a nifty new hand signal courtesy of the coolest three-year-old around, I leave you. I've got a lot of work to do.