Someone who was my very best friend when we were children (Vivian in Book One, and our parents were close friends too) started reading the first book of my memoir trilogy, then stopped when she got to the hard parts. Almost a year later, at my second request, she did read the rest. She praised the writing style, but never commented about any of the content, the story itself. She’s a great person, very perceptive, brilliant really, professionally accomplished and financially successful. I wondered why she stopped. I wondered if these truths about me and my family, never told before but never secret either, had somehow put me into a new category. Not so simple as we were then. My life would be full of mistakes and flaws. I took a different path from hers, one that led to much less monetary success, but much more adventure and wild beauty, and I wouldn’t change any of it.
I think it must have been uncomfortable for her to read about what I went through, back then as a kid when my parents’ marriage was falling apart, and then as a young woman when my desolate marriage did also. It’s possible that my truth now was embarrassing or even repellent to her. But to her credit, she stuck it out, and eventually did read it, for me.
I am arguably the black-sheep, the po’ white trash of our peer group. She was probably shocked to learn the painful extent of my birthmother’s descent into alcohol when I was eleven, and me stealing food from the grocery store and the wilted-produce dumpster by the loading dock. I am not ashamed of those things.
In my long life since then, among my careers I was a caregiver in an always-overwhelmed hospital emergency room for two decades. I have seen other souls in trouble, thousands, from alcohol, drugs, or other traps and addictions. I know that people do what they can. I don’t blame my birthmother for her addiction. I know it was not her first choice for dealing with the hardships of her life that were so painful and so many. Now, older and wiser, I don’t devalue her for her mistakes, or devalue myself for taking whatever means I could to feed myself and keep my spirit alive, as a child and as an adult. My story gets rough at times, it isn’t all pretty, but there are some incredibly brave and beautiful times too.
Another longtime friend (Lois in Book Two) read the first two chapters of Book One for me when I asked her to be a beta reader and give me some feedback. She marked a few typos and said nothing more. No comments about content, or having found any sort of meaning in the story, though there was some, for sure. She didn’t “get it.” She too is someone who is well-established in the traditional model of success. She didn’t need it. But I reminded myself that this doesn’t mean that nobody will “get” my book, or that nobody will need it.
After my initial disappointment, I wondered, Why don’t these intelligent, kind, honest women get it? Why don’t they see anything meaningful here? And the answer that came from the Wiser Voice Within said, “Maybe it’s not so much that they can’t see, but that they don’t want to see.”
So there it is. If your friends and family give you lukewarm or even chilly reviews, consider that they have baggage too, unknown to you, that may be as heavy as your own. Or – maybe they really are dumber than a rock, and have no literary intelligence whatsoever. (The first one is much more likely than the second, though both are often found.) I know only too well– The truth is dangerous, and often painful. As I look back from a distance now, one possibility seems embarrassingly obvious:
Maybe these friends don’t want to know the person that I really am, or who I was back then, unknown to them. They want me to be forever the person they knew, or thought they knew, back when.
Victory Is My Name is not about that. Victory is an adventure tale, a mystery story, and a love-letter to Life. As for myself, telling the truth has set me free. I love this latch-key kid from the not-so-great side of town. I admire her resourcefulness, her survival instincts, her courage and grit. I respect the young woman she became who tried so hard to do things right and then was used and abused for her innocence. I respect her courage in breaking away, more than once, from everything she had, and the sheer ferocity with which this least-likely darkhorse sought the most brave of dreams, and got there.
And I respect my absent alcoholic birthmother just as much, who did her best even while her life fell apart and the trap of alcohol made everything so much worse. The truth is, millions of good people have made the same mistakes. I know, as you know, that even now these things are still happening to many of us, and we hide it in some sort of undeserved shame.
When you write your truth, no matter what it is, you’re going to find that some of your friends or family may not like it, may not be able to embrace it, or even accept it. This is not your fault, or theirs either. And this is not a reflection of your writing’s value and worth to the waiting world. To write from Life is a calling. It’s not a job, not a beauty contest. It may cost you some things that are more comfortable in life. Write anyway. Tell your truth anyway. You know you must. And share it whenever and wherever you can.
Traditional storytellers, Nonfiction narrative and memoir writers of the world: Take courage, take faith, and take honest pride in your gift. Not everyone will want it, so don’t harbor any regrets for the ones who don’t. You aren’t here to do it for them, but for your own spirit’s calling. Write for the many more who do need it, who have made mistakes while honestly seeking life, just like you.
Victory Is My Name, Book One: The Burning Barrel
Paperback 288 pgs ISBN# 978-0-9841730-9-9
E-book ISBN# 978-0-9841730-4-4
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