It’s been a while. I was sick for nearly two weeks, after which I had to focus pretty seriously on work for a week in order to catch up from being ill. Then I had a week of intense work-related travel, followed by a week of reconnecting with my family. A month went by without having hardly written anything. But that little narrative isn’t the only reason I haven’t been updating the story-in-progress.
I started this with the idea of being perfectly honest about a story that means a lot to me. I wasn’t entirely sure what the story was, only that I’d feel bad if I didn’t tell it. The previous work has been the easiest writing I’ve ever done in my life: I’d sit down and I hammer out between 1,200 and 2,200 words in an hour or two, then I’d make a quick edit pass for dumb mistakes before publishing it. Sometimes I’d re-read it the next day and fix a few little things, but for the most part I’ve only been pushing forward. It’s felt pretty cool.
Now I’m running up against a part of the story about a bunch of people who I still know, and talk to regularly, and care about. I know a few memoir writers who are happy to risk needing to make a new set of friends after publishing their intimate doings, but I’m not one of them. Still, after something like four attempts to push the story forward, I found myself dwelling too much over exact details versus my sense of things, and how I felt at the time. My memory of twenty years ago, you won’t be surprised to hear, is flawed. I admit I was surprised. But the more I worked to get things right, the more stilted the writing turned out, likes blow-by-blow of someone else’s long-forgotten boxing match. In a couple of cases, in trying to do justice to friends I found myself focused on telling other people’s stories, and ultimately that’s not what I’m here to do.
So what spare time I’ve had in the past month was filled with breakfasts, lunches, and dinners — and emails, and chat sessions — with a good number of people, some from mid-1990s Austin and other from my later days in California. I’ve done my best to tell people in general what I’m looking to write, specifically about them, in order to give them a good sense of where they fit in the story and to understand what they’re comfortable with me writing.
Thankfully — mostly because the bulk of these stories do have something close to happy endings, at least for now — everyone has only been encouraging, and supportive, and understanding.
Here are the general rules I’m setting out.
If I mention you by name, it’s either because I’ve reached out to you in advance about what I’m going to write (or, in a few cases, what I won’t write), or it’s because overall I don’t expect to say anything too outrageous or mortifying. Hopefully we’re either good-enough friends that you can trust I don’t intend to be mean-spirited.
If I haven’t mentioned you by name, but you know me and my stories well enough to know where things are headed and you’re deeply uninterested in having your name anywhere near anything you’re afraid I’m likely to say, please let me know now.
When I think a story might be too embarrassing for someone, whether or not we’re still in touch, I’m changing the names and some inconsequential details in order to avoid stirring up too much of the past. To further obscure the trail in some cases, I’m combining a few individuals together as a sort of representative character. I’m told that this kind of simplification is acceptable in modern memoir, and if it means fewer hurt feelings then I’m good with that.
Ultimately, if you’re a part of my story it’s because I remember you fondly and I wish you well, regardless of how things went at the time. I hope you can accept that the foolishness of our youth is worth capturing as part of what made us the sober, mature, and responsible people that I presume we have all grown into being.
One massive exception to all of this: People who knew me when I lived in Austin know that there are some seriously strange threads to that overall narrative. With a few exceptions that I don’t see a way to avoid, I’ve decided that getting into too much of the high weirdness would distract from the overall purpose of getting to California and talking about my time there. And it would probably be better served by a different voice, as well. There’s likely a whole book that could be unpacked from that handful of years, in mid-1990s Austin. I’ll probably find some way to write it after I’m done with this, God help us.
But given the work of this past month, I hope that reminding myself of the general order of things, and what I want to say, I’ve let the newly refreshed narrative settle back into my head where it can be cleanly and clearly mined. If I’m right, then now I can focus on nothing more than telling the story.
Because readers overwhelmingly want regular updates over bursts of text, I’m going to err on the side of scheduled posting. I’m shooting for Tuesdays and Thursdays. We’ll see if I can do it.
So: thanks for reading so far, and buckle up. It may get a bit bumpy, but I hope you trust you’re in good hands.