Tuesday, June 10, 2014

On writing about family

My brother Jimmy and I had an e-mail exchange today that has me thinking . . .

Here's the deal.  My family of origin has nice people in it.  None of them was/is perfect.  But they're all decent human beings who like to laugh and who regularly cut other human beings a lot of slack.  When I write about my parents and brothers and grandparents, I write about them with amusement and affection and occasional sentiment.

My friend Annette once told me she hated some essays Eudora Welty wrote about her parents because Welty wrote about her childhood with amused affection, which came across as self-satisfaction to Annette, who (it must be said) had a difficult childhood.  Of all the ways I want to come across as to my readers, self-satisfied isn't one of them.  And yet it would be hard for me to write about abusive, drug-addicted, selfish family members, because they weren't.

I don't know.  I'm wondering if people just roll their eyeballs when I write a Mother's/Father's Day column and go "Oh, here goes little Miss Fancypants, writing about her awesome family again."

I hope not.  And also, I have no Fancypants.  Not clean ones any way.

To be clear, this is not a plea for you to tell me I'm okay, although I know it reads like one.  I would like to hear how reading memoir about other people's families feels to you.


Kamp Kyburz said...

Memoir feels REAL and that's why I like it. It's okay if there are different types of REAL: Beaver Cleaver Real, Dysfunctional Real, Brady Bunch Real...people are phenomenally interesting no matter what...which is why I always have a desire to interview homeless people on the corner..."Sir, how did you come to be sitting here holding this sign?"

Lisa B. said...

Isn't writing about family tricky? Trying to get it exactly right. I love the way you write about your family, and I do think you hit that tone of amused affection, which is funny and lovely. There are a lot of ways to come across as self-satisfied as a writer, and writing in a basically happy way is not more self-satisfied than writing in a scathing, cruel way. I love memoir. And I think your whole ontological outfit--fancypants, fancy shirt, fancy shoes, etc.--is swell. I know you're not asking for this, but it must be said.

Megan said...

Types of people who irritate me the most: smug people, gossips, Braggy Braggertons. You are none of these. Incidentally, I read that newspaper article about your mom recently and thought, "Yay, it's TRQ!"

Lisa A. Hilden said...

I don't read a lot of other family memoirs, really. But I love reading yours!! Not only do they have a lovely quality to them, like the glow of a lovely summer evening as the sun is going down, but they seem to be honest and funny. You have a way with words that makes me smile!