On Writing, Permission, and the Certainty of Our Stories
For decades I did not share my story though I did write the stories. The siblings who stayed threatened me. And I allowed that. That’s my part in my own silence. Now I’ve broken that silence by serializing my story on Substack. Still every Tuesday when I post my hand shakes. It’s shaking now as I give myself permission to share my experience with you.
Wow. I have written a memoir about my childhood as the youngest of six in a large Irish family. My go-to resource were the diaries I began to keep at the age of 13 and continued for 50 years. I finally sat down and read them all during a dull day in lockdown; I was stunned at the detail of what I wrote, including the crazy, funny shit my mother said and the horror of my father’s drunken scenes. I know if this gets published that one of my sisters will say I made it all up. I don’t give a damn. I am practicing looking her in the eye and saying, “Kate, I look forward to reading your memoir. Meantime, I’ll keep mine, thanks.” Enjoy P-town; it’s glorious in September.
Thank you. I read it all, no skim reading which is unusual for me.
It caught my attention as I understand the concept of different versions of a story and whose story is it to tell ?
The sentence that stood out was the quote around art releasing shame.
This struck such a chord as I found throwing words or emotions onto paper or canvas to be a powerful vehicle for the release of copious quantities of compressed negative energy - from layers of shame laid down deep within me over many years of stigma, misunderstanding, abuse and abandonment. To write my story and express my pain has been to deflate the shame in my experience. It no longer silences me.
I think the only one you need permission from is yourself, not that that is a simple matter. And that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other people to take into account, of course. Before I started serializing my memoir here, I wrote to family to let them know I was going to do the thing, finally. I didn’t want anyone hearing it through the grapevine. I explained some of the decisions I’d made about names/identities, etc, hoping to assuage concerns, but I didn’t ask for permission. That’s when I realized I’d actually internalized the view that your story belongs to you. I braced for impact but all I’ve gotten (so far, knock wood) is support.
Still though there is a struggle with every post, about what you’re revealing about yourself & others, etc. Writing memoir is not for the faint of heart.
Powerful essay, thank you 🙏 For me, shame has been the the biggest barrier in sharing my story(ies).
You have not idea how helpful this post about permission was for me. Actually, I’m pretty sure you do understand as much as anyone about this since you have written a book on it! I can’t wait to read your book. I feel so much freer now as I approach getting back my own memoir.
Your insightful words arrived at just the right time. Yesterday, I completed my last memoir revision before talking to my family. (Deep Breath) I finally know that I am ready to share the truth I lived. I won’t ask permission, but I will listen respectfully while I claim the right to tell the story that tore us all apart.
Thank you for this. Really powerful to read. Just today I messaged my mother and asked, “Would you mind if I wrote about what happened then?” I think I need to unpack more deeply why I asked and what I’m worried is a consequence of the story telling.
This strikes at the core of nearly every reason I’ve not written the thing I most need to write. Or written anything, really, since becoming chronically ill and disabled nearly 10 years ago. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and philosophy on such a difficult topic.
Great article on a memoir topic I've wrestled with as my family members have gradually predeceased me, leaving only my brother and I. On how we remember things differently: my brother denied for decades that our older brother had killed himself (we were all teenagers then). He'd fully accepted the alternate version we told people that our brother had died of a brain tumor (good Catholics didn't commit suicide, a "mortal sin"). Over a rare dinner in our 50s, we discussed our deceased brother and I was stunned to find my surviving brother had opted for the fictitious narrative all along. I had to tell him I had the death certificate and autopsy results before he'd believe me. Fascinating. I so appreciate your writing. Thank you.
Your writing about permissions is very powerful, motivating and scary. By telling our truth we may upset or alienate family members, as happened in my family when they did not believe my truth - for which I had evidence!
But understanding that people really, really believe their truth, even if at the beginning they knew it was not true, is illuminating and fascinating. The power of the mind its astonishing. I presume (not being a scientist) that these memory twists are closely linked to the ability of the mind to mimic the effects of a drug, even when they are given a placebo pill. Research recently showed that the benefits can remain, even when the person knows they have been given a placebo pill!
Perhaps there was a survival element that made it imperative to replace or insert different ‘memories’? The brain is amazing.
This was so powerful. Thank you for sharing it.
I love this. Thank you. 🙏
This book will open many closed doors for many people. It will be earth shaking.
Thank you for this insight. I read every word - which is often difficult for me, I am a “skimmer.” Food for thought for sure.
thank you for giving voice to the story beneath the story ~