A few days ago, I posted a short narrative from my upcoming memoir. This was the first piece I wrote when I started the project over a year ago, and I see it as a cornerstone of the larger work. But I posted it early for a couple of reasons: how would readers from various places in my life react to the words? How will they “read” the narrative? In the 36-hours or so ago that I posted it, there has been response and those responses do not surprise me.
First, I wanted feedback, as not many people have seen much of the writing. To be fair, I’ve offered the writing samples to a few people who have opted out of reading. But I did want to know if people– people outside my typical sphere of influence– could appreciate the sentiment I presented about my own high school graduation experience. I learned that the narrative did resonate with readers. Some readers outlined familial problems at their own high school graduations, and this confirms, at least for me, that my experience might not have been that unusual. Comments from readers also started me thinking about how rites of passage for our children can allow a parent’s long-held resentments and anger to surface. It’s an emotional time for students and parents, and those emotions are not always positive toward the child. I’m working through this idea, so there might be more to come. I don’t mean to imply that all parents would sabotage their child’s graduation ceremony for their own selfish reasons, but it does happen. It has happened. I wonder now: why?
Secondly, I wondered how people who know me in real life (e.g., my family) would respond to the claim that my father did what he did. I got my answer, and this one doesn’t surprise me, either. Some relatives were excited that I was able to articulate the scenario so clearly. A few of my female cousins– cousins who have written their own creative narratives about their experiences as children– were equally supportive. Relatives who have done the hard work of therapy, counseling, reading, applying, all understood the why of why I’m writing. There are others, however, who disagree with me. At this moment, I’m unclear if they disagree because they think it didn’t happen, if I’ve aired the family’s dirty laundry publicly, or for another reason. I simply don’t know as these family members don’t speak to me directly. And that’s OK. The goal of a memoir is to explore the writer’s memories of a particular situation. I wrote about what I remembered of my high school graduation. Another’s input is not needed.
Lastly, I wanted to know that I could do it. Publishing a short narrative about a situation so personal into the public sphere of the Internet was a little scary, but I don’t shy away from scary. Being able to share my story publicly is important to me. This was simply the first step in the larger project. Yes, I felt vulnerable. Yes, I felt visible. Yes, I felt vain. (Why would anyone care about MY high school graduation?) In and of itself, this one scenario doesn’t mean too much but when combined with other narratives of other times and with different outcomes, the whole work begins to take on meaning. At least I hope it will. Ultimately, I thought, if I could publish this tame narrative, there’s hope for the rest of it.
So, there it is. The original post about my high school graduation is a “trial balloon” that signifies the direction the winds might blow. I expected these directions.
Image of hot air balloon by Dee & Tula Monstah and used under the Creative Commons license.