Costly Stories

Susan writes:

I’ve always been drawn to creative non-fiction or memoir-based work. Mostly in my own writing but others as well. Beauty issues itself in moments of vulnerability, failure, frustration and fragility. All of which make their grand entrance when the person I’m speaking with tells me their story and pieces of their bitterness falls out. I fall in love with each of these characters, even if — in the story we are weaving– our storylines collide and conflict arises.

One of my mission statements as a writer is to complete my work in a spirit of truth and love. Given my chosen medium of writing (ie. blogging) and the genre of choice (ie. creative non-fiction), the balancing act of compassion and honesty is messy. In situations of conflict, how do I tell it knowing there are two sides to every story? How do you write your story knowing no party is particularly innocent? Do you try to win people over to your side? Or do you just let it all hang out and let them decide for themselves?

Or how do you tells stories of injustice when there is a clear divide of right versus wrong? Stories like Soulpepper or Harvey Weinstein. Can you write a story of injustice without villainizing the people who make poor choices? Do you throw a story away after you’ve forgiven someone? Is the story still worth telling? Or does loving someone and covering their sin, imply we forget?

Really, what I want to know is — can a writer love her enemies and tell the truth at the same time?

I don’t have the answer but when I look at the stories of old– the story of Queen Esther or Samson or even the book of Revelation– the writers didn’t hold back. The divide between right and wrong is very clear. They weren’t afraid to say when someone made a poor choice that effected generations after it. Mordecai, (arguably) the writer of Esther, wasn’t afraid to write about the temper of King Xerxes and his greed. Samuel, the prophet, wrote about the bitter battle of Samson and the Philistines as they each took a stab of revenge at each other. It’s messy and disturbing. People were burned and murdered, eyes are gouged out. Samson wasn’t innocent. He let his anger and lust get the better of him. The only thing he had going for him was the fact that God favoured him. He was on his side. Samson didn’t deserve that favour and mercy. He didn’t even deserve the victory at the end but God loved him, gave him his strength back and helped him anyway.

And in the midst of these dirty stories of sin and failure, the writer catalogued it all. Can you imagine being King Xerxes and reading what Mordecai wrote about him? Because he would read his own history late at night just to ease his mind give his ego a boost. Would his ego be boosted after Mordecai’s story of Queen Esther?

I don’t know.

All I know is this memoir-based work is costly. Writing honestly is costly. My idols of people-pleasing and fear of rejection come toppling down as I attempt to re-tell stories truthfully. Do I tell this story to flatter [fill-in-the-blank]? Make her/him happy? Maybe they’ll accept me if I tell it this way. Or if I tell this story — the one where we both made bad choices and there were consequences to our actions– am I prepared for the people I care about to reject me? Is this story worth it?

I don’t know that either.

Do I believe in the power of storytelling? Yes. Do I believe we need to share our stories? Yes. Am I prepared for the consequences of those stories? I don’t know. But this is why I take so long between posts. I’m trying to assess the risk and weigh the consequences of this story or that. I’ve come to the conclusion, it’s all risky. I guess the last lesson I take from writers like Mordecai and Samuel is to be brave anyway. Tell the story. Not everybody will like it. First drafts are messy. Make mistakes, be brave and do it anyway.