In “Ethics in Personal Writing” from Telling True Stories, Dickerson says, “To write about yourself and people in your life is to accept that, in part, you are a bastard. You must face and come to understand your own demons.”
After reading the context surrounding this quote by Dickerson and thinking about it for a while in light of glimpsing my classmates brief memoirs this week, I feel I have, at the very least, a basic understanding of what she meant by this.
When you take on the task of writing about yourself or the people around you you must be willing to dig deep and exploit truths about yourself and those people that are very intimate, personal, and sometimes ugly. If you are to be honest with yourself and your readers this means you are being open about details that may be painful to relive for you and those you are writing about and may also cause embarrassment and conflict amongst you and those people. It is a bit like getting down and dirty in a counseling session, writing down everything that comes out in that session, and showing it all to the world. You are forced to acknowledge things about yourself you may have been trying to deny, forget, or cover up and it also means coming to terms with the darker side of your relationships with other people. Writing openly is a very difficult and intimate experience. It causes you to focus intently on each emotion, situation, relationship, or circumstance that you are writing about in a way that nothing else does. In a way that can be cathartic but it is often more emotionally exhausting and takes a lot of mental work, depending on what part of your life you are sharing.
Writing like this also forces you to face problems or negative opinions you may have of others which may or may not be founded on truth. On the flip side of this you may also be forced to acknowledge how you have been mistreated or dismissed by those you love, which means admitting that some people in your life may not have truly loved you as much as you may have thought. Often times it is easier to accept that there is something wrong with yourself than it is to accept that someone you love may not love you in return, or at least love you in the way that they should, and there is nothing you can do about it.
To be a good writer at all one must be willing to be open and intimate in their words. This means you are making yourself vulnerable to others and as a general rule that is a very hard thing to do because we as humans hate not being in control and hate the thought of people seeing who we really are and rejecting us for that. However, some of us feel the need to share our lives through writing so that we can be known and that we can make an impact on other people. Some of us also process life better when we write about it and because of it, like Dickerson said about herself. There are other reasons as well, but these are the thoughts that popped into my mind due to this journal question.
(This was a recent journal entry I did for my nonfiction class that I found interesting. If you would like, tell me what you think about Dickerson’s quote in the comments)