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The Blogging Life

June 24, 2014

I often advise my students to avoid sharing their work with a larger audience until they are able, and willing, to create art from life, a process that requires distance or a craftsman’s care or both.  I’ve ignored my own advice at times.  A few weeks after my dad died, for example, I wrote about watching him die.  The essay, which earned a spot on the “Notable Essays of 2002” list as cited in The Best American Essays 2003got its power from an immediacy that read as intimacy.  I couldn’t have written the same essay even six months later.  “My Father’s Dead (If Only I Could Tell You)” had to be created when I could still hear my dad’s last gasps echoing in my ears.   It had to be written while I was still shell-shocked.

UntitledThis blog is also an exception.  I’m writing the story of the reunion with my birth family as that reunion unfolds.  Like many narrative blogs, it has taken on a life of its own; it is both life and art at once.  As with the essay about my father, part of the lure of the narrative blog is that it’s written in the raw.   It won’t stand still.  Neither the writer nor the reader knows what’s going to happen next.  Maybe the blog knows, but it’s not telling.

But it’s inherently risky to write in medias res, in the midst of things.  Especially as communication between my birth family and me has become more (re)strained in the last couple of years, the blog has become the communication.   I write.  They react.  We communicate.   Silence.   If my blog were a petulant teenager, it might be accused of writing only to spark communication, some kind of reaction, but my blog is not a petulant teenager, and neither am I.  Yet it’s often hard for me to anticipate whether the people this story touches will be pleased, hurt, or angered by my words.  That’s not a statement about them as much as it’s about my own rhetorical intuition–and the complexity of the situation.  Thankfully my journalist twin is also a ruthless editor.  I often send her drafts to review and readily take her advice.  “Spot on,” she’ll say.  Or, “This one’s going to get you in trouble.”   Sometimes I’ll send drafts to my birth parents, too, part heads-up, part conversation-starter outside of the blog itself.  Still, in those moments before I hit the “Publish” button, I frequently find myself dangling between truth and hurt, hoping that there’s enough truth to honor myself but not enough to cause hurt.  Before the day is out, I’ll know if I have succeeded.

I often wish that I could see as far into my birth family as I allow them to see into me, to understand what it is like for them to be discovered, to have the secret they intended to take to their graves exposed, both in life and in art.  It must be hard for them, I almost wrote just now, before I heard my sister’s voice reminding, “Don’t speculate.”  This isn’t speculation: when the dust settles, my brave birth mother tells me to keep writing.  Every time.  Keep writing.  

The important part here is that in addition to the hundreds of people who read each entry on this blog, there are a handful of people in that audience who are part of the story, who are alive and well, and reading.  I’m not worried about my relationship with my twin or my adoptive family, but I do worry that what I write might damage my relationship with my birth family.  The bottom line:  I don’t want to damage that relationship, and I don’t want to stop writing.

I made a lot of mistakes in the beginning.  In trying to tell a complete story, a true story, I wrote too much.  I projected.  I remember one early entry that set off a firestorm, and one I deserved.  I quickly went back and corrected the entry–took my words out of my birth mother’s memory–and apologized.  I (hope I) haven’t made that mistake again.  At other times, the emotional truth of my own story has wounded, and I’ve found myself on the defensive, reeling from the barbs flung back.

In the face of so much risk, it’s hard to explain my (selfish?) compulsion to keep writing, to use writing as the vehicle to discovery.  My job does not depend upon this writing.  It won’t bring me fame or fortunate.  My twin and I are not the secret offspring of a Kardashian or the man who discovered that his biological father is Charles Manson.  We’re all pretty average people.  And while there is no one “normal” in adoption, our story is fairly run-of-the-mill, too.

So why write?  Because I can.  Because I can’t not.  Because it’s how I know to make sense of of this story that is my life that is my art that is my life.

[Deep breath.]










15 Comments leave one →
  1. June 25, 2014 9:53 pm

    I am writing memoir so this post was oh so relevant and relatable. Thanks!

  2. June 25, 2014 2:09 pm

    I love this…beautiful. When I read something that makes me feel..then I know I’ve found something so very much worth reading.

    • twinprint permalink*
      June 25, 2014 2:21 pm

      Ah, thanks so much!

  3. June 25, 2014 12:32 pm

    Reblogged this on BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog and commented:
    Jenny Spinner with a fascinating consideration of narrative blogging: “As with the essay about my father, part of the lure of the narrative blog is that it’s written in the raw. It won’t stand still. Neither the writer nor the reader knows what’s going to happen next. “

  4. Jean Smolen permalink
    June 24, 2014 5:01 pm

    Jenny, your bravery inspires me!

    • twinprint permalink*
      June 25, 2014 2:22 pm

      I don’t think of it as bravery, at least not on my end of the story, but thanks, Jean!

  5. June 24, 2014 4:24 pm

    I love that you keep writing. Even when it is hard, even when you’re scared. I am so grateful for your words and your honesty and your bravery. I toy so often with writing things about myself and struggle with the fact that my story isn’t just my story alone. I can tell my part but there are others almost always involved and it is my fear that keeps me quiet way too often. You are brave and I know that all that you do you do with deep deep love.

    • twinprint permalink*
      June 25, 2014 2:24 pm

      I make that very point to my students, Amanda! Unless you’re a hermit monk living in seclusion somewhere, you don’t live a life void of people. And so once you begin to write about that life, it’s impossible to do so without bringing other people (willing or not!) into your story. But what is yours alone is your perspective, and your emotional responses, and even your memories. You own that part. And there’s a way to do it without hurting others. Okay, maybe not–but there’s a way to mitigate damage. That’s what I’m aiming for. YOU keep writing.

  6. Dina permalink
    June 24, 2014 4:10 pm

    Read this during my last day of inservice and loved it. I often revisit things I wrote when Owen was really sick and I am struck by how raw most of it is, but I would never change a word. It’s true. That’s all that matters. Keep writing. xo

    • twinprint permalink*
      June 25, 2014 2:27 pm

      Geesh, Dina. When is your school year going to end already? 🙂 It must be hard to read those raw writings from when Owen was sickest, but you’re right–it’s the truth of where you were at that time.

  7. June 24, 2014 4:06 pm

    Beautiful. Telling stories is how we connect. It is also how we heal. Writing keeps you connected to yourself… that part of yourself that is part of your biological family–that part of you that is alive. Your birth mother is right. Keep writing. Just follow your twin’s intuition… about what to hold back from publishing when need be might be a consideration. Our alter egos exist for a reason… they keep us from causing too much harm. I do love your ability to be in the moment, just choose the moments….don’t let them choose you. -Renee

    • twinprint permalink*
      June 25, 2014 2:28 pm

      Thank you! You’re right–it’s the connections. Thank you for the perfect word/metaphor/frame!


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