dress your family in embarrassment and awkwardness

something that happened to me this weekend made me think of a story i read in a david sedaris book. here are the two relevant parts of the story:

She’s afraid to tell me anything important, knowing I’ll only turn around and write about it. In my mind, I’m like a friendly junkman, building things from the little pieces of scrap I find here and there, but my family’s started to see things differently. Their personal lives are the so-called pieces of scrap I so casually pick up, and they’re sick of it. More and more often their stories begin with the line “You have to swear you will never repeat this.” I always promise, but it’s generally understood that my word means nothing.[…]

After finishing our coffees, Lisa and I drove to Greensboro, where I delivered my scheduled lecture. That is to say, I read stories about my family. After the reading, I answered questions about them, thinking all the while how odd it was that these strangers seemed to know so much about my brother and sisters. In order to sleep at night, I have to remove myself from the equation, pretending that the people I love expressly choose to expose themselves.

this feeling isn’t new to me. the candor in my writing may make it hard to believe that i hold things back, but i do. the writing i hold back almost always involves weird things about other people; things they wouldn’t want the internet to know. sometimes i can get away with changing names and places and other small details, but if the person in question reads this site, they’ll know who i’m referring to no matter what i do.

when it comes right down to it, i can write whatever i want about myself and my feelings, because this website is mine. publishing and updating it is my choice, and that doesn’t mean that my friends and family have chosen to expose themselves by proxy. i wish i could have all these unpublished thoughts stored up somewhere, to bring out later when circumstances have changed and things are more likely to be funny than sad. but i don’t know if they’ll ever be funny.

if i can, i like to take these things i can’t write about and frame them in such a way that they’re only about me, so that they are about my feelings and reactions to events rather than the events themselves. sometimes this means that an entire evening can be expressed in a single sentence:

when revisiting something from your past makes you feel as though you’ve been punched in the stomach, it’s time to move on.

sometimes i forget to clean my glasses for days. when i finally realize that my glasses might be dirty, i wipe the lenses with my shirt and put them back on my face, and it’s like i’m seeing things clearly for the first time. how did i ever stand them like that for so long?