Delayed Disclosure

If you search the blog archives or click on the Purpose label, you’ll find a pile of posts about reasons for writing your lifestory. One of the most cogent reasons is eloquently expressed by Rich Turner on the Memorablia page of his website, The Grammar Curmudgeon.

He writes:

“... Our daughter, who has become interested in genealogy, was urging me to write my memories. She was prompted to this view by our discovery, after my mother's death, of a journal that my mother had kept. Our daughter transcribed the journal, scanned in pictures from old family albums, and put it together in a book that she distributed to most known survivors – my nieces and nephews (her cousins), my brother's widow, and so on. She asked me to edit it, and, when I did, I became aware of experiences my mother had that I never knew about and of a side of her personality of which I was completely unaware. I also realized that there is something to be said for passing on, in some permanent form, what we recall of our inner and outer lives to our children and grandchildren.”
I was struck by the part about becoming aware of experiences his mother had and facets of her personality he’d never seen. My mother and I were relatively close, and had a relationship of mutual respect and support. However, as a mother of grown children myself, I’m fully aware that there were limits around what my mother expressed directly, and I know she had a plethora of thoughts and ideas I can only guess at. How I wish she'd lived long enough to finish the lifestory she began writing!

It’s not that I didn’t care, and it’s not that she wouldn’t tell, but there were boundaries to our communication, and these boundaries hold for nearly any pair of people. The first is time. There is simply never enough time on either end of the phone/email/IM/whatever to cover everything. The time we spend living our lives and thinking our thoughts far exceeds the time available to share them or listen to others. Thus whatever we convey is going to pass through the filters of condensation.

Another boundary is priorities. Most of us want to be supportive of our offspring and keep up with new things. Those of us with grandchildren are always eager to hear of their exploits, and there’s the tendency to want to hear about our children’s job tragedies and triumphs or latest romantic adventures. So we often spend the vast balance of time in listening mode than telling our own stories.

Personality quirks may also play a part. In general, some of us are more inclined to share personal news and insights than others, and listeners have different styles of responding. If you happen to have a parent who is a low discloser, and a child who is inclined to blurt out spontaneous reactions like, “That herbal healing nonsense is total &#*%!!” that child is not going to hear much about the parent’s evolving interest in holistic healthcare.

I can only speak for myself here, but I tend to be of the low disclosing type, especially around those who may not agree with my thoughts. I’m certainly not likely to think out loud and explore new ideas with someone who is sure to pounce and put me through the third degree.

So, for better or worse — and perhaps after my departure
my children and later generations may (like Rich Turner or Francesca’s children in The Bridges of Madison County) read stories they don’t have time for right (or may not be ready to understand) now. If they care enough to read, they may learn of adventures they never knew I had and aspects of my thinking and personality they never guessed at. That remains to be seen. For now, I write because I love to write, I learn more about myself from my own writing, and what other reasons does one need?

Write now: about boundaries around your own writing; about boundaries in communication with your parents and your offspring. Do you choose these boundaries and accept them, or do they irritate you? What part does your Inner Critic play, and what part does the reaction of the others play? Have your boundaries changed over the years?


ybonesy said...

I loved the excerpt you published in this post, the characterization of "inner and outer lives." So true, isn't it?

My mother also keeps a journal. I don't think she writes much in it, and she only started it when her aunt was sick about six or eight years ago. Even so, I often wonder what she has to say. Often wonder how her years and her wisdom will color what she writes.

Bhaswati said...

Age gap could be another boundary. My grandmother and I were fairly close, yet I am discovering SO much of her life and personality only now, as I write a memoir involving her. I guess the only reason she didn't share all those things with me was because she may have felt I was too young to be burdened with any "heavy" feelings.

Your posts always make me think. That's the best part about them.