Sibling Rivalry and Story Albums

The tale of sibling rivalry, especially among boys, is as old as Cain and Abel. It may be mild and quickly pass, especially in siblings with a wide age difference, or it may be intense and, as in the case of Cain and Abel, even deadly. It can be the source of humor, lasting scars, or even both. It's almost the norm that siblings argue, tattle on each other, plot revenge, and set each other up. They may even slug things out on occasion. This is all frequent fodder for comic strips like Foxtrot, Jump Start, or Baby Blues.

It’s also fodder for blogs. Pete, the author of the blog Your Neighborhood Reverend, posted a piece titled “Memphis - the New City of Brotherly Love” in which he describes torments he suffered at the hands of his older brother. It’s illuminating. Don’t let your children read it! I learned some things about spit from that story that I never would have guessed, and that swinging body — how graphic! Besides telling of tortures, he also assures us that not only did he survive, but that nobody who sees those brothers together today would guess at their past.

This is a great example of a vignette story that works well standing on its own. However, even as a story complete unto itself, it contains many loose ends. I’m left wondering: Does he remember having good times with his brother during that same period? How did he and his brother get from this stage of villain and victim to brotherly love? Aside from terror, how did Pete handle things during this period? Did he ever tattle?

Obviously Pete couldn’t paint a comprehensive picture of life with his brother in the limited space of this post, and this is where the value of a story album or integrated memoir comes into play. You can write about the various angles I mentioned above in separate pieces to tuck in those loose ends.

You don’t have to weave all your stories artfully into a commercially viable memoir to leave a valuable legacy for your heirs. Few people are that motivated. Pete has given his descendants at least a glimpse of his boyhood. If that’s the only story he ever writes, they’ll be glad to have that. But if you read Pete’s blog, you’ll see that this mystery man has more stories than you can shake a stick at, and they don’t generally relate to each other in any specific way. What would Pete do to pull those stories together for publication?

The simplest thing for Pete to do is to put together what I refer to in The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing as a Story Album, or collection of short stories. Arrange them in any order that makes sense, which may be topical, chronological by your age in the story or when your wrote the story, totally random, or whatever. You’ll find further guidelines for assembling them in my book, and you can look at any book of short stories for further inspiration.

Now that’s a long circle, all the way from sibling rivalry to book layout, but this post was inspired by Your Neighborhood Reverend, and he’s also given to such rambles, so ... be alerted that what you read influences your writing.

Write now: about sibling rivalry in your family. How did your brothers and/or sisters torture you? If you were an older sibling, how did you cause grief for your younger ones? What is the other side of the coin? What good times and joy did you share together? If you were an only child, write about your longing for a sibling. Share your stories with your siblings, if you are really brave. I almost guarantee they’ll have quite a different version of the same story. Just remember, this is your story. They can write it their way if they wise.


Leah J.Utas said...

Ritergal - Thanks for this.
Arranging the incidents of my life gave me some diffculty, but I decided to flip between odd things and sibling abuse. Seems to be working. I haven't checked out Pete's blog yet as I don't think I can stomach learning about spit, but it does seem intriguing.
My blog posts on Friday's are about growing up with my mentally ill abusive sister and they'll form a big part of the memoir.
Your posts have been very helpful to me.

Ritergal said...

Leah -- How nice to hear that Pete's story is bearing more fruit. I'm so sorry to hear about your sister, and the tribulations she's caused you. It's not easy living with those who are mentally ill and play games with minds.

Best wishes as you keep writing!