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the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.

Word Vomit


Remember Mean Girls? Of course you remember Mean Girls. It was a clever, smartly-done movie...and pretty much anything Tina Fey gets behind is hilarious. LL is probably my least favorite thing about the movie, but remember the scene where she talks about word vomit? About how sometimes things we shouldn't say just come out, and once we're saying them we can't stop ourselves even if we know we should?

Well, in a situation and place where I really should not have let it happen, I had a word vomit experience this week. And it's always amazing to me when I'm in one of those moments. Because it's like I become two people and can clearly see both sides. One side justifying my behavior by the injustice of the circumstances that have brought me to a breaking point, and the other side horrified that I have completely lost my cool. So there I was the other day, spewing forth my anger and frustration (both too voluminously and too honestly) and the whole time I was thinking, Why don't I shut up?, Why am I saying all this? I can't believe that I am saying all this. This is so making it worse, but why am I not shutting up?

I won't blame biology, at least not entirely (although let's definitely circle back to THAT topic sometime), but I knew as soon as I was asked to express my opinion on the subject in question that I would lose it. And I did try to get out of it. I initially refused to speak. Only when pressed (I really want to know what you think, Tali) did I acquiesce. I'm sure said asker instantly regretted it, just like I regretted my response. Sigh. It's moments like those when I think, what would Tina do?


Advice...on dirty laundry


Because my books are piddly and my well-knownness even piddlier, it's not often that I am asked for advice on writerly things. So I was pleased when someone got in touch with me recently who is preparing to publish a family history of sorts. Her questions centered around how does a person handle talking about others and still maintain those relationships, especially when some of the experiences published are somewhat negative or revealing.

I'm not an expert on the subject, nor can I say that all my relationships remained perfectly intact after my first book, so answering this woman's questions got me thinking about my approach on honesty and if it's changed at all with this second book. I believe it has, because even though I still believe in honesty (and in sharing even some of the not-so-flattering stories that make up our lives), there are things I have written differently, rephrased, or edited out of this second book completely that I otherwise would have left. Not sure what that means, so I guess make of it what you will. And best of luck to all you family history writers out there.


Honesty: Still the Best Policy.


I got together recently with some friends, and the husband, who had just finished reading Schooled, asked me how I handled being so honest in the book. Particularly about my own thoughts and feelings. I guess some things I mention are pretty personal, but throughout the whole process of writing and prepping the book (and even in the time since it's been out), it's never really bothered me. I wanted an honest book, even if it revealed the oftentimes ridiculous, selfish, and self-pitying thoughts I had as an adolescent. This man said he wasn't sure he could do that, and several others have made similar comments to me, usually sounding something like, "Wow, it's sure gutsy to basically make your diary public."

The bigger concern to me when it comes to writing about real life is that you have to talk about other people. I mean, it's one thing to embarrass yourself, but quite another to potentially embarrass others. In writing Schooled, I wrestled with how honest to be at other peoples' expense. Not that anything about the book is vindictive, but I'm a nice person, and my desire to be honest has probably harmed a few relationships. It's something I've been reminded of as I'm re-reading manuscript #2. Because it means another list (although this one much shorter) of people in my life who are mentioned and may not appreciate everything I say. My defense (and this is my overall case for honesty in writing period) is that it's simply not realistic to have only ever had positive thoughts about and experiences with someone. In an effort to show a balanced and realistic depiction of life as I've experienced it, I'm not sure you can omit all of the less flattering details. Most of them, sure, but not all.

Yes, I will probably always worry about hurting people's feelings, and I will always feel gutted upon hearing that I actually have. But I will continue being as honest as I'm comfortable being, as I believe it is key when writing. I still think Betsy Lerner said it best...I quoted this passage a year ago in a post and I think it's worth repeating here:

"Let’s face it, if in your writing you lift the veil on your family, your community, or even just yourself, someone will take offense. . . . If you write what is most pressing, you are revealing thoughts, secrets, wishes, and fantasies that you (and we as readers) would never otherwise confess to. Most writers, like most children, need to tell. The problem is that much of what they need to tell will provoke the ire of parent-critics, who are determined to tell writer-children what they can and cannot say. Unless you have sufficient ego and feel entitled to tell your story, you will be stymied in your effort to create. You think you can’t write, but the truth is you can’t tell. Writing is nothing if not breaking the silence. The problem is, no one likes a snitch."