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the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.
APR
30

Concert for One

I was traveling for work this past week, and one of the event speakers did this (super uncomfortable) thing where he would ask members of the audience to stand up and share very personal things...in front of hundreds of their business colleagues. Now, I don't recommend this. And even though some of the insights that were ultimately shared did border near truth and forward-propelling insight, I'm not sure it's worth putting a person through such public personal scrutiny.

I bring this up only because his first question to the first person called up on stage has stuck with me: "Tell us something that no one else knows and that you are ashamed of." See what I mean about this maybe not being the kind of thing you want to answer in front of hundreds of people? I wanted to be prepared in case I was brought up on stage (the horror), and about the only thing I could think of that truly no one in the audience knew, and something not overly intimate or revealing, was that I was a talented violinist and yet decided to quit playing violin.

Clearly this is not a super critical or important thing, and I doubt it has had much impact on the overall course of my life, but I think about it a lot. Not in a haunting way, necessarily, but in a way that makes me feel sad for neglecting to nurture a gift I feel I was given. At the time it was too much with all the things my teenage self had going on, and by that I mean the PRACTICING was too much. I wanted violin to be something I played when I felt the need to, when it struck me, not because my parents required me to...every day. So when my saintly violin teacher died and the only other alternative was a rather mean lady a few towns over who expected much more in terms of effort and improvement, it was, as they say, the straw that broke the back. I was OUT.

I felt good about the choice at the time, which is to say I felt relieved to have it off my plate, but now it sits there as this thing from my past that I gave up on. This thing I actually had a talent for. I feel like I have this on pretty good authority, because when my conscience got the better of me and I eventually agreed to ONE LESSON with the mean lady, she proclaimed to my siblings afterward, "Well, Tali is the one with the talent." But this is the crux, the thing my writer mind can't figure out, because is this seeming obligation to pursue those things at which we are gifted more important than the need to pursue those things we are truly passionate and joyful about?

Honestly, there are things, many things, I enjoy more than playing violin. So I feel overall pretty good about where I've ended up. That said, I may never shake the possibility that violin was the thing I could have been the best at. It's why I still think about it. It's why I considered sharing this with hundreds of business colleagues over breakfast. It's why I purchased this painting over all the others when at an arts festival on last week's trip. I think it's OK to have things like this occasionally occupy our mental energy, so feel free to answer the question for yourself, and just be glad no one's asking you to do it in front a full ballroom.

In case anyone's curious, the speaker also asked us to stand up if we worked with anyone who we wish we didn't, which is also an interesting thing to ask a room full of people who are surrounded by THEIR CO-WORKERS, BOSSES, and COMPANY EXECUTIVES. I can neither confirm nor deny whether I stood up, but let me just say that I believe in being honest. I'll leave you with that, so picture me serenading you out and onto your next adventure, the one you're choosing because you love it.

OCT
02

Word Vomit

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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?

JUN
30

Advice...on dirty laundry

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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.

APR
22

Honesty: Still the Best Policy.

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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."