Lamott first said this in her fabulous book about the writer’s life, Bird by Bird. She then elaborated in a tweet, which read, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”
Haha. And cool. As a writer, I love this, even though it’s easier said than done. I saw writer Melissa Bank speak a number of years ago, and one thing she said that stuck with me is that if you’re going to write about people you know, you have to be prepared to lose them from your life.
Even if you write fiction, people are likely to parse everything you write for whiffs of autobiography, which is annoying. “I write fiction, not crypto-autobiography,” John Cheever once said.
But I am oddly grateful for the permission Lamott grants writers in her tweet. If it happened to you it is yours to tell and the courageous writer will do so when a story needs to be told, for whatever reason.
But there’s something appealing about the shorter quote, too, in a different way.
Without the literal interpretation, the first 40 characters of that tweet take on on different and interesting shades of meaning. They speaks to embracing our own history, seeing ourselves as constructed of all our past experiences, and accepting all the stories of our lives as part of who we are.
I wrote in a diary every night from the time I was 12 years old until I was in my early 30s. A few years ago, I read through all those diaries sequentially, which was just as painful, embarrassing, and enlightening as you might imagine. There, written in an evolving scrawl, were the stories of my life, the incidents and emotions that added up to me. (At least as far as they went. Many chapters have been added since the last entry.)
I wasn’t exactly the person I remembered, or even who I thought I was at the time. The revelations were not all pleasant, boyhowdy. But sorting through them with the perspective of years gave me new perspectives on myself and others. These are the stories of me, even the crappy ones, most of which at least held some sort of lesson–if not at the time then all these years later.
They are my stories, good, bad, or indifferent. I can draw the conclusions I need to draw, interpret them however is helpful to me, do with them what I want, tell them or not. And if I tell them and other people don’t like it—well they should have behaved better.
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Last reviewed: 9 Aug 2012