There are words I cannot say – in the stillness of the night I write them on my phone because I cannot say them out loud. Even forming the words is difficult. Sometimes I can’t even write them though. There are some things that cannot even be written down.

They talk about a hierarchy of grief, but there’s also a hierarchy of storytelling. Sometimes the things that play out before us, even the things that keep us up at night, are not truly our stories to tell. As an accidental observer, is it my place to say? Sometimes it takes time to exfoliate the rough edges of what transpired, rendering it abstract enough to relay conceptually, without the who and the why and the when.

As an artist and a writer it can be challenging to say what can be safely incorporated into my narrative. Sometimes the antagonists of our stories have become different people by the time that story is ready to be told. Asking them to put on the clothes they used to wear seems silly, as they have grown since then. Or maybe they have passed on and telling the truth of their life would be unkind to those who cherish the memory of their existence. The line between documenting your own life and someone else’s gets blurry.

As children we learn to use our inside voices, to restrain ourselves when others are in earshot. Telling our stories with one person safely can be done at full voice, but sometimes, when others are listening, a whispered parable is required to share the distilled truth of the situation in a universally understood way without doing harm. Sometimes the things that are true will hurt those who hoped for better and nothing would be gained by telling the truth of it.

Writing memoir is hard not because of what we write but what we can’t. Some of those stories will be woven into fiction and some will become shadows. Not every story is ours to tell, and all I can hope for is the wisdom to be able to discern what should be said aloud and what should not be written down.

 

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