In my post last week, I suggested that, when we write about ourselves at an earlier age, we’re wise to do so from a position in the here-and-now that allows us to look at those idiots we surely were with humor while at the same time respecting that idiocy. A few people objected to the term, “idiot,” and rightly so. I’m inclined, then, this week to elaborate.
The intention of last week’s post was to make some points about good writing in general:
- Don’t be afraid to write about the painful and the confusing, but do so in a way that doesn’t require you getting lost in that pain and confusion.
- We shouldn’t wallow in despair any more than we should pretend that joy is everlasting.
- Let there be light and darkness in your writing. Both are necessary to the texture of the lived life.
- Be generous of spirit. Be particularly forgiving of yourself, but don’t fail to look at that self with completely open and honest eyes.
- Celebrate the wisdom the years have brought to you.
- Generous writing is honest writing.
- Honest writing is genuine writing.
- Set no agenda for your portraits of yourself or of others; otherwise, you’ll never be able to move from the generous, to the honest, to the genuine.
- Write with respect: respect for the craft, respect for yourself, respect for others and the situations we all find ourselves in.
- Accept the fact that we’re all imperfect. Our job is never to judge, but instead to attempt to understand what brings people to do the things they do.
My own imperfections led me last week to use a word I shouldn’t have used. When I said what I did about the idiots we all once were, I didn’t mean to use that word in a pejorative sense, but instead to point out the imperfections we all have, particularly when we’re young, and to suggest a way of portraying our flaws in a piece of memoir from the greater perspective that time grants us. When I look back at my younger years, I shake my head over some of the things I did, but at the same time, I feel a great affection for the young person who did those things. In my post last week, I never intended to suggest that I might look at your own imperfect experiences with judgment or condescension, and I would certainly never suggest that you not respect and love those younger versions of yourself. I hope this post will help. My apologies for my lack of precision with language. Writing is a lifelong apprenticeship, and we fail so much of the time. The work can humble us in good ways. Then we pick up pen or face the blank screen again, and we do our best to get it right this time, and like that, we go on.