It feels strange going public with the truth about my formative years. The inconsistencies and idiosyncracies that made me who I am today were sometimes painful to live through. Why share them with anyone other than close friends - or maybe a therapist?
Enter YouTube and blogging and everyone's personal lives suddenly public. I jumped in, but mostly as a voyeur. My partner and I launched HellishHolidays last year, focusing on other people's TMI videos and only occasionally posting a blog of my own. I was grappling with emotions the site raised within my family about taking a negative attitude toward holidays and telling personal tales.
The bottom line is that not everyone signs on to the new tell-all mentality. When I sent my mother a link to Hellish Holidays, she wrote back to tell me that "for some reason” she was unable to access the site. “To tell you the truth,” she said, “and it'll be hard for you to believe, I'm not big on reliving bad memories, of holidays or anything else. Haven't found it to be very productive and certainly never amusing. Once I can get it to open I'll check it out and try and think of anyone I know who might be a good candidate for terrible memories of past holidays. Actually I don't know anybody I talk to about such things. What are you selling?"
Well, I for one can find that amusing! She finally got broadband last month at her casita in Puerto Rico, and has been practically bathing in multimedia ever since. Yet somehow she can’t get her daughter’s site to load. I’m not complaining, though: if there’s some Freudian reason she can’t see what I’m up to, that’s one less conversation I’ll need to have about my blog.
I do worry that my family will be offended by my sharing embarrassing tales. This must be a huge issue in today's YouTube era, where posted personal moments can provide international humiliation for friends and family, where millions of blogs snipe at celebrities as well as those near and supposedly dear.
Opening up about traumatic childhoods is not new, nor confined to the web. In an attempt to put my own past in perspective, I became addicted to memoirs featuring dysfunctional families. Among my favorites: The Liar's Club, The Tender Bar, Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, Sweet and Low, This Boy's Life and the mother (and father) of them all, The Glass Castle and Angela's Ashes. It was hard to read these books and feel like I'd had it too rough. I was merely a lesser, unpublished member of the same club.
The authors of all these memoirs share a willingness to dig deep and get at the root of who they are today, and I respect that. What I am less able to understand is their willingness to alienate their parents, grandparents and/or siblings, even though those twisted family members had made their collective childhoods just the wrong side of crazy.
Dredging up and publicly presenting a hellish past is more than likely to offend the subjects of any interesting personal stories, who surely remember things differently. Even if they hurt you years ago, you may want to remain on good terms with them today, as shaky as the bonds may be. In my family, cutting off contact, whether between mother and child, siblings, or grandmother and grandchild, is just one well-timed comment away. So I figured as unique as my life had been, I wouldn't be able to write about it unless I outlived all my relatives. Last one standing gets to be the normal one!
Now, however, I've come around to the confessional life, at least within reason. I'd like to think I have a healthy attitude toward my peculiar background. My past informs my present but does not define it. Finally, like Nora Ephron, I have come to accept that "It's all copy."