My father always said that what is written is forever. In today’s technological age, that certainly seems to be the case. We are virtually unable to escape the things we’ve written. Even after death, letters and diaries are published—words intended to be left unread, now remembered. That horrifies me—I have written some truly regrettable and unkind things. I have half a mind to scrub my hard drive of the old files I’ve long since abandoned—many written out of anger or despair. This also means I ought to burn my parent’s old computer, which holds a frightening collection of all my prepubescent thoughts.
In an era of such important and gripping social change, what does it mean to write effectively, while still being kind? How do we express those raw parts of ourselves, without excluding others from the journey of understanding? This idea has been gnawing at me lately. Victims of injustice certainly deserve their anger—is there room for kindness in that?
The medical oath of “Do no harm” seems it should apply to all of us, whenever applicable. Shouldn’t it therefore apply in our writing? Is there a way to fight for justice kindly? I suppose it depends on who is listening.
I worked my way through college and grad school by bartending. An angsty youth, I screamed pussy power, guzzled whiskey, and flicked burning cigarettes out of my window. The rampant display of sexual harassment I received in my work translated into pure, unadulterated spite. Over several years, I evolved into a person who, in every interaction with men, defaulted to mistrust. I was obsessed with the idea, and the writing of my memoir followed suit, becoming ugly and unkind.
One day, after getting a new pair of glasses, a customer at the bar said, “Those glasses look great—I’ve never seen you wear them before.” Several private tirades later amongst coworkers and friends, someone said to me, “Maybe he was just complimenting you.”
Her words gave me pause, because, she was right. Being a victim of so many displays of crass and uncomfortable behavior had made me incapable of defaulting to the truth. Instead, everything in my world became a potential attack against me. It made me incapable of having friendships with men, or developing healthy relationships. But, more so, it put me in a constant and unhealthy mode of fear and stress.
Over the next several years, and with a substantial amount of therapy, I rewrote my memoir four times. The trashing of men evolved into a general distaste which evolved into a subtle mistrust and so on until I had something I felt was meaningful, but kind. How could I ever expect a man to listen otherwise?
Perhaps, the simplest solution to all of this would be for us to adopt the trivial pursuit: captioning cat photos on Facebook. And yet, we know that this won’t create a better world for ourselves, nor will it create a better future for our youth. But neither will trashing men in a memoir.
Building worlds that speculate, that assume the worst in others, closes us off from conversation. But allowing the worst in others to prevail, and doing nothing, closes us off from growth. As a writer, I am constantly searching for that space in the middle, where kindness lives. That, and whiskey. Some habits are a bit harder to kick.