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If You Are Going To Tell MY Story . . . January 27, 2011

Posted by nrhatch in Blogging, Writing & Writers.
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150px-Carlo_Crivelli_052Yesterday, someone in the blogosphere used “my story” to support his view that writers can be writers even if they don’t write.

Here are his words:

Then, finally, there are people like my writer friend Nancy, who for years had worked as a lawyer and had made a great living, but who, despite all this, felt incredibly unhappy.

Inside, Nancy knew that she was a writer, but because of her life circumstances she just couldn’t write. Life had gotten in her way.

Since then, Nancy took the big leap, left her law career and is now pursuing her passion: writing.

I am very happy for her, and admire her for the guts it took to take that big step, but I know that many of my writer friends are not as lucky, and maybe not as brave. And you know what? I don’t blame them for not having the courage–or the luck.

You see, for many writers, life doesn’t unfold magically and perfectly as they would wish. No, for many of us, life tends to do the EXACT opposite of what we want it to do. In fact, it seems that life will do it’s [sic] best to GET IN THE WAY of your successful writing career.

When I first read his overview of “my life,” it bothered me.  I felt violated by his off-kilter summary.

I tried to brush it off, reminding myself that we have as many reputations as we have acquaintances . . . and none is accurate.

But I woke up this morning still dismayed by how he had characterized my life for his readers.  I returned to his blog and left the following comment:

I’ve thought about this post a bit more, and feel that I do need to clarify “my story” for your readers:

(1)  You say that I felt “incredibly unhappy.” That is NOT correct.  I felt quite happy, except in my choice of career.  That made it easy to determine the source of my unhappiness and eliminate it from my life by transitioning from law to non-profit work and eventually to writing as a full time occupation.

(2)  You say “Nancy knew that she was a writer, but because of her life circumstances she just couldn’t write. Life had gotten in her way.”  Also, incorrect.  I never stopped writing.  I never allowed life to get in the way of my passion.

Cooks cook.  Dancers dance.  Writers write.

(3)  You say, “Since then, Nancy took the big leap, left her law career and is now pursuing her passion: writing.”  Not entirely incorrect.  But you left out a span of 10 years where I ran first a domestic violence program and then an AmeriCorps program.

(4)  You attribute my transition to “luck.”  I attribute it to a mindful evaluation of my life to determine whether my focus was on my priorities.  I attribute it to a series of choices that I made over time to move away from what wasn’t working and move toward a life that would be a better fit for me.

Thanks for allowing me to clarify my story for your readers.  If I ever decide to share your story, I’ll run my thoughts by you first.

I am not writing this post to make him look bad for what I  hope were a series of innocent misrepresentations on his part.

Rather, I am writing this post to remind writers of non-fiction that they should be careful when using the stories of others to advance their own agendas.

Sharing specific anecdotes we have observed first hand is one thing.

Attempting to summarize someone else’s life based on second hand evidence and hearsay is another ~ especially when we are using the summary to support a theory with which they disagree.

Cooks cook.  Dancers dance.  Writers write.

What I found most unsettling is that he seems to understand me so little, and yet he called me “friend.”

Quote:  Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point. ~ C.S. Lewis

Related posts:  Cooks Cook.  Dancers Dance.  Writers Write * Brief Bio * Other Stuff * Whose Shoes Are They Anyway? * “I Know What YOU Should Do”

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Comments»

1. Paula Tohline Calhoun - January 27, 2011

Good for you! It gives me pause, always, when I hear or read someone else’s understanding of my story, or what I write. People take away, from what we say and write, their own slant and perspective, which is then simmered in their own minds a while before it comes out in their version – many times vastly different from the original!

The prospect of using anyone else’s story as examples for my own is a bit nerve-wracking for me. I might even have do it on occasion, but I do make every effort to disguise the person, and highlight the event, so that it can be more broadly applicable. As you say, I’m pretty sure it was not the man’s intention to misrepresent you, but I also feel he could have given the same example for his point without personalizing it, or putting anyone’s name to it.

Last, but not least, we come to that good old word “friend.” Hmmm. . .haven’t we discussed that word a time or two recently? 😀

nrhatch - January 27, 2011

I agree. If he had run the lines by me before posting them . . . I could have clarified “my story” before its release into the blogosphere.

I attribute the “faux pas” to his relative inexperience as a writer. Like all of us, he’ll grow as a writer over time ~ as long as he keeps writing. 😉

2. Cindy - January 27, 2011

Fair comment, Nancy, I’d probably have felt violated too, but I have no doubt that the blogger in question meant to highlight his.her admiration of you.

nrhatch - January 27, 2011

I hope you’re right. But, I wonder, can we really admire someone when we don’t know WHO they are?

3. Shannon Sullivan - January 27, 2011

Thank you for the info Nancy … It helps me be more mindful about what I may “think” I “know” about someone else’s life and the reality of it. I appreciate you sharing this info with us and both sets of readers.

nrhatch - January 27, 2011

Thanks, Shannon.

Normally, I shrug things like this off ~ life is too short to try to correct every misapprehension others have about WHO we are.

But that continued “niggling” sensation in my gut this morning seemed to be a reminder from the Universe that we should strive to act with mindful integrity whenever we choose to share our own or someone else’s story.

If not, we might as well be writing Fiction. 😉

4. Carol Ann Hoel - January 27, 2011

I did not see the post you reference here and probably don’t know the blog. He may not have meant to misrepresent you, but I can see from your post that he did. I understand why you would want to set the record straight. Blessings to you…

nrhatch - January 27, 2011

Thanks, Carol Ann.

I suspect that in his haste to reach the point he wanted to make with his piece, he didn’t mindfully watch where he placed his feet ~ making mistakes and missteps is all part of the journey through life.

Like you, I expect that the misrepresentation was innocent, rather than intentional. A good reminder for all of us that, as writers, we owe it to our readers to get the “facts” straight before we press “Publish.”

Cheers!

5. Ollin - January 27, 2011

Hey Nancy,

I realize I made a mistake with respect to your story. My intention was to offer inspiration to my readers, but with poor choice of words and a misunderstanding of your story I flubbed BIG TIME. I apologize, of course I NEVER wanted to offend you or to trivialize your complex journey, I was trying to highlight you and hopefully get people to check you out, but in trying to do so, I made a big mistake.

Lesson learned. I apologize and I hope you can forgive me. I’ll run that kind of thing by you next time.

In the meantime I have added a note to the post for readers to read your clarification in the comments but I feel that still, as it stands, your story is not your story and that’s why I’m thinking about removing it. Because of course it does not do justice to you and I wouldn’t want it there if it didn’t.

So if you’d like me to remove it, I completely understand. Let me know by using my contact page. Thanks!

nrhatch - January 27, 2011

Thanks, Ollin. Apology accepted.

One reason I didn’t say anything yesterday is because I attributed your fictionalized account of my life to youthful exhuberance and a desire to help your readers, especially those who want to be writers, grow.

But I wonder whether encouraging aspiring writers “not to write” is really doing them a service in the long run.

Pianists develop proficiency with the piano keyboard by actually placing their hands upon it ~ not by allowing life to get in the way of their passion.

We should, indeed, “claim what isn’t, as if it were, until it becomes” . . . but only if claiming the label of writer causes us to make time in our lives to write.

Namaste.

Ollin - January 27, 2011

I’ve actually decided to remove the mention and leave a note for your clarification. If you’d like me to remove those comments as well I’d be happy to do so.

Again, I AM SO SORRY. I feel terrible about this. OF COURSE I did not mean to offend you. I really had a big misunderstanding, you are absolutely RIGHT, I do not know who you are, but please understand that I admire you and your courage and what you stand for, and I would never want to hurt you or misrepresent you, I was offering you as inspiration and well, I guess the truth is I can’t say anything more.

I feel awful.

nrhatch - January 27, 2011

No problem, Ollin.

We all make mistakes. In fact, one of my “goals” in life is to make one mistake each day ~ to remind myself that I have a long way to go to get to where I’m going. 🙂

Like all else, take what you need from the lesson, and let the rest go. Don’t beat yourself up about an innocent mistake. Life is in the living.

Cheers!

Brown Eyed Mystic - January 27, 2011

Good to see old mates coming back together 🙂

I am sorry about how you felt Nancy. I actually have learnt a lesson myself from this incident. Non-fiction is about people–real people. Well, at least in theory it is supposed to be. And writers must be careful while quoting.

I am sure Ollin agrees 🙂

Bless you,
BrownEyed

nrhatch - January 27, 2011

Thanks, BrownEyed.

That’s actually why I spoke up. In this world of instanteous communication, it is so easy to press “Publish” before we’ve really evaluated exactly what we are saying.

Friendship requires honest communication. If I just swept how I felt “under the rug,” I would have been doing myself and Ollin a disservice.

Now we can both get back to doing what we do best ~ sharing what we’ve learned about life (and writing) with our readers.

Cheers!

6. Kate Shrewsday - January 27, 2011

Its hard to get things right. Especially for people like me who love a good story…as a journalist I tried hard to reference every assumption to a quote from my subject, but every now and then I , like other young journalists, got it wrong.

That, I concluded, was what sub editors were for 😀

Perception is a tricky old business.Perhaps I should just stick to fiction…

nrhatch - January 27, 2011

Where are sub editors when we need them? 🙂

Thanks, Kate!

7. Paula Tohline Calhoun - January 27, 2011

Don’t worry, Ollin! Nancy’s good about letting things go! Her goal to make one mistake a day (good luck with that, Nancy!)is reminiscent of the huge Pakistani tapestry that hangs at the UN in New York City. It is gorgeous and complex, but there is one weaving error in it – by design. The weaver said that he always weaves in one error, because “only God is perfect.” We’ve all got a long way to go!

My goal is not: “to make one mistake a day,” but to: “make ONLY one mistake a day.” I wish myself good luck on that one. . . (I wonder if I should just exclude typos in my count!). 😀

nrhatch - January 27, 2011

Typos count!

Anything that reminds us that we are not “perfect” keeps our glorious, fragile egos in check ~ which allows our inner wisdom to bloom, blossom, and grow in the sunlight rather than stagnating in the shadows.

8. Loreen Lee - January 27, 2011

An unsolicited comment. What is misrepresentation of others, but our own limited interpretation. In this sense, we are always already misinterpretators of each other. I have attempted to defend a few personages, albeit their names were not used, in the hope of developing a better interpretation of such personages within this very blog. The telephone situation, the person on Facebook, that terrible arrogant young lad who was not the exemplar of arrogance as in the Buddhist quote, but an acting, although granted fictional, representation of someone within a life-scene. Thus, I will follow another advice on your part, and not ‘suck’ up to you, and consequently, herein I have stated a point of view, that is when it comes to interpretation, we are ALL guilty, – paradox here. You are luck you allowed him to defend yourself. I don’t feel that at a particular time when you broadcast to everyone what a terrible person I was for calling you phoney, you really checked into my motivation, or my interpretation of an insult coming from you. There is some degree to which what I said remain, however, true, and you never did acknowledge my begging at that time to leave me alone, so that I would not feel victimized by your comments. You ignored this aspect of the dialogue entirely. Wish you could have been more like the admirer you talk about in this post.

nrhatch - January 27, 2011

You are correct. We see the world behind our eyes. Thanks, LL.

I believe this is the post you are referring to:
https://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2010/05/23/maintaining-perspective/

As you will see, upon a quick re-reading, I did not characterize you as a “terrible” person, nor speculate about your motives, nor attempt to summarize your life story to make the point I wished to make.

I just referred to the incident of your tossing epithets in my direction to remind readers that we don’t need to get caught up in the names or labels that others choose to toss our way.

We can treat them as pebbles in the path.

Of course, if we want to take the time to clarify the misapprehensions of others because we feel it will be time well spent, we can do that too. As with much of life, how we respond to each situation as it arises is factually dependent ~ we have many options when we remain mindful.

Loreen Lee - January 27, 2011

Would it be possible, in following the example of the gentleman who misinterpreted you, that you could have deleted comments that could be seen as ‘offensive’ to myself, and not only the comments towards you that you considered so. Actually, I don’t think I may be as worried about my reputation, as much as you in your comments appear to be to me. But it is interesting that you still are not acknowledging that your interpretation of my comments could have been mistaken by yourself. I find the necessity on your part, to always put yourself forward as knowledgeable, and that you are act in self interest enough, at least, to ensure that everyone has the best possible opinion of yourself. But it still remains a possibility that you use circumstances that involve other people, and your own interpretation of same, to advance your credibility on the web.

nrhatch - January 27, 2011

Since I didn’t “interpret” your comments, I don’t understand your point. You said something. I quoted you verbatim by giving readers the link to your actual comments.

I didn’t characterize your comments. I let your words speak for themselves ~ res ipsa loquitur.

I do, indeed, use my first hand observations about life to share what I’ve learned with others ~ especially if I believe that they are likely to have faced similar challenges.

When I do, I attempt to “show” readers what happened rather than just “telling” them my side of the story through characterization and interpretation.

If sharing first hand observations advances my credibility, yay! 😉

Who wants to listen to someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about?

Loreen Lee - January 28, 2011

If you are going to tell my story?

nrhatch - January 28, 2011

Don’t you ever tire of carrying around these stale grievances? It’s not me victimizing you, it’s you. Let it go, LL.

I don’t have the time or the inclination to resurrect events from months ago every time you decide that I’ve crossed some imaginary line in the sand. It’s water over the dam.

Be Here Now.

Loreen Lee - January 28, 2011

I knew you would delete! Just my ‘mistake for the day’.

9. Julie - January 27, 2011

Fantastic response and totally appropriate. It sounded like what he was doing was making your story fit his (or justify his). Unless you take up residence inside someone’s life, you don’t have the authority to speak for that person.

nrhatch - January 27, 2011

Thanks, Julie. It’s hard not to super-impose our view of the world on others at times. We fit their “facts” into our belief system and believe that we understand who they are, whether we do or don’t.

And the temptation is even greater for fiction writers who are used to creating characters and having omnipotent insight into the motivations behind those characters’ actions.

I have accepted his apology and feel that he handled the situation (once I brought it to his attention) with maturity and grace.

So, it’s all good.

10. Ollin - January 28, 2011

Hey Nancy,

I do want to add just one more thing that I feel terrible about that I think you misunderstood. I did not at all mean that you made your life transition due to “luck”–and this is what I mean by my poor choice of words and by pairing it with your name in such a way, again, my mistake.

I just want to make sure you understand that in no way did I mean to say you are lucky! Of course it took courage, and that’s what I meant.

But by luck I meant that you and I are very lucky in that we have supportive people around us, I’ve read many writers who don’t have the support system–and that is what I meant, that they ARE unlucky and I think that the both of us IN THAT SENSE are lucky, but you are right that we both have choice. This may be a point of disagreement however, so in this sense, I respect your disagreement.

I just wanted to clarify the real point I was trying to make for your readers, so you know I don’t think that what I was trying to SAY that your success is just do to luck. Even though that in hindsight I can see how it may have sounded that way.

Oh and I was not aware that you disagreed with my point that people in tragic or in unfortunate situations shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for not writing. I wanted to apologizing for assuming that you agreed with me.

Okay, just wanted to cross my t’s and dot my “i”‘s there.

I just want to make sure you know that I completely respect your story and your viewpoint.

nrhatch - January 28, 2011

Thanks, Ollin.

I feel tremendous good fortune in my life, but I also feel that the choices I’ve made led me to this door. (Other choices would have led me to another door entirely.)

Also, I don’t think that anyone can be “made to feel guilty.” If we feel guilty, we are doing that to ourselves ~ by using someone else’s yardstick to judge our actions, instead of relying on our internal compass.

No one should make themselves feel guilty for not writing ~ especially if they are facing “tough times.” Guilt is a waste of time and creative energy.

But being a writer involves writing, just as being a pianist requires playing the piano. Claiming the label of “writer” is not enough. It is in the doing that we become.

11. souldipper - January 28, 2011

What a post! What an example of two mature and reasonable people successfully sorting through a tough situation.

I take my hat off to both of you!

nrhatch - January 28, 2011

Thanks, Amy

12. Featured Blogger: Nancy Hatch – Spirit Lights The Way | Mirth and Motivation - April 15, 2011

[…] If You Are Going To Tell MY Story . . . (nrhatch.wordpress.com) […]


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