09 August 2011

When the Truth is Unpalatable

I wish I wrote fiction more often. I’ve done a couple pieces of fiction that I really like, but by far, most of what I write is to some extent related to the truth. I find everyday life and the people that are in my life so interesting that I always want to capture the moments in words so that they aren’t forgotten. The difficult thing about being a writer who specializes in reality is that some of the most interesting and funniest stories cannot be published, for fear of offending or embarrassing those involved. In fact, there are some stories that I’m not even allowed to write down and keep for my own amusement, because the people involved want to make sure there is no record of the event.
For example, I know of a time when one person I know punished another person I know in a very unusual and electrifying manner. To those who know of this incident, please do not identify any names. In all fairness, the person who allegedly electrocuted someone claims that the whole incident never happened, and that the supposed “witnesses” of the crime are either deluded or else made the whole story up for nefarious reasons of their own.  In any event, the people involved would certainly not want their story to be published, and even if I gave them pseudonyms, the truth might come out.
I have noticed many sundry and interesting occurrences which to me seem worthy of being written down, but those involved are determined that some stories shall never be publicly known. I once heard of a wife who woke up screaming, “Mommy! Mommy!” when her husband came home from work at midnight and walked in the bedroom door. Personally, I think that’s a hilarious story, and I could easily write a sketch which questions the emotional maturity of a wife who cries out for her “mommy” when startled by her husband—but unfortunately, this incident is too embarrassing to the couple involved, and they do not want to have it published for the world to know. It is a simple fact of life that some of the funniest things that happen will never be publicly known—or if those stories are told at all, they will only be told to a trusted few who know how to keep their mouths shut.
I myself have a strong aversion to being embarrassed, so I can understand why the people of my acquaintance do not want everything that has ever happened in their lives to be published. I know for a fact that I would not want to have every mistake that I have ever made or every wrong thing that I have done published for the world to know! So, I always intend to respect the wishes of those who do not want to be written about. I know how easy it is to say and do the wrong thing at the wrong time—and how embarrassing it is afterward! When I was getting my hair cut last May (I have an aversion to hair salons, so I go as infrequently as possible), the lady who was cutting my hair spent the whole time telling me about a very rude, thoughtless, stupid, and selfish Hispanic family who treated their grandfather very poorly. I have no idea what inspired her to tell me all about these people, but I didn’t care at all for the way that she was repeatedly insisting that they were “Hispanic,” as if that explained their behavior. It’s my belief that human beings can be rude, thoughtless, stupid, and selfish no matter what ethnicity they are, so I felt that her emphasis on the fact that they were Hispanic was inappropriate. I was uncomfortable with her repeated negative comments about Hispanic people, but I didn’t say anything and sat quietly till she was done with my hair and it was time to pay. When I paid, she asked me for my full name, and immediately a roguish idea struck me. Obviously, I don’t look Hispanic at all—most of my blood is Dutch and Irish. However, my last name is a Spanish word, and I have been told on past occasions that it sounds “very Hispanic.” Usually, I pronounce it as it would be pronounced if it were English, for the ease of strangers who find it very difficult to spell. But that day, I rolled the rr in my last name as best I could and gave it the best Spanish flourish I could muster (after completing both Spanish 101 and 102). The hairstylist’s mouth dropped and her eyes widened in shock. It was pretty obvious that she was remembering exactly how she had been talking down the Hispanic community in her earlier story. Her reddened face showed that she was embarrassed and she stammered when she asked me, “Could you spell that?” Out of compassion I used the English pronunciation of the alphabet to give it to her (in my roguish mood a minute before, I had planned on using Spanish to carry out the rest of the transaction. I know my alphabet and how to talk about money, so I could have pulled it off. I hadn’t really spoken at all during the haircut because of her unending chatter, so that would have contributed to the illusion.). Now, I’m sure that poor lady did not mean to say anything offensive, and she was probably very embarrassed by her questionable choice of a haircut conversation. It’s quite possible she wouldn’t even want this story published at all—but seeing as I don’t even know her name and am unable to identify her in any way, I think she will be safe from anyone she knows finding out about her embarrassing moment.
Sometimes the truth is simply offensive in a way that fiction never is. In fact, the very first story I posted on this blog elicited a reaction from someone of “Take that piece down now!” I did, with some reluctance, because I personally thought it was a hilarious story, excellently written. The only problem with the story was that it was the bald truth—and I’ve since learned that it’s not always polite to publish the bald truth. The good news, however, is that that particular story is not permanently banned from publication. It is safely secreted within the vaults of the documents folder on my computer. I was told that when my youngest sister gets engaged, that story will be fair game for publication. So, all you readers have to do is stay tuned another 15 years or so if you want to read that jewel of a story.
Anonymous said...

I believe you can publish whatever you want posthumously. Then there is nothing that can be done :)