Can Family and Friends Ever Understand The Why Behind a Memoir?

October 20, 2014

Front cover, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, Charles M. Blow, September 23, 2014. (http://goodreads.com).

Front cover, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, Charles M. Blow, September 23, 2014. (http://goodreads.com).

I started reading New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow’s memoir Fire Shut Up In My Bones two weeks ago. Like many who have read it, I have found it a good read, a revealing read, even a powerful read at times. I have been able to put it down, though. Mostly because as someone who’s recently written a memoir about my own painful and trying experiences with abuse and neglect, about confusion, distrust and occasional rage, Blow’s book has been a reminder of how difficult it was for me to relive those experiences enough to write them down in words and revise them into a book of my own.

Still, as I do intend to finish Fire before the holidays, I do have a couple of questions. One is really basic. Had Blow ever heard of the Kinsey Report (1948), the first one about the sexual experiences and habits of men, particularly gay and bisexual men, prior to turning thirty? The one thing I learned from reading this report twenty years ago is that there’s a lot of gray between heterosexual, gay and bisexual. That you can be heterosexual, and still have a small level of attraction to those of your same gender simultaneously.

256 shades of gray (cropped), October 20, 2014. (http://cs.dartmouth.edu).

256 shades of gray (cropped), October 20, 2014. (http://cs.dartmouth.edu).

But this is a minor question, more about his curious road to understanding his sexuality — not to mention my own road — than it is about Fire itself. My second question is a much more important one. How have Blow’s family and friends received his book since he decided to write it? How have they received Fire in the months since he announced it was coming out in September? How have they received him and Fire since it officially hit the shelves last month?

If his immediate and extended family was/is anything like mine (and from reading Fire so far, it is), then my best guess is their reaction’s been mixed at best. In the year since I released Boy @ The Window in paperback, my siblings have liked the book, but my mother and father haven’t exactly been happy about me writing it. My mother hasn’t said one word about Boy @ The Window since I put it out last year. Nor did she ask any questions about the book in the six and half years that I toiled in writing and rewriting it.

My father, meanwhile, showed interest in the book right from the moment I told him I planned to write Boy @ The Window. That was, until the paperback edition came out during the holidays last year. At that point, he said, “I don’t wanna talk to you no more.” We’ve talked several times since, but he’s still pissed with me about including him in my memoir, even though I never hid this from him at any point in the process.

Among my friends, most of my core group has bought and read Boy @ The Window. Most have given me positive feedback, some very extensive. Yet I found myself mildly surprised how few friends outside of this core group have bought or read the book. I take that back. Actually, I’m surprised by the negative feedback I’ve gotten from folks who’ve claimed to be friends of mine, who’ve never read a word of Boy @ The Window. But this feedback hasn’t been about the memoir. It’s really about their wanting to deny facts about me or about them that they’ve assumed are in Boy @ The Window, as if my job in this instance was to only be truthful when it felt good for them.

Dirty laundry in a basket, October 20, 2014. (http://plus.google.com).

Dirty laundry in a basket, October 20, 2014. (http://plus.google.com).

My platform is tiny when compared with Blow’s, so I imagine that the reaction to Fire in terms of both praise and condemnation has been more extreme, even as the praise has been much more public. I suppose if I was the perpetrator whom sexually assaulted Blow, I’d likely want to shut him up. I’m not so sure that anyone in his family, proud of him as they may be, wants what they’d likely consider “dirty laundry” out there for anyone to read. You don’t grow up in a family as traditional as Blow’s and expect everyone to be alright with their character’s characterization in a bestseller.

This I do know, and I suspect Blow has known for a while, too. That writing a memoir like Fire isn’t about seeking revenge or outing family secrets per se. Bottom line — it ain’t about the proverbial you! In some respects, as cathartic as writing a memoir like my Boy @ The Window or Blow’s Fire may be, it not so much about the authors,’ really, at least after the tenth edit.

There are so many stories that never see the light of day, because the fire for telling them burned out a long time ago. Or the window became a rubber room or a jail cell. It’s about telling a story that needs to be told, regardless of whether family’s happy about it, or whether some of your friends can relate to it or not. Because there’s always, always, an audience who needs to read it, hear it, see it and learn from it themselves.

 

 


Celebrity Deathmatch Meets Brave New Media

November 15, 2010

 

A screenshot of Beavis and Butt-head as seen on ''Celebrity Deathmatch', November 15, 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Deathmatchb%26b.PNG. Though this image is subject to copyright, its use is covered by the U.S. fair use laws, and the stricter requirements of Wikipedia's non-free content policies, because: The image is being used in an informative way and should not detract from the show.

If MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch were still on the air, how well would it play in our uncertain and fear-mongered times? As an occasional betting man, the hilariously gruesome claymation standby would play well these days, especially if it were done as a SNL skit or as part of a Comedy Central routine. We’ve had so much furor recently over the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, Juan Williams and FOX News and Muslims, Keith Olbermann not asking permission to make campaign contributions from MSNBC, Rachel Maddow interviewing Jon Stewart in a black ops room. It seems to me that we need a new Celebrity Deathmatch series. Except that this one should just have journalists, commentators and politicians.

 

The theme music should be Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry,” with a two-pound, barely seared steak slammed down on a pearly white china plate, just so the blood can splatter and flow freely. The words “If it bleeds it leads — whether liberal or conservative!” scrolling across the screen. Let the folks who host

Pic of Bloody Rare Steak, November 15, 2010. http://davidwadegourmet.com/images/rare_steak.jpg. Though this image is subject to copyright, its use is covered by the U.S. fair use laws because this photo is only being used for illustrative purposes.

WWE or MMA do the play-by-play for the matches, with Alan Colmes in as a more than occasional analyst.

 

It would be a spectacle well before the actual matches. Who would be the big draws? I’d start with Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly. The pre-match taunts would be beyond funny. Olbermann: “By the time this match is all over, the world will know that Bill-O The Clown really doesn’t have a brain!” O’Reilly: “That sonofabitch wouldn’t stand a chance against a working-class stiff like me!” But then the fight would begin. O’Reilly would get in a few punch, before Olbermann would turn on a gigantic fan with a stack of 20,000 pieces of paper in front of it. The thousands of paper cuts would gash O’Reilly so much that the top of his head would come off. Then, lo and before, the world would learn that Olbermann was right — O’Reilly really doesn’t have a brain!

Other draws for me would be Jon Stewart vs. Bill Maher, Rush Limbaugh vs. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), and Glenn Beck vs. Rick Sanchez or Ed Schultz. One not-so-under undercard I wouldn’t mind seeing would be Rachel Maddow vs. Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN).  That would be a rolling-on-the-floor-with-laughter event. Maddow would wipe the floor with Bachman — literally face-first. But not before Bachman would make Maddow angry by breaking her geeky glasses early in the match.

The one thing that I would change about this Celebrity Deathmatch format is that there would be a playoff system, where there would be a final eight, leading to seven matches worthy of the Highlander series award known as “There can be only one.” An epic struggle that would involve boring opponents to death with speeches and monologues, with endless questions about media and objectivity, along with participants smashing each other in their heads with dictionaries and microphones.

I think that this version would sell. I can see it now. Millions of viewers gathering in front of HD TVs and iPhones, at bars and in arenas, watching week after week and season after season. Heck, I’d watch it even if FOX News was the home of this series. Even if it meant watching Joy Behar beat Nancy Grace to a pulp!


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