On Writing About My Life

Michele Weldon | April 27, 2010

Teaching a class at Northwestern

The more I live, the more I write. Having been published since I was 10 in my own Juvenile Journal, I have written in many genres for many outlets. For 41 years. And sometimes I write about my life. It is neither self-absorbed nor narcissistic; it is one kind of writing I do.

I was so glad that Curtis Sittenfeld of the New York Times agreed with me in his interview with authors Emily Gould and Meghan Daum, each who have written new memoirs.

Emily Gould: "If a woman writes about herself, she’s a narcissist. If a man does the same, he’s describing the human condition. But people seem to evaluate your work based on how much they relate to it, so it’s like, well, who’s the narcissist?"

Meghan added: "When women are honest about their experiences, it’s destabilizing. It’s not socially acceptable for us to think our thoughts are interesting or valuable. Or if you write about personal experiences, it’s like people think you want advice about how to live, like you’re holding a public referendum. Recently I read reactions to Sandra Tsing Loh’s Atlantic essay, “On Being a Bad Mother,” and some of the comments were cowardly, bullying, and also weirdly normative and conservative. What on Earth gives people commenting on a blog under aliases the right to judge Sandra Tsing Loh’s parenting skills? I do think that people who write honestly about their lives are doing people who won’t or can’t a favor, to put it bluntly. "

On this site, I'm trying to be honest. I'm not regurgitating experiences or embarassing my friends, children and neighbors. I am trying to make sense of the stories that accurately and effectively articulate exactly what is like to feel, be, live in certain moments. Moments that are universal. I don't blog about breakfast. I don't tweet about traffic. I choose the experiences that mean something larger so I can say something about that moment that will be bigger than myself.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote: "I don't write because I want to say something, I write because I have something to say."

This is a form of journalism. It is one side of the spectrum that does not bear the gravitas of investigative journalism that saves lives, upends governments or exposes injustice. It just illuminates. I've gotten some pushback that this site is "lightweight" and that as a journalist, professor and author, it is something not as important as other types of work I could be doing. I teach students how to report and write about others, how to produce evocative and compelling multimedia journalism.

And while I am not covering a war or a president, I am a journalist. And trying to polish my craft of narrative personal journalism.

I say trying to live a balanced life, honor my children for who they are, and follow my heart and ambition is important enough. Sure, it's not saving the world, but it's saving me.

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