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Dec 22, 2014
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Storytelling

By

I have always lived by the notion of my life being an open book. This is how I write. This is how I live. It’s what I do. It’s who I am.

Columns, Homepage Sub, Keri English  •  Aug 05, 2013

Do you ever think about what other people have to say about you when you are not with them? Or maybe you caught someone talking behind your back and wondered what to make of it. Perhaps a rumor made it back to you at some point and you wondered if it was worth confronting its spreader. These are all things that I used to think about when I lived in New York and worked three jobs. I haven’t really pondered such things in a bit… until recently.

You see, I have this friend who is really interested in my writing. No, that doesn’t quite cover it. I have this friend who is terrified I am going to write about her… that’s a little closer to the truth I suppose. She is always checking in with other people about what I’m working on, where I’ve been hanging out and who the majority of my time is spent with. I am finding this interesting in a brand new way lately. Especially since last week.

I have always lived by the notion of my life being an open book. This is how I write. This is how I live. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. It has sometimes interfered with friendships but not enough to make me change this part of myself. In fact it makes it all the more interesting because when people know that you write about the everyday, they lie…a lot. Such is the case with said friend. If I recall I even did the whole “You know you’re going to be in the book at some point” thing when we got to be close. We laughed about it together.

Writers change names of characters and we also commonly give the peeps on the page different attributes so they will be less easily recognized. So let’s refer to my friend as Ms. B, give her short blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes and make her five ten and athletic, married and from Florida. (So no worries, Ms. B, nobody will think it’s you at all!) The personality though—that’s something you have to keep for the story’s sake…isn’t it? Or can we make some subtle tweaks there too? Would that ruin it completely for me, telling the story? It might. So generally it is the attitudes, follies and even mannerisms that linger in a story. Hey, you wouldn’t be written about if you didn’t have something real I could use for ammo.

Knowing all of this I laughed till I cried last week when I was suddenly in the midst of the most bizarre conversation. It began with the usual “Hello, how are you” stuff and morphed into awkward city in a matter of minutes. Basically, Ms. B wanted to know why she hasn’t seen an extensive amount of writing from me posted online. I am still trying to figure out where this would normally have appeared… blogging maybe? More articles here perhaps? Or did she refer to witty Tweets and status updates that I clearly don’t have as much time for now? Your guess is as good as mine.

Anyway, Ms. B and I talked for a few minutes and then she begins to ask me rather intensely what I am working on. So I tell her that I’m focusing on my book (which, even though we haven’t been in touch recently she has known about since we met a few years back) and haven’t really done much else being super pregnant and preparing for little dude to arrive. I was honest. There is not much mystique in my life of late. This is a good thing. My sincere apologies if that disappoints anyone, but I like life simple; it feels nice… healthy even.

Near hysterics by the time I got to squeeze a word in, Ms. B was clearly not enjoying the simplicity of my life. She was digging hard for any little piece of info about what is on my pages.

“Because you know I talked to Ms. X (name also changed…no worries!) and she said you haven’t been in New York at all and so we Googled you and…”

I admit the rest was a bit of a blurry murmur and I can’t recall what happened next because I put the phone on the table and walked away shaking my head and giggling. But she was definitely still going when I returned, so I stifled my laughter and pretended I had heard the whole spiel. I replied with something about how thoughtful it was to care enough to Google and blurted, “You know, you can just ask me stuff… isn’t that what friends do?” 

Crickets.

Pins dropped—I heard each of them clearly.

And then Ms. B backpedaled and was all like, “Well anyway, I read about the baby—congrats—and and didn’t you just finish school? What was it yoga? That’s so cool. Sounds like you are good.”

So I grunted an assent and wondered aloud: You read about the baby?

I guess I sort of see the trade-off. Sometimes people get protective of their own stories and they back away when they think you are leeching details from them to populate your writing. But they also lose sight of how they know you, why you were friends to begin with and what you had in common. Which is the first thing I thought about after this weird encounter—the friendship itself…the reason I was even on the phone with Ms. B. Am I totally wacky or doesn’t that count for something? I mean, I’m not exactly going to state Ms. B’s real name and address, you know? Or maybe that’s the problem… nobody does know. But friendship is valuable to me and this totally threw me for a loop.

I don’t disagree that I say things that people don’t like. I overstep boundaries and stare directly at you while reading a poem about you on stage. I make some people uncomfortable and others just get me. But I would like to think I am approachable enough to chat with openly, rather than feeling like you have to Google me. Especially if we are friends.

What I find most baffling about this situation is that I have brought it up since and tried to reopen the door, but was shut down by silly gossip and more of the “I spoke to Ms. X and she said Mr. C. is…” Blah blah blah. Fuzzy murmur returns. On top of this, I messaged Ms. X., also a friend, who I can only assume is avoiding me now due to the same Google-related incident. It’s funny really. Because here I am doing what they were worried about.

Have I no shame?

Not so much.

Thinking about rumor spreading and the gossip and the he-said-she-said in life, it’s a wonder that any story gets told correctly. That’s why I left the fuzzy murmurs where they are. Without embellishment it still serves its purpose. Entertained me, maybe entertained a few readers; mission accomplished. So I guess what I’m wondering is where is the line supposed to be drawn? I have definitely grown more of a filter over the last few years, but if you haven’t been in touch with me you would not know that. I have also had to make some huge life decisions and think about what I want my own kid to read and that certainly plays a part in what makes the page. Though I will never let a good story go to waste. Based on fact or total fiction, I’m not one to toss my ammo out unused.

So this is where I am at this week—pondering what good comes from censoring, what good comes from just telling it like it is and what harm there is in telling a story when all the details have been changed enough to not recognize the subjects. That said, it’s not likely I would ever have a moment of doubt about much of what I’ve written thus far. Nor will I be going for an uber-edit of my book to exclude characteristics that could possibly reveal a hint of someone we know. These stories are mine.

But hey, no sweat, there’s always a disclaimer on fiction. Made the novel? Stop freaking out; you know the drill right: “Based on a true story.” Ms. B. you really should stop biting those nails. And maybe utilize the forgotten art of conversation rather than a search engine. We all have our days, don’t we? But that’s the fun part. That’s the stuff good books are made of.

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Keri English
Keri English is a native New Yorker with a penchant for pages both written and downloaded. Now a writer, editor and professor, Keri has also explored a bevy of mini career paths that have provided a wealth of literary ammo for the short story collection she is working on. Some of her favorite things include the scent of paper pages opened after a siesta on cedar shelves, blue Bic pens and black and white composition books. Keri's work has appeared in anthologies, newsletters, The Huffington Post, Indie Reader, Jezebel.com, USAToday.com, In the Powder Room and she blogs at kerialifeinwords.blogspot.com. Follow Keri on Twitter @WriteLoud