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Who Tells Your Story?

Who is telling your story?  Is it you, on your blog?  Are you controlling the narrative on your social media feeds, presenting the you you want the rest of the world to see?  Is it someone else, writing about you?  Is no one telling your story?  Does it matter if stories are told if they’re going to be forgotten a generation or two later regardless?

Sit with that for a moment.

I am really loving this month’s BlogHer Writing Lab theme, especially on the heels of Hamilton and this idea of the legacy you leave behind.  What will you be remembered for?  How will your close friends and family describe your life?  How will a stranger describe your life?  Can we really control the narrative?  I’m not sure.


Image: Bruce Guenter via Flickr


A friend and I were recently talking about how much of your story you tell other people.  By not telling something, are you sending the message that you’re ashamed of that aspect of your life or trying to sweep it under the rug?

There is a lot I don’t tell you.  Some of it is because it’s boring.  I spend about 40% of my waking hours worrying.  Do you really want to hear my looping anxiety?  I feel like you get enough of it organically without having me subject you to the full tidal wave of my neuroses.  Probably 2% of my waking hours is spent seething with jealousy.  It doesn’t really make for good blog fodder.  5% of my waking hours is spent pestering the people in this house with various “what ifs,” contemplating getting a dog, and reading about new video games.

I just don’t lead that exciting a life.  I don’t tell you about a large chunk of it because I don’t want to put you to sleep.

Some of it is just to have a delineation between inner life and outer life, inside the house and outside the house.  There needs to be a reason to be close to another person, and part of that comes from being let into an inner circle.  I’m in Josh’s inner circle.  He’s in mine.  He should therefore get more than me than the general world.  And while there are friends that I’ve made through this blog, there are also thousands of silent readers who shouldn’t get as much of me as people I converse with off-blog.

I described it to my friend as determining who is important to you and therefore wants to know you, as opposed to who just wants to know something for the sake of knowing it and not to be closer to you:

I think of all the moments that happen in my day that I don’t feel guilty not sharing with the world.  I’m not doing so to be deceptive or to lie or to pretend otherwise.  It’s just that it’s also important to get to decide what we share and what we don’t.  I don’t know.  I would bet that you tell the story to the people who are important.  Everyone else is important in THEIR story, but they’re not important in YOUR story, therefore they don’t get all the pages.

I guess I don’t see nefarious reasons for only getting part of the story when it comes to the online world.  I assume I’m only getting part of your story.  I assume there are people closer to you — either in physical proximity or emotional connection — who get more of it.


The twins are nearing an age where they could write about me if they wished.  They certainly have the skills, though I don’t think they see me as interesting subject matter.  I am super interested in them, and they are super interested in me being interested in them.  But I’m only mildly interesting in my own right.  I am like a 3 on the interesting scale.

I’ve been very circumspect when writing about them because I knew this day would arrive.  When they would want to write about their own lives and I would be a character in their story.  How would they portray me?  A screechy woman who is always telling them to clean their room?  A slightly agoraphobic woman who bleaches the sink and vacuums daily?  An attentive woman who still reads to them and is willing to answer any question?  A silly woman who often tells them to drop everything so we can go play video games?  Because they’re all true, to an extent.  I am a screechy, agoraphobic, attentive, silly woman at times.

Have you thought about that?  That the people you write about — even in a loving way — can turn around and write about you, too?  Isn’t it sobering to think that when that happens, you won’t be controlling the narrative.  But you’ll have to live it, the way the world sees you, through someone else’s eyes.


Maybe that is the best reason to keep a blog.  Tell or be told.

So are you telling your story?  And what is the narrative?


1 Nicoleandmaggie { 04.06.16 at 9:50 am }

This kind of dovetails with our post today.

Another related question is how much of our story do we “owe” readers? People seem to get angry if every little potentially negative detail is shared.

2 Nicoleandmaggie { 04.06.16 at 10:15 am }

Isn’t shared, not is!

3 Arnebya { 04.06.16 at 1:02 pm }

There’s a post I’ve been sitting on that speaks to “There is a lot I don’t tell you.” There are myriad reasons for this, a few you allude to. Most important for me, though, is I don’t believe anyone is owed to know it all. Some stuff is just not anyone else’s business (but I get concerned about people thinking I’m purposely withholding something (which is ridiculous because no one is owed my story)).

I’ve been thinking a lot about my kids and their wanting to write about me. More specifically, it’s not the medium they may choose, but it’s what they may say. Will they say I was fair? Was I too strict? (Am I?) Did I drink too much? (Do I?) Gah. This list could be never ending when my only goal is to not mess them up too terribly.

4 Justine { 04.06.16 at 1:16 pm }

I love this. Maybe that’s the difference between writing online and being someone’s friend. I’d be more than happy to listen to your “looping anxiety” (heaven knows I’ve got my own), and I’d also be more than happy to listen to your seething jealousy (some Schadenfreude at work there, too). I can’t say the same for everyone I read. And hell, yes, I edit myself. To the point of not publishing anything; I go completely dark.

I wonder what my son would say if he wrote about me? He does, sometimes, write about a character that is half-me, and it’s always very dramatic. Which is either because I am undiagnosed bipolar, or because he’s a dramatic person. I’m a little bit afraid of what the legacy I don’t write will look like, actually.

5 chris { 04.06.16 at 2:49 pm }

Interesting. And actually while I don’t write I was written about- very hurtfully by a former friend. Who knows she may still write about me. I refuse to look. Yes, I could write about her too and let everyone know just how crazy she is, but to what end? Better to just ignore…

6 Amanda { 04.06.16 at 4:29 pm }

That’s definitely a powerful question. I often feel like I should tell everyone, every thing. However, real life has taught me to be careful about who I let in and express my story too.
I desperately want to blog more about our infertility struggle. Everyone knows’ we’re fighting the battle but they don’t know to what extent. But do I really want to tell the world and open myself to judgement? Large reason why I’ve only shared pieces of it online, is because I want to be able to stand firm with my answer and move forward with our decision without anyone’s negative opinion.
I also wonder this about facebook too. I’ve heard it once described as building a mini kingdom to yourself. Only sharing the good, or only telling people what you want them to know.

Ahh! Lol, this has given me a lot to think about!

For now, my story is that my health journey makes up a large part of who I am, and who I became to be the person I am now. I hope that people take away encouragement and motivation to also help heal themselves body, mind, and soul.

7 Cristy { 04.06.16 at 4:52 pm }

I think about this a lot. Especially as there’s a number of things in the works that I’m not comfortable sharing. And I find that the reason I’m not sharing is either 1) it’s just plain boring to talk about or 2) I don’t have enough information to fully process what I’m sharing.

But the other thing is we as a culture have a tendency to overshare. Be it lots of photos that most people would find overly repetitive or thoughts that we might reconsider given a sober moment. Sometimes that filter is good and protective. Not always, though.

And now you have me thinking about filtering information and what drives us to do so….

8 Jess { 04.06.16 at 9:58 pm }

Oh, thought-provoking post and question! I have been thinking about this from another angle, kind of a “who owns my story, when other people are a part of it?” thing, but I like this point of view too. I have things that I don’t blog about for confidentiality reasons, like specifics on profiling opportunities or some of the discussions that my husband and I have that have been deemed private. I have a separate journal for those things. Plus I don’t share every single thing about every single thing, because I want my blog to have a focus and so most things end up relating specifically to infertility and adoption. But sometimes things are related by a tiny thread and that is fine. I don’t think I’m censoring my story per se, but I do try really hard to respect other people’s privacy when I write about people in my life (other than Bryce, who knew what he was getting into when I started blogging). And I can’t write about some things that I might if I was anonymous…because I’m not. I do think that I am authentic though, even with the things that I choose not to share. I think if my blog was my legacy in the future I’d be okay with that.

PS – The Hamilton thing! It’s everywhere! I love it!

9 Turia { 04.07.16 at 6:02 am }

Ooh, I have so many thoughts about this. I was teaching a fourth year seminar this past semester on memory and commemoration in my particular period of history, and the last class sparked a wonderful discussion about us vs. them in terms of how we want to be remembered, and who is supposed to remember us, and how have things changed (or not). I feel like the students really took a lot away from the course. Plus I just find reading epitaphs and wills that are close to 2,000 years old fascinating.

You should read (if you haven’t already) Plum Johnson’s ‘They Left Us Everything’, which is about her sixteen-month process of clearing out her parents’ house after their deaths. It’s probably the most interesting book I read all year.

I often say much more about myself on the blog than on FB, because my blog acts as a journal (albeit one anyone can read). I still haven’t said a word about my father’s accident (or my stepfather’s cancer) on FB. I told the people whom I needed to know.

10 Beth { 04.07.16 at 10:59 am }

I have been thinking about this quite a bit since our conversation started. I am trying to focus on the “they don’t get all the pages” aspect of your advice. I am by nature a guilty person, and always feel like I owe others something, even though intellectually I know it’s not true.

I still think often about an online interaction I had several years ago with a college acquaintance. I wouldn’t say we were ever close friends and eventually our only connection was facebook. She was very open in her online life about her fertility struggles, IVF, miscarriages, etc.

I have not been because I am a private person and feel that my online “friends” don’t need to know. My real life community knows. But this acquaintance turned online friend called me out for not “fessing up” in her words to having used IVF to get pregnant. I must have made a comment on something that helped her connect the dots. And I suddenly felt guilty – should I be sharing more? Am I ashamed? Is keeping it a secret (which isn’t actually what I was doing, but how it was portrayed by this other woman) doing a disservice to other infertile women and men out there?

The truth is, this woman chose to share every personal and private detail of her life with everyone she ever met, via facebook. That’s not me and I don’t have to feel bad about that. Yet somehow it has stuck with me.

So, needless to say, I need to let some of this guilt go and stop over thinking everything I say at every moment. Good to have goals, I guess.

11 Lori Lavender Luz { 04.07.16 at 4:06 pm }

It’s an unsettling thought to be The Observed in someone else’s story when I’ve become so accustomed to being The ObservER.

At the same time, I’m really curious what that might look like.

12 Jamie { 04.08.16 at 2:06 am }

Very thought provoking post! Excellent question. Who gets to tell our story? Both, or rather the infinite number of authors. What version gets picked and pushed forward depends on the audience. Who hears it and passes it along? Do they make edits, changes or synthesize what is known to them? How are they receiving it before putting it back out there? Perception is a big influence. We may hear or read the same thing, but it does not mean we process it the same.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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