Whose Story Is It? On Writing Without Permission

a rainbow
Image by jessicarabbit / CC BY

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Anne Lamott

*

My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory?” he says.

I nod. “When I wrote that book, I never expected to publish it. I just sat down and wrote what happened.”

“And I’m guessing some of it isn’t pretty.”

“The truth doesn’t care if things are ugly. Or about making me or other people look good.”

“But they call polyamory ‘ethical non-monogamy.’ Can you really be brutal and ethical at the same time?” he asks me.

“It depends,” I say. “Sometimes the ethical move isn’t the most delicate one.”

“But only sometimes?”

I nod. “Only sometimes.”

“Alright,” he says finally, considering me for a nigh uncomfortable length of time. “You’re legit.”

As he wanders away, I wonder about legitimacy. Is it a twin of the truth? A cousin? Or do legitimacy and truth forever tend towards one another, while never quite touching, like an asymptote and zero?

Filtered MySpace Angle Selfies

“When I wrote my novel, I went back and looked up every single one of my college buddies,” she says.

“Friending people up for a big promotion blast?” I ask her.

She looks at me like I have three heads. “Nothing so vulgar as that,” she replies.

Right, I think, feeling foolish for not treading more lightly. For being indelicate. I always forget that openly promoting one’s art comes off perverse to some folks. Or at least gauche. But it’s the reality of the world we live in: So many things compete for our attention, and we can hardly support something we don’t know exists.

“So what was it then?”

“I based the characters in my novel on them. And I wanted to get their ‘all clear’ before I put it out to the world,” she says.

The others present nod in agreement.

I set down my wine glass. “But… it’s fiction, isn’t it?”

Everyone is staring at me.

“Yes,” she says, in a tone I typically reserve for babysitting. “But they might recognize themselves.”

Well, they certainly will now.

I don’t say it aloud, but I just barely catch myself before I do.

“It’s been nice though,” she continues. “Good to reconnect. And they’ve all been really excited about the book. They’ve been spreading the word for me.”

I leave the room before I say something I regret.

*

I come home to a reader mail that makes me smile:

So much polyamory writing seems like filtered MySpace angle selfies. But your stuff is different. Thank you for that.

I Get a Taste of My Own Medicine

Of course it had to happen eventually, that the shoe would be on the other foot. And that I’d be written about. Because I’m dating another writer.

My heart jumps when I see my name in what CC has written:

“Apparently I only target boys who were never Christian,” Page says.

“I was raised Unitarian,” I reply.

“Omg NO WONDER YOU ARE SO FUCKING NICE,” she texts back.

Oh lord. It’s me. I definitely said that.

Well shit, I think. The world gets to see what a character I am. In all my crazy, uncensored glory.

I read quickly through the piece. It’s actually really sweet.

But for a hot second? I am terrified.

Once the fear subsides, I feel like the world’s biggest hypocrite.

What have I subjected them all to?

Not This Book Anyway

“How long have you two been together?” the new girl asks us.

CC and I fumble when posed this question.

“Well, we dated before, broke up for a few years, and we started dating again. I’m not sure how you count in that case,” I say.

“Oh this came up at work,” my husband Skyspook says, coming to our rescue. “With people who leave the company and come back. How commitment works.”

“Oh yeah?”

Skyspook nods. “So what you would do is take the time you dated before and then add how long you’ve dated this time, just leaving out the time you were broken up.” He does the math quickly, before announcing, “So you two have been together 6 months.”

I laugh. “Happy 6 months together!” I say to CC, giving him a fist bump.

The new girl is wide eyed. This is her first time at a kink meetup. And though she’s been in an open relationship for a few years, she hasn’t been around a group of webbed up poly vets before.

I realize suddenly how strange it must be for her to watch my husband figure out how long my boyfriend and I have been dating.

“Anyway, it’s been interesting, breaking up and getting back together.”

“I’ll bet,” the new girl says.

“But that story isn’t in my book,” I tell her quickly.

“Not this book anyway,” Skyspook says, smirking into his drink.

I cringe.

CC smiles.

I call CC a starfucker, and all of three of us laugh.

The Melted Lightsaber

“There you go again,” CC play protests. “Casting aspersions!”

It’s been a week since the meetup at the bar. CC and I have been teasing each other for a while, like we do. People near us always look concerned when we really get going, not getting our dynamic.

“They’re only aspersions if they’re not true.  Otherwise, it’s journalism,” I shoot back.

CC laughs.

I point up to a weird rainbow peeking through the clouds. It looks like a lightsaber made in a janky factory. If someone messed up and dunked it in every color on its way down the assembly line. Half melted. Haphazardly striped.

We both try to take pictures of it on our cell phones, but the photos look nothing like what we see with our eyes. Basically every writer’s problem: What you’re capturing never looks as vibrant in the final draft as it did when you first lived it.

We’re waiting for the gates of the concert venue to open. I’d been worried about rush hour, and in my anxiety about traffic, we’ve somehow arrived two hours early.

But CC is making the most of it, taking the opportunity to tell me more about the band we’re going to see. And the lead singer, one of his favorite musicians. “He’s very guarded about his private life. Which is kind of funny since he writes so personally. It inspires all of his work. He writes songs about everyone else.”

I laugh. “I know how that is.”

He cocks his head, considers. “That must have been really something when I wrote about you then.”

I nod. “It was. I had no idea what it felt like, to have a partner write about me. It was intense in a way I wasn’t expecting.”

“So I’m in a way I’m challenging you then?” he says.

“Don’t be getting any ideas,” I say, sternly.

“Oh I have all the ideas,” he says, laughing.

What We’re Willing to Risk

It starts out a very fun night. But a comedy of errors ensues. And somehow I walk away from that evening devastated. Feeling like I was wrong about everything, about us.

The next day I come to him with a list of reasons why I felt that way. Missteps. Misunderstandings. A trail of rotten breadcrumbs leading up to the witch’s doorstep.

CC and I have a tough conversation. An important one. You could call it a fight maybe. Or a conflict. That’s probably more accurate.

But we talk. And everything’s made right.

“I’m resisting the urge to write about any of the details,” I tell him later, after we’ve talked it out. “Because I’m not a monster,” I add.

“You write your experience. I knew the risks when I started dating you,” CC says.

“It’s too close to the edge, even for me,” I say. “I want you in my life more than I want to write about this.”

“Okay then.” CC smiles.

And it occurs me to then that might be why it hurts sometimes, writing without permission.

The pain sent in that message: I’m willing to risk you for this writing.

*

My book is out!

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory

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