An enlightening little essay over at the NY Times by Dani Shapiro entitled “The Me My Children Mustn’t Know,” describing the awkward position that memoirists run into when their children come of age. Essentially, when the protective urge comes into conflict with the reality of a sinful/human past made public. While it’s probably reductionistic to label the memoir as our self-obsessed culture’s favorite vehicle of confession, a purification tool if you will, it’s hard to ignore its current popularity. And narcissism is certainly an occupational hazard, as the unforeseen consequences below illustrate. In any case, this is likely to only become a more widespread problem, what with the popularity of blogging and Facebook and all.

You have to admit that the irony is pretty rich: having to justify all your past self-justification… to your children, confessing your confession to the absolute last people who you’d ever want/expect/hope to absolve you. To be more charitable, perhaps Shapiro is simply putting her finger on the messy intersection of self-expression/-examination and transference, honesty and responsibility/sensitivity, etc. But who knows – it might also serve the cause of forgiveness. Lord knows we could all use a little help when it comes to dismantling parental Law, i.e. learning how to love our folks as more than archetypes. Then again, the talk of “consequences” below smacks of the sort of exhausting self-reliance that rarely has much to do with love:

Everyone has a past, and it’s a very personal decision to reveal — or not reveal — the more unsavory bits to our children. It’s possible for most people to smooth out the rough edges of their histories, to edit out indiscretions or sanitize their mistakes. After all, some things are none of our kids’ business, right? They don’t need to know every single detail about their parents. On the day our son was born, a friend with teenagers gave my husband the following piece of advice: “If he ever asks you if you did drugs . . . lie.” But for memoirists, the stories we’ve told of our own lives are set in stone. And while certainly some memoirs might whitewash the past, and others might omit unsavory details, the kind of memoir I wanted to write required being hard on myself publicly. I lifted up rocks and peered into the darkness. In my attempt to find the Emersonian thread of the universal in my story, I laid myself bare in the most unflattering light.

I’ve often wondered whether I would have written that memoir — one of seven books to my name, but the only one I would bodily throw myself in front of my son to prevent him from reading — if the timing had been different, if the idea for it had taken root in me only after he had been born. It’s a book I’m proud of, and the artist in me would like to think that I would have written it no matter what. But the mother in me isn’t so sure. I might have stopped myself, for fear of what he might think some day. Certainly, it would have been a very different book, bearing the marks of time, maturity, experience. After all, one can’t write with abandon if one is worrying about the consequences. And to have children is to always, always worry about the consequences.

As any writer will tell you, careful has no place in making art. My atavistic desire to protect my child (against myself!) was at odds with my creative desire to write from an internal landscape that now included him, one which had been forever altered by his birth.