The Last Plaint on Family

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Okay, I admit I made the preceding posts on family a bit too dramatic. I did it first to try and generate emotion, and then to point the way to art from those perhaps toxic emotions.

As the post title suggests, my family life wasn't the best in the world. We all seem to have overdeveloped expectations of family during childhood, and then when we're older, we compensate by being overly critical of those who bear similar seed. But, even later, if we're not too headstrong, we forgive and settle in at some appropriate emotional distance from one another. 

As for myself, it was tough; I was raised in a Southern family: bigoted, undemonstrative, often cruel in passive ways, though I'm betting none among them would admit to any of this. It took me years to break the family bonds and be the person I really am, and it wasn't easy. 

The one thing that was both my familial salvation and its albatross was humor. As I wrote earlier, nothing in family is clean-cut; there's a virtually un-sortable mixture of good and bad. When I finally realized that family was bobbing too near the surface of my writing, I took a deep breath and wrote a family history. From that came a series of memoir/essays on members of my family. 

Tough. Really tough. I had to calm the anger many times, set myself even further away from the memories. But that's where the humor came in. I chose to dwell on my famiy's foibles, not as flaws, but as defining individual characteristics, and the most forgiving way of doing that is throough humor. In that way, I could give these people, who still seem so close to me, yet so far from whom I am, an ample measure of human dignity.

I hope at the end of the day, you'll see family that way in your writing, too.


Visit Bob's web site here.


2 thoughts on “The Last Plaint on Family

  1. Bob,
    Most timely post. I, too, am from a “real” Southern family and unfortunately the abuse wasn’t all passive. I’m still reeling at this old age and just beginning to write essays on these troubled, strange people. And I’m now dealing with my fantasies of family “love” as my beloved son pulls away. I ain’t easy. I’d love to read your past posts on your family and the essays on them. Are they on the web? In a book? Where?

  2. Hi Ann,
    It’s all about “family,” isn’t it? Just click on July in the Archives heading on the blog, and it’ll take you to those scrolled posts. I’ve compiled the memoirs in an unpublished collection, I’m calling “The Gathering Place, the Moment of Jubilation,” all unpublished so far.

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