Storytelling: honesty or exploitation?

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When I first decided to be a little more open with my writing, I was really nervous. I was concerned about interaction with the faceless “public.” But I soon realized that I absolutely love getting your emails and Facebook messages. Connecting with you all is a joy. I’m honored that you would reach out to share your stories and ask me questions. (You also tend to be a kind and hilarious group of people who write well, so that’s pretty damn cool.)

Recently, I got an email that really made me think. I believe that it said some decent things in the beginning, but in typical me-style, I skipped right over them and got to the part that made me squirm.

…the only issue I have with your blog posts is that you keep pointing out that you “were” an actor. If you want to move on from your past as much as your posts seem to illustrate, why do you keep bringing up the fact that you were once an actor publicly on this blog? Are you exploiting the fact that you were once an actor to promote your book and blog site?

Ouch.

But after I licked my wounds for a bit, I realized that I really wanted to answer this question.

When I left L.A, I hid from my former career for more than 10 years. I rarely talked about it, even to my closest friends. I denied it when people recognized me. I was ashamed of the way it made me stand out and how I was treated differently from other people. I felt like a freak.

I’ve since decided that negating 18 years of one’s existence isn’t healthy and I wanted to have the freedom to talk about my life from age 4 – 22. And by “talk” I mean “write” because I’m a writer and that’s what I do. I write about it, because my past exists, and I look like an idiot when I pretend there is not an elephant in the room. I’d rather invite that elephant to sit down and rest a while and not worry about trying to hide behind the ficus plant.

More than that, I wanted to write about the stuff that few others seemed to be talking about. Like the fact that actors are normal people. The fact that the entertainment industry is not automatically the right path for everyone. The fact that when you see the sausage being made, sometimes you don’t want to be part of it. The fact that people, regardless of their profession, can change their minds and chose a dream that looks different from what people expected of them.

Am I exploiting my life? I don’t know. Cheryl Strayed wrote Wild about walking the Pacific Crest Trail. In it, she talks about her past – so is she “exploiting” her drug history? Her mother’s death? Maybe she is exploiting Pacific Crest Trail itself?

Writers tend to write what they know. Which is a good thing, because when we write about things we don’t know – it makes for some pretty shitty reading material.

But he went on:

Almost a little hypocritical if you ask me. I honestly believe if you wanted to step away from your celebrity status completely, then you should change you name, make a classified pseudonym for all your public posts, and creative writing projects.

While I want to thank this person for his career advice, I also want to add that I’ve been doing that for years. I did change my name and have another successful blog that has absolutely nothing to do with my former career. I also wrote for non-profits and did communications consulting. You don’t know about any of that…well…because I used a pseudonym.

In addition to that writing, I also want to write about pop culture. I’m a sociology nerd who reads soc textbooks for fun. I’m fascinated by the way we structure and institutionalize our lives and the way we, as a society, behave.  I want to write about the cultural pressures that come along with choosing a different path in life and I don’t want to feel like I have to hide who I am. And who I am includes (but is not exclusively limited to) my past.

I wanted to write about some of my personal experiences because I think they are a way in which I can contribute to the conversation. I have some stuff to say that I hope can be of use to someone. I’ve shared some things about my life, and in return, people have told me the most wonderful, intriguing, inspiring things about their lives. That connection through storytelling is what it’s all about for me. And I can’t connect if I’m not honest about who I am.

He concluded by saying that actors have amazing opportunities and that:

This aspect alone in my mind is well worth the tradeoff of being labeled a “celebrity” with a “fan”base.

To that I say – awesome, you should go be famous. Enjoy.

And, if after this you still find me to be an exploitive hypocrite who was wrong to leave my job – that’s okay. Luckily there are lots of other things that you can read on the internet.

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