Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Names names names

You might notice that every now and then I change people's names on this blog, usually it's because someone requests it or no I guess that's only happened once. Maybe twice. Sometimes it just feels too immediate to talk about someone I've just met, and then maybe they'll read this and will they be offended? So then with some people I change their names right away.

But now I'm thinking about Chris, I've asked him several times whether he wants me to change his name and he said no, but I wonder if I worry about hurting him anyway, get so careful with my words and maybe it would be better if he was Craig. I could try it as an experiment, and see how it feels.

It's different with a novel, where I always give people the opportunity to change their names, but either way it's not out in the world for years. And it's fiction, which doesn't mean the events didn't happen, it just means that it's not depicted as truth. With this blog, it goes up pretty much right away, and it's more or less depicted as nonfiction. So it makes me think differently about this naming thing.

Even with So Many Ways to Sleep Badly, there was lots of naming drama. Two people who are central characters in the book got all upset about tiny things, like no I wasn't that drunk or yes I actually did care about school and it was annoying as hell because these people were intensely concerned with how I represented them in my fiction, but they had no interest in working on our actual relationships. None at all. And that was kind of the end. Of those relationships, I mean.

Then, at the very last minute, I ended up changing a bunch of people's names because I didn't feel like calling them to see what they thought -- mostly people who aren't in my life anymore, so did I really want to call them and ask them what they thought of the way I was representing them in my work? Then, after I changed those names, I changed several more, just slightly, maybe an extra letter at the end or in the middle. These were people who had already said that they weren't concerned about how I represented them, but I wanted to make an additional gesture anyway, just to clarify in a somewhat sassy way that the book is fiction, right, fiction!

Not that I really know what fiction is, anyway. I mean I always say that the difference between fiction and autobiography is that autobiography is all lies, so that's why I write fiction. But what does that say about this blog, or my next single-author book length work, which I think might be -- gasp -- nonfiction?

6 comments:

keidy said...

If your writing about the nicest person you ever had the pleasure of meeting then you spell his name Eric with a K. If you are writing about someone who cannot deal with your name then her name is Craig from Ohio. If however your writing about the best sex you ever had then they would like you to include their middle name. Do you remember the guy you gave you bad oral sex that one time? He would like to have his name changed.

I think you should change Chris to Craig. Just think of all the drama you could avoid. People are more sensitive then we like to believe.

Let us know how the name issue works out.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Keidy, you are hilarious!

And that's a good idea about the middle name for the best sex I've ever had, I better start asking for middle names too!

But Ohio, why Ohio?

That guy who gave me bad oral sex that one time? One time? If only it were just one time!

But good point about people being more sensitive than we like to believe. I mean sensitive is good, but drama... no no no to drama!

I'm sure I'll keep thinking about names and naming, thanks for the great ideas!

Love --
mattilda

Oli said...

I'm wondering about this sort of thing, tangentially, with my zine, which I've only just started doing again recently. I wrote this piece about my long friendships w/these two girls, but along the axis of their respective addictions. Nostalgia, ruptured, I guess. And now I don't know if I want to publish it, yknow? Cos I figure the ethical thing to do is to contact each of them and say, So hey, obviously this has been weighing on me, but it's yr story too, and are you comfortable with me disclosing things?

I don't use any names, but it's a similar thing-- when you get down to it I want accountability on work on all ends, not just mine when I've got ink and glue smeared up my hands.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Oli, that story sounds great -- "nostalgia, ruptured" is very elegant, by the way -- not to pressure you in the direction of publishing it, or anything...

Yes, this naming/publishing/accountability thing is so complicated!

And Keidy -- I figured out Ohio, it's because of the flexible voting machines, right?

Love --
mattilda

Miss May said...

"And it's fiction, which doesn't mean the events didn't happen, it just means that it's not depicted as truth."

I think this sentence just changed my life.

Sometimes I have all these really intense anxieties around my fiction, that I've hurt people by using their stories, however long ago they happened and however I've altered them to fit the world of my book.

Then I have these liberating moments where I don't care because they HAD to be written, and I protect them as much as I can, but still have to serve my needs as a writer, as a person.

I have always thought, ever since the first moment you came into my life, that you had a handle on this balance better than any writer I've known. You know how to respect the needs of others in your writing, while always respecting your needs as an artist first.

It's amazing to me that you were so important in the publication of something I wrote where I took that huge leap for the first time, where I wrote (and was terrified to publish) something so personal, and yet felt really free at the same time, for the first time.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Stacey, I can't think of a better comment than this:

"I think this sentence just changed my life."

What could be of better help in facing my sinus headache today?!!!?

And this:

"It's amazing to me that you were so important in the publication of something I wrote where I took that huge leap for the first time, where I wrote (and was terrified to publish) something so personal, and yet felt really free at the same time, for the first time."

Wow -- I'm just going to savor this beautiful moment.

And, remember, that story is brilliant, absolutely brilliant! And, you're right, we need to put out all that work in all its vulnerability and roughness and potential for pain/revelation that is so important to ourselves and to the world.

Love --
mattilda