Owning My Story
This whole post was inspired by a well-intentioned comment on Facebook. I had posted a link to my new Patreon page which included one of my favorite pictures of myself:
It combines so many of my favorite things – writing, water, San Francisco, my hat, a cigar, a nice pen & moleskine. It was taken by a dear friend whose work I love to support and was honored to participate in.
I have written in many other places why I enjoy cigars. I’m not going to do that here. Suffice it to say it was not a vice unintentionally or ignorantly embraced; I suspect that I am far more educated than most about the potential risks and hazards of the practice. I am also more aware of the benefits, and would love to discuss them with any readers…off the blog.
However, the fact that I had put up a picture of myself smoking a cigar made a relative unhappy. She wrote to me,
Hate to say this, but that picture won’t be in a scrapbook. Not a grandfather’s example. But it’s your problem and we don’t love you less. ♡♡
I thought about that for a long time. “That picture won’t be in a scrapbook.” A scrapbook, presumably, about me. About remembering me to future generations, even. And yet something that I enjoy, something that means a lot to me, would be edited out…because it didn’t fit the image of what “Grandpa Gray” should look like to that person.
I’m well aware of the tendency of people to remember just the good parts of people they want to love and admire (I think the word for that is history). But I am curious at the idea that a “grandfather’s example” has to be perfect – or, at least, has to be without certain vices.
Even if it is a “problem”, why shouldn’t Grandpa have a problem or two? Why should he not be remembered not only for the good things he did, but also the bad? I know that many of my ancestors did horrific things – including the ones who I was raised to revere. I found out about them when I dug a little deeper into their histories, wanting to know them better. I can tell you, finding out what was hidden from me was not pleasant, both in terms of what it was and in terms of what it meant about what I had been taught.
So I prefer that my progeny know about my foibles as well as my fortes. I would prefer that they ask “Why did Grandpa smoke a cigar?” and investigate the facts and make up their own mind. Think for yourself is never a bad idea. I would also hope they would use it as an exercise in compassion. After all, if we can giggle at toddlers wearing images of imaginary genocidal maniacs, surely we can forgive our progenitors a vice or two.
Now, if they can figure out why I keep trying to be a writer for a living, or why I enjoy the theatrical oeuvre of Keanu Reeves, they deserve a Genius Grant. But either way, I will love them…and I hope they can find, in the memories of me, some compassion.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
― Brené Brown