Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Put This in Your Pipe and Smoke It

There's been a lot in the news (the UK at least) lately about a woman who has written a thinly veiled novel about parents who kick their teen-age son out of the house for smoking cannabis. This woman, Julie Myerson, has made a career out of writing about her home life apparently. And she did indeed kick her teen-age son out of the house for smoking cannabis -- and apparently being violent toward her and supplying her two younger children with cannabis.

The backlash has been against Ms. Myerson though. And I must say I agree with a lot of it. She didn't consult her son about the publicity surrounding the book and her interviews about kicking her son out. So he went to the press himself and presented his side of the story.

Both sides feel they have been wronged by the other, but I see one side as being more wronged than the other. I think Myerson's son's privacy has been terribly invaded and compromised in his mother's quest for publicity. There used to be a saying, don't air your dirty laundry in public. Some things were family matters and meant to be kept within the confines of the home. That saying doesn't seem to have much relevance these days, what with blogs, facebook and its ilk, Twitter, etc. People -- I include myself -- feel free to write about whatever. Their relationships, their fantasies, their problems, their joys, their fears. It seems almost compulsory to bare yourself figuratively.

But is it fair to do this when the act of doing it bares someone else? The word loyalty comes to mind. I have written here of hubby, son and daughter. They are anonymous to you all and will remain so, I hope. Even still, I do not write everything about what goes on with them because of a sense of loyalty to them. How would they feel if they knew that anyone could read about them?

I think Myerson would argue that by writing about her own dysfunctional family life, she is reassuring others that it can happen to anyone. But here is where her conceit begins. Of course it can happen to anyone, and it does all the time. But not everyone feels compelled to tell the world about it. She and her partner are a certain type you find within the British middle class: educated, articulate, terribly earnest and principled. So principled they wouldn't allow their three children to eat meat. So earnest they wrote about it. They didn't believe any imperfection could happen in their family. When it did -- as in the son smoking cannabis -- they were angry at the son for showing the imperfections in their perfect world. He in turn was angry at them for using him as a topic for many an article and now a novel. I don't know that this fractured family can ever be repaired.

I think anyone who writes about their family in any forum must be mindful of the family's rights too. It isn't the same as having a moan about your spouse or your child to your best friend over a coffee. Setting it down in words creates a permanence. But all relationships, particularly the parent-teen-ager ones -- are fluid beings, full of ebb and flow. What is today will not be tomorrow.

Perhaps Myerson should have known that before all the hundreds of words were written by and about her and her family.


Fire Byrd said...

Weirdly Mei wrote scathingly about the same thing at the weekend. But today she has put a link up to an article written my Jonathen Myerson, the dad. It makes for difficult reading.
(I can't do links so can't direct you there.)
I must live in a place of ignorance, or maybe the wrong newspaper ... I read the Independant occasionally.... so hadn't heard about this book until you and Mei mentioned it.
The dad's article hooks into my worst nightmares.

Expat mum said...

I have been following this in the various on-line papers and, as you'd imagine, have had quite a lot to say. Aren't we, as parents, supposed to protect our kids? I know there are a lot of parents out there who have found themselves at their wits' end with delinquent kids, and some have had to resort to very tough measures, but you son't then go and splash it all over the place.
She is quoted as saying that sometimes she has no control over her writing, which, as a writer, I found to be total bull. Unless you're a huge name in the business, it takes a year or two for a book to be written, edited and published. Plenty of time for reflection.

Anonymous said...

I have not read anything about this family. But I agree with you, they shouldn't be washing their dirty laundry in public and what parent would want to destroy their children in this public manner?

But what concerns is one hting you said about the son. He supplied pot to his younger brothers? How old is this kid? For that, he deserves to have the crap beaten out of him. But do it in private, not in public!

lady macleod said...

Indeed, as Q says "once it's on the Internet, it's there forever". I'm always careful to ask/tell my daughter and now my J when I am going to write about them on my blog - and photographs as well.
It never ceases to amaze me that I see people extend more kindness and consideration to strangers than to members of their own family - I don't get that.

Expat mum said...

Well the son in wuestion says that her imagination, and even her sister had come out and said she's fantasizing somewhat. Whatever the truth, she's his mother fer cryig out loud.

-Ann said...

It's also just plain lazy-ass writing and story-telling. The responsibility of an author is to take life experiences and use them as raw material to create a story. Use the feelings, use personality traits, mix and match different anecdotes and create something that is truly your own.

It's not to take a life story, through a bit of varnish on it, and call it a novel. (And I'm confused - was this a novel or was this a memoir. If it was a memoir, then fine, it is what it is. But if it's a novel, it's just inexcusable.)

DogLover said...

I don't feel strongly about this, but I wondered why the author couldn't have written the book anonymously; I suppose it wouldn't have sold so well.

I rather take a different view from you and your commentators. The author did say on TV that she had got the son's consent before publishing and would not have written the book without it.

If that was so, then the book will do a lot of good if it persuades any readers to practise similar "tough love" where that is needed. So often parents avoid taking drastic steps when they become appropriate and so allow their son/daughter to continue to avoid reality.

Perhaps we should restrain our censure if we have have not had to face the terrible problems of living with a drug-taker.

Flowerpot said...

I think this is such a difficult topic. I'm a great fan of Julie M's - she writes brilliant novels usally about taboo topics, and is without question a fabulous writer. There's something about this whole business that doesnt make sense to me. Apparently she started writing this book about someone else and it turned into the experiences she was having with her son. I doin't know why she didnt fictionalise the whole business - she must have her reasons. I think you can argue this one both ways - and ti could go on and on..

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

Fire Byrd: The dad has been quoted as saying he wanted his partner to write the book to teach the public about "skunk". Couldn't this have been done in another way?

Expat mum: I think Ms. Myerson has given her writing far more attention and love than she gave her own son, hence all the problems they have now. It's tragic.

Dave: It's a bit of he said/she said. She claims he struck her and knocked her to the floor. He claims his dad was involved in the incident as well. I've known kids who used violence on the parents and vice versa. It's very sad but you get therapy, you don't write a novel about it.

Lady M: It's easier sometimes to be kind to those we don't love than those we do. I don't know why.

Expat mum: Absolutely. The bottom line is she gave birth to him, she raised him, she has some responsibility for how he's turned out.

-ann: That thought occurred to me too. This novel was supposed to be about a girl in the 19th century. How she got to include her son's drug use and kicking him out, I don't know.

DogLover: I've been a rebellious teen-ager. I'm the mother of two teen-agers now. I dabbled in drugs, though not on a regular basis. What I wanted, what this boy probably wanted too, was a sign of love and interest from two very self-involved parents. How sad it has come to this for that young man. I hope he gets through this stage in life OK.
Frankly, reading Julie Myerson's justifications for writing this book turn my stomach.

Flowerpot: I haven't read the book, have no intention of reading the book. I don't understand how she got from writing about a girl in the 19th century to writing about her son. I'm sure she feels anguish. Still...

DogLover said...

Wakeup, perhaps you're right in your comment to me, but did you only "want a sign of interest" from your parents or did you dabble in the first place because of curiosity or peer pressure, as most children do?

Like you, I haven't read the book (so perhaps oughtn't to be commenting anyway), but I do wonder why the other two children haven't become druggies.

I have nil experience of drugs, but I have had a lot of exposure to the effects of another equally strong addiction and think that simplistic views may sometimes not really add much to the debate.

Now you have made me think about reading the damn book!

Mean Mom said...

I did hear about the newspaper articles, but I haven't read any of them. Lots of people make mistakes growing up. I made the odd one myself, but I would have been mortified if my mother had written about them in a newspaper or a book. Like you, I have written a few things about my family, on my blog, but I would not write anything about them, if anyone knew who I was.

The son's behaviour has been fairly appalling, but so has the mother's. She is, after all, making money out of publicising her son's mistakes. If she felt the need to simply bare her soul, she could have done that on an anonymous blog.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

Doglover: I had composed another response but lost it. Basically, I think it's very sad for the family in question to go through what they've gone through. I also think Julie Myerson could have done with talking more to her son and writing less about him. She has written about her children -- anonymously at first -- throughout their lives. This brings me back to what -Ann said -- it's lazy-ass writing.

Mean mom: How have you avoided reading about this woman? She has gotten so much free advertising for her book. I write about my family too, but there are limits, as you pointed out.