My desk has moved towards the light
I’ve started writing this piece about five times now. I wonder if this is how Janet Malcolm ended up with ’Forty-one False Starts’. I feel guilty for even wondering about the comparison.
Each iteration of the start has made a different definitive statement about what family is, looking from a different angle at what joins a family together. First I thought that it was the permanency of families – the idea that they’re solid, and not going anywhere.
Last week my father had a quadruple bypass. After surgery, his short, shallow breaths and bed-bound frustration suggested to me the very real possibility that one day my family will go somewhere. The idea they will all outlive me isn’t one I can hold very tightly to.
I also felt an all-too-familiar resistance to writing about family, because of its inherent riskiness. Every family story involves some kind of betrayal, and there’s a chance that one day that betrayal will be too much. There’s that quote, “When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished.” Writing, in a family context, can be a black spot. A marker of doom. Maybe the idea of ‘family’ in the quote above implies some kind of pact of secrecy, an exclusionary togetherness – keeping the outside world outside. The writer threatens to break down those walls, and the family is finished. While my own family is learning to make room for my writing, and I am learning to be more critical of my own tendency to reveal so easily, the risk of banishment always looms over any work that deals with family. Even this tiny post feels risky.
For now though, my family is here, and I’m grateful for them. While togetherness might not be permanent, it exists right now. My father lived through the trauma in his body, my betrayals of the family pact have been forgiven for now, and we all continue forwards together.
They say that you can’t choose your family. In a sense this is true – you can’t choose that family you’re born into. That’s a biological certainty that can’t be argued. The concept of family, however, has become more elastic to me as I’ve grown up. First stretching to step-families, and families-in-law, then to the families we fall into – our communities, our vocations, our genres. As writers, our families stretch back centuries, and are made up of characters who are nothing more than markings on the page. Sometimes we feel the same burden of loyalty to these families as we might to our biological ones. Sometimes the deliciousness of breaking free of the family wins out.
This month on Writers Bloc, we’re hearing from writers about their families. We’ll look at how fictional families become models and surrogates. We’ll look at how writing traditions in different cultures create our ideas about the literary ‘family’ we fit into, and how that affects what we write. We’ll look at immediate family - the biological sort - and how they shape us and our stories. We'll also be helping you find gifts for your writing family over the holiday season, giving away some great Christmas haul, and bringing you the mix tape to end all mix tapes.
And as always, we'll be gathering to put our heads down and #WriteHere this Saturday - we'd love to see you there. We've got live sessions happening right around the country, and will keep in touch with those playing from home on Twitter using the #WriteHere hashtag. If you're not sure how to get involved with your local session, get in touch and we'll help out.
Through all of the goings-on at Writers Bloc this month runs the thread of togetherness. That same string of loyalty, or at least inescapability, that binds us to our families. We in the Writers Bloc family welcome you to the fray – we’re not going anywhere.
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.