Siblings in Different Voices
My brother thinks that my writing can be hard to understand because my ideas are too big and detached. Recently, I had written an essay about my late grandfather’s deteriorating memory, my sense of memory, and its relationship to my imagination. I had finished my first draft at the end of this past summer and I was excited to get my brother’s feedback. After reading it, he said that it sounded abstract, like I was writing from some sort of outside perspective. When he told me this, I became defensive. Although much of what I think isn’t always clear even to myself, I had thought that this piece of writing made sense. I didn’t think it was convoluted, and more importantly, I believed that it reflected how I felt. Why wasn’t he getting it? “This must be your problem,” I retorted without hesitation.
While my brother’s intention was to help me better clarify my writing, that isn’t what my mind told me in the moment. During our conversation, I became resentful of him, and doubtful of myself. I started to question the value of the ideas I wrote about, the ones that he claimed were too big and detached. I questioned what had compelled me to write them in the first place. Were they even mine to write? Who is this outside-self writing these thoughts? And how is it even possible to write as anyone other than myself? My brother made me reflect on what it is to think in a big or detached way. Maybe there’s something I’m not confronting when I write. And maybe that something creates a barrier, dividing what I mean from how I’m understood.
My relationship to my brother definitely played a role in how I considered his criticism. I want him to understand my ideas, probably more than I want anyone else to. He’s almost four years older than me and he’s the most logical thinker I know. He writes with clarity and concision. I had liked what I’d written, but knowing that there were parts of it that he didn’t like made me think that there must have been something wrong with it. Instead of telling him that, though, I argued with him. I started out from a place of utter stubbornness, trying to hide the self-doubt I was feeling. That didn’t last very long because I’m not generally good at hiding how I feel, but I still did my best to explain to him what I meant in my writing and what I hoped to convey.
I’m glad that I held my ground for a while because the resulting conversation was useful and eye-opening. We talked about the differences in our viewpoints, and how those lead to differences in how we formulate ideas. I also explained to him why I felt that changing what I wrote to respond to his suggestions might mean losing some of its substance. I thought that its substance was more important than its readability.
We concluded by acknowledging that we actually admired and appreciated each other’s approaches. He admitted to me that he had been too quick to judge, but added that he still stood by his emphasis on readability. I knew he had made good points. If only we could combine our writing styles, I thought. At the same time, I became aware of the importance of the distinctness of our writing styles, and I was pleased with our dialogue.
Now, as I write, I try to imagine how he would critique what I have to say before I share it with him. Now, I am more comfortable with my own voice and I remember that there is strength in our differences.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.