I'm reading Isabel Allende's The Sum of Our Days which I'm enjoying very much. It's a sequel to Allende's Paula, so a subtitle could be After Paula Left Us. The book goes into detail about the pain Allende's family feels after Paula dies, then it gets worse when Allende's stepdaughter disappears and is presumed dead, then her daughter in law outs herself, and lots of drama. I read some reviews of the book and a lot of the reviewers have picked up on that Allende writes about her family in such a personal, confessional way, and they wonder if this is a good thing, plus there are so many people in her "tribe" it's hard to keep track of. For the record, Allende received her family's permission to write about them (and in one case, had to rewrite it when two of her stepsons decided to be written about) But it got me to thinking: Who is in my tribe? How much is too much to write about? Or as the youngsters say today, how much is TMI, too much information?
In my tribe, there are my parents, of course. I'm the only kid they had, so I grew up close to them. My cousin is in my tribe, we pretty much grew up together because we are close in age. When she helped me move in my dorm room, someone asked if she was my sister. I said yes, because as far as I'm concerned, she is. I live next door to her, her husband, my nephew, and her in-laws.
Also in my tribe is my best friend from high school, along with her husband, and her family, and her daughter, who I call my niece. Then there are my friends from college, teachers I've had in the past, old work friends, my mom's friends, and people I've met along the way. I also have online friends; people I met on a author's forum years ago, friends from a soap opera forum, writing friends, and my online writing group.
I've written about my family before. One time when something happened, my mother looked at me and said: "You're going to write about this, aren't you?" I shrugged. "Just be kind. That's all I ask. Be kind." I've always tried to be kind. I'm lucky that no one has stopped talking to me like Truman Capote when Answered Prayers was serialized in Esquire. No one has disowned me like several members of Pat Conroy's family has. Then again, my tribe didn't include Babe Paley or Pat Conroy's dad, so again, I was lucky.
We are a pretty normal tribe, at least for us. We try our best every day to help people, to do the best we can. Sometimes we fail, sometimes we win. But we always get up in the morning and do the best we can.
There is some stuff that I don't write about in our tribe. Not because it's shameful or terrible. There are some things that can be written about, some things left to the family.
But there are times when things happen that I know I have to write about. Care in point, the Poinsettia Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving, 1995. My mother and I are running around, getting ready to go to my uncle's house in Hercules. We were going to pick up my grandfather and his wife and head over there, plus a friend of theirs named Lyla. My mom bought a poinsettia at Safeway to bring over there. I put it in the backseat and we headed over to my grandfather's house.
They came out of their house after they saw us, and my grandfather's wife gave us two poinsettias, one for us, one for my uncle. I put it in the backseat and we drove over to Lyla's.
I went over to get Lyla at her apartment, and she had a poinsettia as well. I carried it to the car as Lyla kissed my grandfather. My mother saw me carrying the poinsettia and I said: "Good news! We have the first forest of poinsettias!"
She shook her head. "I'm going to see this in print someday, aren't I?"
She just did.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries