By Any Other Name

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet. 
                                 – Juliet, Act II, scene ii, Romeo and Juliet

  This week I wrote a story about cliff jumping in the mountains with my friends when we were in high school.  I wrote it in the third person, from the point of view of my painfully shy, but ebullient friend.  Although he rarely spoke much, we all knew his mischievous humour, his delight in acts of quiet defiance. I shared the story in my ‘Personal Essay and Creative Non-Fiction’ course.  One of the first comments made was: ‘Okay, so this piece is a work of fiction…which is fine, just noting. That’s all.’ I suppose because it was written in the 3rd person, from the point of view of a male, and most everyone else has written (so far) in the first person from a gender that matches their first name, the commenter assumed it must have been fiction. But it wasn’t.  I was there: my friend jumped from the high cliff at East Forks many years ago and I’ve always remembered that day. But he doesn’t say much. Ever.  Having grown up with the guy, I just know he wouldn’t tell this story in the first person, not even in his own mind. It got me thinking about fact, fiction, and truth.  Heady topics for the first of June. For a story to ring true to me, it doesn’t need to be completely factual.  There are times I try to be absolutely accurate, like in my New Mexico wildfires story last summer (heartbreakingly, there is another huge fire burning in New Mexico again).  There are times when I take liberties with facts: was it both or just one of my brothers who went to Durango in my Honey story?  When the facts matter, I stick to them.  When they serve to color the picture, I use them judiciously.  Mostly, my loyalty is to the story under the words.  I’m training my ear to listen for writing that comes from honest places, in whatever guise it appears. As some of you know, Lucy Carl is not the name on my birth or marriage certificate.  I chose to use a different name when I started this blog because I wanted to feel free to write without worrying about what friend X or relative Y or potential employer Z would see if they googled (my goodness, what a verb!) my name.  I wanted my readers’ focus to be on my writing, not my CV or my background. There was an unintended effect: by writing under a different name, I freed myself from my identity.  I, too, put my focus on the writing, not on my CV,  background, or other expectations.  Certainly I’ve drawn from my own life and told vignettes and memories along the way.  But writing as Lucy, I put a bit of distance between life and art.  And it became easier to tell stories about myself, because, well, I wasn’t the one doing the telling: Lucy was. I needed the fiction of a pen name so that I could write from an honest place. But a funny thing happened, as I watched Lucy speaking her mind (my mind), and showing up on other people’s blogs and making comments (my comments), and getting nice feedback (feedback for me), I wanted her to move out of the way.  I realized I was ready to use my own name, regardless of what friend X or relative Y or potential employer Z might read if they googled my name. It is time tell my stories, stand apart from them, and watch them make their way, with a ‘made by Melissa’ tag in the back of their shirts.  So, these are my words.  Read ‘em and weep. I claim them as my own.

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6 Responses to By Any Other Name

  1. Rory Green says:

    Go Melissa! This piece feels like a grand affirmation. Very inspiring!


  2. Rachael says:

    Hello, Melissa!



  3. Addie Fu says:

    A.H. Right?? Mom


  4. Kristan says:

    “Mostly, my loyalty is to the story under the words. I’m training my ear to listen for writing that comes from honest places, in whatever guise it appears.”

    YES and YES.

    I totally know what you mean — it’s like needing the screen in the confessional stand, even though your priest probably recognizes your voice. I started blogging as a teen, and I was not exactly anonymous, but I was purposefully vague. At some point, like you describe, that vagueness became more of a hindrance than a help, and I cut myself free. I’m glad you’re feeling comfortable enough to out yourself now too. 🙂


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