As a writer I've often said I'm in the business of professionally lying. Of course, we're not liars like politicians, or businessmen, but we're liars all the same. We're asked to tell tales that never happened, fictions contorted and reshaped in order to achieve an end. It's part and parcel of the writer's career, the core element. At the same time that we're inserting narrative, we're also removing, in the hope of contouring the final product to meet an end, an objective. Unfortunately, that business has unintended consequences from time to time, ones I could not have foreseen.
I recently wrote an article titled "In Search of Cocaine". In it, I recounted a fictional night drawn upon from many first hand sources, people I knew that related events to me, accounts of their habits and drug use. I used the narrative frame of a first hand experience, of having been there on the night of a search for these drugs, though even in the article itself I make explicit that I don't use them.
Which I should reemphasize here that I don't. However, in my head, using this particular narrative frame was engaging. Not only was it a way to flex my writing a bit in a way I usually don't, it was also a way to draw attention to the drugs and poverty that are a part of Houston. Frankly, I thought it was pretty damn well written, and that it got the point across.
Of course, I thought the point was that drugs can wreck some peoples lives, that it exploits the poor, and that poverty is still a huge problem in Houston. I thought that in writing the central character, my 'friend' using the drugs, I could draw attention to drug use as a medical problem rather than a crime that needs to be prosecuted. Because that's what addiction is, a medical problem that needs to be addressed in a comprehensive method of reform.
So, fine with the world and satisfied with my story, I published it to Daily Kos, happy with a chance to continue refining my writing style. I'd forgotten entirely about the whole article since it was more than a week old. I suppose that's why I found it so strange to receive an email today, from my mother, who was more than a bit flustered at the piece.
I suppose this goes back to the Law of Unintended Consequences. Although, it does bring up a number of real issues that I suppose I should have considered ahead of time. For one, as a writer, I have more responsibilities to the reading audience than I normally consider. What was for me a relaying of second hand accounts into a personal narrative, in what I thought would be an engaging essay, turned out to be taken quite personally. I really had never considered that.
In the end, I hope that most of my reading audience recognizes that I was trying to draw attention to some real problems that plague the city of Houston. To my mother, if she ever wants to give herself the heart attack of reading my material again, I hope she realizes that writers are, at times, liars. Well intentioned ones, and ones that should be more aware of how they affect the public, but at least ones meaning to convey awareness of social issues. Or at least, that's how it struck me at the time.