State of the Framework 2021: Closing Winter
In the coming days I'm taking my largest leap of faith ever. I'm departing on a 48-states US road trip in which I'll be living in my van for ~5 months: to have fun, to learn about myself, to learn about the world, and to explore what I want.
This road trip will be the first major physical manifestation of the path my RG books have led me down. Where The Chaos Within Our Walls and Falls (see 3rd blog) was a means to explore the concept of freedom, The Winter of Our Youth was a means to process the freedom I'd acquired and deserved by leaving an early relationship at age 16.
I'm looking forward to learning about both commitment and freedom on this road trip. But before I can tackle this behemoth of an adventure, I need to plant a final flag here in Rochester: the official parking of The Winter of Our Youth, my non-fiction memoir, and all of its iterations. I intend to share the lessons I've learned as the project grew and evolved, and thus, it's story time.
I'm going to write this post as candidly, honestly, and respectfully as possible. Disclaimer: any other perceived intentions are out of my hands. I encourage you to question me and call me out. I accept that this might be misunderstood.
A memoir. In November 2016, 19-year-old Derek conceptualized a memoir. What kind of 19-yo writes a memoir? Clearly one that had been through some shit!
What did I go through? Assuming we care about the mental health of boys and young men, all variables considered—their sexuality, their home life, their parents or lack thereof, the lack of sexual health education, the lack of societal education on libido, masturbation, and alternatives to monogamy, amongst other variables taboo or ignored—I need to provide a bit of backstory. It's gonna be a lot in a small space, ready?
In this memoir which didn't come to fruition over the years, you'd have learned that from March 2013 (age 16) to January 2015 (age 18), I was an absolute, hormonal wreck. I fell in love with a girl in April, but realized I couldn't commit to her per my biological desire and need to explore and see other people. We fell into a love triangle with another girl, and over the course of those ~2 years, the 3 of us went through our own personal hells. I was caught in the middle of it. Though each of us consented to being in these relationships, I was the common denominator. My mom left when I was 12, and I had absolutely no idea at the time how the lack of a feminine figure was contributing to the 3 of us stuck in a cycle of attraction and heartbreak. I had the absolute best of intentions, and simultaneously had no idea what I was doing or how to have healthy relationships. I was trying; but I fucking sucked! Of course, they have their own decisions and actions to take responsibility for, we all gave wounds. But I was a Very Ass boyfriend.
For the first times in my life, I suffered anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and regular suicidal ideation. I nearly killed myself two winters in a row. Family, friends, and society were not enough to keep me afloat, until I found therapy.
As a chapter, this was "The Winter of Our Youth." I spent 2015 coping with the trauma I'd accrued and re-learning how to live a life not constantly clouded by suicidal thoughts. I had felt trapped in the love triangle, and 2015 gave me the chance to reconsider the commitment and monogamy which was both tempting and killing me. Over the coming years I'd realize just how crucial my decision to leave those relationships was—I was the master of my fate and captain of my soul, so to speak.
In Nov 2016 I became fixated on the concept that telling this story publicly in an artful way would lead me to healing, to full processing, to closure in spite of the bad blood that was left over. In the following years, the memoir would evolve in form, from simply telling a story about a love triangle, to a sociohistorical analysis of commitment, monogamy, and freedom, and how they each interact with male youth, complete with themes, tropes, and symbolism. It was sick in the sense of very cool.
The point of this blog post is to share why writing a memoir from the ages of 19-23 has been one of the best incomplete projects I could've started. This is me sharing the meta-story of what it's been like to want to process my life, but then come up against roadblocks, and eventually, finding better ways to process.
Self-Portrait — Jan 3rd, 2018, the day after moving to Buffalo, NY — Age 21 and dodging the present
Writing About People Is Messy
Each year from 2016–2018 I spoke with those involved concerning the making of the memoir. To avoid making this a pissing contest, I won't be more specific than that. I'm removing the beef (see: conflict and tension) from these situations to provide you the lessons. Via plot points, Derek made some mistakes:
With good intentions, I expressed and over-explained how important it was for me to be able to tell my story authentically, as it happened. I strongly believe every human being deserves this right, as a philosophical virtue: the right to talk about what one has experienced, even if it involves others and their actions, and especially if they consented to being a part of our lives long-term. Side note, I can think of at least one modern societal movement which claims this philosophical virtue as absolutely core to its cause.
At first I didn't receive much feedback—so I went the route of "ask forgiveness, not permission" when it comes to using first names and obscurely edited photographs.
This was not hotly received. On one occasion in 2018 I received a phone call coded by low-blows and interruptions. In response I decided to censor a number of public works I'd put out, then took a few months to reflect on that phone call. I realized that I could apologize for mistakes old and new in a manner completely separately from my memoir. That's right, this Woke White Guy met a low bar and researched how to properly and effectively apologize ("to someone who probably hates my guts"), as well as the ethics surrounding whether or not I even should bother them with an apology. Measure twice, cut once.
I decided to write an apology letter, then sent it both digitally and physically without expectations. Later that year I received a message saying that we needed to talk, and I was pleased! Maybe I'd finally receive the closure I'd generally given up on, but would still love to have. Remember, Mom left Derek at age 12 and, per abandonment wounds, it was very enticing for someone I once loved to return to me looking to make things right.
I responded a couple times trying to set up plans but they didn't come to fruition. Naturally, Derek-at-the-time did not cope well with flaky behavior, especially when it was finally initiated by someone so integral to my past. I didn't realize it at the time, but she tried opening up the conversation via text—this wasn't good enough for me, because text felt so limited and dehumanizing. Ironically and regrettably, I... mansplained her options to her via text, and destroyed any chance of having a conversation. I definitely regret how I handled that conversation, and wish I were just a few years older and wiser to have actual patience and empathy for what she was saying. I shut her feelings down with logic, because I was so set on having a proper discussion in person. I often come back to the metaphor of a butterfly landing in one's hand, then crushing it because you don't want it to fly away. Live and learn, right?
Learning to Disagree; Agreeing to Disagree
A couple weeks later, I received a legal threat. That was a fun week! Yes, I'd realized how terribly I shut down the previous conversation, but it was definitively too late to mend it, and I suddenly had to learn publishing law.
I read a lot on the topics of right of publicity, right to privacy, and defamation—and ultimately came to the conclusion that, legally, there was no case.
But this is often a problem with white guys, right? Can we play with that concept? We often opt to do shitty or hurtful things even though they're technically legal. Then, my question for the following year was whether or not authentically telling my story was shitty.
I swung on that pendulum of ethics until early 2020. After a pre-pandemic mental breakdown, I decided to stop swinging back and forth, and simply commit to a decision. Per the philosophical attribute I mentioned above, I decided that I'd be out of integrity if I didn't choose what I genuinely believe is best for humanity—the authentic expression of our stories while holding others accountable.
I began to see the cracks in the story I was telling myself—I had been hurt as well! Especially given that individuals involved hadn't treated me purely positively, I found inner validation for the need to talk about how they'd affected me. With age, I've also found discernment for when, where, and how to share both positive and negative stories.
Whether I'm anonymizing characters or not, at age 24 I feel confident in my ability to talk about my life tactfully and effectively: telling the truth of what happened while also respecting the feelings of others to the level they've met themselves. Choosing to remain empowered in expressing my most authentic self even when it triggers others, when it prompts them to look inward and take responsibility for their reaction. Earning the courage and humility to admit where I fucked up with shitty behavior, and hopefully setting the example for others to do the same. It's merely a bonus that my ass feels legally covered.
Thank god, I learned to disagree. I learned to hold my end of the bargain in agreeing to disagree. I learned to process the malice I've felt for those who've hurt me or have tried to silence my authentic expression—and I still wish them the best. All lessons considered, my door remains open if and when they find themselves ready.
It's funny how much this 6-years-long memoir journey has tied in with who I'm becoming as a personal coach: someone who's largely processed his shit, and wants others to process their shit so we can all stop hurting others and create our best lives. I've realized time and time again lately that I can't force others to look at who they've been, or the choices they've made. Showing someone a mirror gets it smacked out of my hand. They have to find it and hold it up themselves.
I've typed this all up in one go—and if I return to talk about this topic again, for the first time, it'll be in retrospect, rather than something I'm presently in. I'm so fucking excited for that. I'm so excited to be in my own power, unsilenced, and open as ever toward the future.
I genuinely hope you've taken something away from this meta-story. Hold your power. Take responsibility for all of your Light and Darkness, and encourage others to do the same. Be brave enough to tell the truth—even if it takes you 6 years to figure out how to do it holistically.
Keeping Rochester Grimoire open to future opportunities and stories to be told,
Derek J. DiRisio
Apr 2021 in Rochester, NY — Photo by Daqwan Koenig