Writing is an exposing sport. If we do it right, we strip ourselves down to our naked humanity just to show the world what it looks like to be human, to be this human in particular. And if we’re lucky, revealing our particular humanness reminds the rest of us that we’re not alone in all the simple things that make us human.
Blogging is a particularly revealing form of writing. You write in the first person. You share stories about your life. Where I come from, secrets ruled. Don’t tell what happens in the family, or they’ll take you away. Don’t air the dirty laundry or the family will cast you out. Just smile. Everything is normal here. Everything is just as it seems.
It can be tough to shake a lifetime of secret-keeping as a means of survival.
But that’s exactly what I try to do here. Because writing doesn’t mean selling people out, as Didion claimed; it means reclaiming yourself. It means scraping together what you still recognize as self for examination. And if that means someone feels betrayed, so be it. And if the world watches too, all the better. Maybe the world will learn something. I know I do.
You’ve heard the advice. Be vulnerable online. Be authentic as a blogger. The best writing is the kind that risks something. This authenticity stuff is good advice, because we all want to feel like we belong. We’re all looking for validation. We want to feel like who we are matters. And bloggers, the good ones, show us that it’s okay to be a little more ourselves and that what we experience doesn’t make us weird. It makes us human.
But to be that amazing blogger who connects people and makes them feel okay about being themselves can be dangerous. It can be nerve-wracking. You may feel exposed. Judged. Wary of the strangers who just wait to be offended so they can unleash the pent up fury like a pressure valve on lives that feel out of control.
Maybe something I write—a missive in support of healthy sexuality, for example—pisses off some poor soul whose mother beat him for touching himself when he was five, and now he wants to enforce her decree because allowing healthy sexuality to live in the world would mean his mother was crazy. And he just can’t live with that idea.
The world is full of sick people. And living in the spotlight, however small, attracts them. The internet provides the anonymity, the psychological buffer, for many a seemingly-stable person to vet their aggression, their hidden angers and hurts, on others. The same people who hide their angers and built up resentments so well at work and at the neighbor’s birthday party unmask the monster online. How else will they escape it, even for a minute? It’s the nature of the internet in a society that leaves little room for the human.
I woke up the other morning in a panic. The day before was business as usual: responding to social media queries, planning blog posts, replying to reader and client emails. Then the realization seized me.
I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, pulled the covers around my neck, the idea of writing a post a hot white knife I couldn’t see the words through. People actually read this blog, I thought. The thousands of people who follow me (thank you, by the way!) by email and social media are all real people with individual lives and individual prejudices, and they’re judging me. Watching me perform my one-woman show as I pursue the career of my dreams. If I fall, they may jeer. If I fuck up, the’ll see. And remember.
I know these little panic episodes are normal, mine likely brought on by the fragments of an email conversation between a couple editors I wasn’t supposed to see, an email conversation about me and my writing merits that piggy backed on a forwarded email. It wasn’t anything bad. Just the normal Q&A two people would have before they hire a person. But I prefer to forget that such things occur. I prefer a wide professional distance, facts and figures and data. It makes it easier to write unselfconsciously when I can pretend no one is reading.
The moment eventually passed. As I woke up a little more that morning, the fear became just fear. And I remembered how well I’ve handled the trolls and assholes before. And I remembered how I felt when the moment got the better of me and I played the troll and asshole too (hey, I’m not perfect). I remembered it isn’t personal. Being an asshole online is to reveal our own hangups and insecurities. It’s never about the other person. And we can never escape judgement, online or off. So why hide? Why not write anyway?
I’m still here. Telling you what it feels like to be this particular human on this particular day doing this particular work. And maybe, if I’m lucky, you’ll see yourself in the words.