Today, one of my students raised issue of the tension between blogging about her life, versus the need to maintain some semblance of privacy.
It’s a great question, and one that comes up all the time, when I teach and among my fellow writers.
It’s certainly an odd business, putting one’s life out there for public consumption, but it is the business of anyone who writes in the first person. (And arguably, with greater or lesser degrees of veiling, for anyone who writes anything at all — including a Facebook status update.) My early discomfort with this business of self-revelation is evident on this blog, since I choose to name the category under which I file personal posts On Too Much Information.
Here are the things that I tend to say about this issue to students:
- You can always decide how much you want to reveal, but that it’s a decision to make after you’ve written a draft, not before.
- You can start small, by revealing small intimacies before you launch into your deepest darkests. See how you feel, then drop another veil.
- You will never know how anyone will take anything you’ve written, especially when it’s about them. The things you think they’ll hate, they don’t even notice. The things you thought were no big deal reliably provoke the hissy fit. (My grandfather, who was as bald as bald can be for my entire life, seemingly beyond any controversy, did not like that I’d described him that way in an essay that I wrote about him. But he didn’t at all mind that I’d written that he’d spent most of his life thinking about how to find a great parking space.)
- What you write can have real consequences on your relationships. Sometimes good — my grandfather loved that I wrote about him, despite being outed as a bald man — and sometimes not. I have had very close relationships that have ended as a result of my writing. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do it, or that I won’t do it again. But writing is powerful and we all need to acknowledge that.
So that’s what I say when I’m teaching. But I have something new to add to this, since the issue of privacy versus self-disclosure was something that I personally grappled with a lot this year, as I went through my divorce.
It wasn’t that I was worried about writing about the divorce itself — obviously I went right for it. And I wasn’t worried about what my ex-husband thought about what I wrote on the topic — nothing I had to say should have been any surprise to him.
But I was concerned about how my writing would impact my dating life. It was quickly obvious to me that one oughtn’t share the gory details of one’s unexpected and frankly fucking awful divorce on an early date.
But anyone who knew my name could do a simple Google search, which would reveal oh-so-much of my all.
Also, since I started dating very early into my separation, I wasn’t only worried about what I’d written about the divorce itself. Over the years, I had written plenty on this very blog about my life, which of course included my then-husband. A remotely observant Google stalker would notice that I’d been married essentially just a few moments before I was making all of those charming bon mots over a glass of malbec.
You won’t find many of those posts about my former wife life on this site now, because my anxiety over dating image management was so high that I did something I now regret: I deleted posts. Wholesale.
In retrospect, the fact that I realized that the recency of my divorce made me essentially undateable at that moment should have led to me hanging up the push-up bra for a little while — instead of deleting the written evidence of the timeline of my life like some crooked politician. (As a sidenote, eventually, I did declare a dating hiatus. But that did not restore the posts I deleted, which are gone forever.)
So, here’s a theory I’m working on: if there’s a taboo subject that you’re afraid of writing truthfully about, and you find yourself cloaking that concern in a conversation about privacy, perhaps it means that you need to address that issue in your actual life. In other words, the writing might be more of a symptom than the problem.