Once upon a time, the only people who wrote about their lives and called it “memoir” were celebrities and US presidents. Other writers, when writing about their own lives and experiences, called it “fiction”. A person who wanted to write a memoir about themselves, and wasn’t already famous, was considered a narcissist and a fool.
Then, in the nineties, the personal memoir became popular. I-climbed-a-mountain. I-survived-a-shark-attack. How-my-child-died-violently. While all novels are fictionalized for pacing and story arc (real life just does not have the same suspense), people were now writing (successfully!) about their lives without bothering to call it fiction. As the reader, however, there was still some guarantee that whatever story you read actually took place at least a few years in the past- due to not only the time it takes to write a book but the lag between finishing a book and when the book is actually published on actual physical paper. So there was still some separation between reader and writer, even though the author was, in essence, telling you all of their very deepest secrets.
And then the internet fell from the sky and subsumed all media and a good chunk of our collective consciousness, and blogs were born.
I can post something on my blog that is happening to me right now (the neighbor’s children are throwing anvils against the wall, the tiny deer that lives in my apartment is asleep on the armchair, I ate half a pound of non-organic frozen blueberries, one by one, off of a fork as they thawed (while I was watching rihanna videos and thinking about sex)) and someone in the UK can look through the space-time portal and read my post, right now, as it is actually happening to me.
I write a lot of very personal things on the internet. And in the last three years since I began this blog, I have ridden the personal-blog-writer’s rollercoaster of shame, anger, resentment and regret more times than I care to remember, as I have again and again weighed the benefits of my exhibitionist writing style against the reactionary nature of certain asinine, well-meaning commenters, and the entire internet, by extension. (Not to mention the fact that the people one least wants to read their blog are the ones most likely to find it.)
If one stays on this rollercoaster long enough, however, one reaches a kind of acceptance. Resentment falls off like so much detritus, and what is left behind is peace. And it is because that one has discovered, in one’s journey, certain invariable truths. And so I am able to see, now, after all these years, that no matter how my friend’s great-aunt’s cousin reacts to my post about hating conventional dentists (that she accidentally found while doing a google search), what I am doing is still profoundly, incredibly important. And here is why-
CERTAIN INVARIABLE TRUTHS ABOUT EMOTIONALLY HONEST BLOGGING
-When you post a personal story on the internet (I Am So Depressed, What I Ate For Dinner), that story is no longer yours. That story is no longer about you. That story has become art, which is an abstraction of physical reality. If, say, your local checkout clerk reacts to your story in a way that makes you uncomfortable (I’m so sorry that you’re depressed! I read about it on the internet. Are you ok?) then this person is simply misguided, and has confused the experience of the story with an actual intimate relationship with the writer. And your stories, anyway, are never really yours in the first place- they are written by the great and churning energies of the universe, and are meant to be witnessed and absorbed (especially the really painful ones) by large numbers of other people. (see the last invariable truth.) So it’s never about you, and the story, once you publish it, is not something that you can control. So you have to let it go.
-The person you least want to read your blog is the person who will benefit from it the most. Just grit your teeth and imagine your boyfriend from highschool reading about your abusive childhood, because it’s going to be very growthful for him. And as he experiences all his messy (hypothetical) emotions, remember that it’s not you he’s reacting to, it’s the story, which is no longer a part of you.
-And, also, if you feel embarrassed by what you wrote, then you have written something that is guaranteed to make people, after how they have processed how they feel about it, like you more. TRUE FACT.
-When you write with emotional honesty, there is always one person reading who really, really needs to hear what you have to say.
-Hateful, cynical writing, when posted on the internet, will never hit its mark, but rather will disperse like birdshot into all of your beautiful, well-meaning readers.
–Telling someone your secrets makes you feel less embarrassed about them.
-For every painfully honest story that you publish, a little thread unravels from the fabric of our WASP-y, shame-filled, self-doubting, neurotically controlling, emotionally repressed culture. YOU ARE DOING A PUBLIC SERVICE. Whew!
-Publicly performing your fears (by writing about them on the internet) will make them vanish like ghosts, in a way that hundreds of dollars of therapy may never accomplish.
And most importantly-
-Our secrets do not belong to us. Our secrets are memories of situations which involve other people, physical places, all of our collective socialization, and hundreds of years of history. They do not fall from nowhere and then whither away into the dust, as we would like them to do. They are deeply intertwined with all of the hurts and joys and shames of everyone around us. Who are we to hoard small bits of reality? Who are we to keep these truths from the world? Who are we to take a pair of dull scissors to the physical universe, in an attempt to alter it? And what is to be done with all the holes that are left?
Start a truth-telling rebellion. Make a blog, a zine, throw a party, and tell everyone your deepest fears.
LET YOURSELF BE VULNERABLE BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE.