Why I write how I write
Okie doke. Here we go.
There’s this philosophical quandary that’s constantly being discussed in regards to my writing and I’ve struggled with how to explain myself – actually, with whether or not I even should explain myself – for a few months. I’ve found myself unable to put my position on why I write what I write into words. It’s a carefully considered position. One I’ve invested hundreds and hundreds of hours of thought in, and one that I’ll continue to evaluate, and refine based on the inevitable changes that occur as life is lived.
I write pretty candidly about my life – the ugly as well as the pretty – and I allow everyone to read it. I make my life public on social media. I am outspoken and vocal about my feelings regarding major social and moral issues. I talk about feeling like I’m failing as a parent as openly as I talk about that rare occasion when I feel like I’m kicking parenting’s shiny hiney.
I write about my children.
The ways in which I write about my children – the things I write about my children – has changed in the three years that I’ve enjoyed (and believe, me I am grateful that anyone gives one iota of a crap what I have to say at all) a public platform. As the girls have gotten older I’ve tried to gently back away from writing about them so much as writing about my experience of parenting them. I acknowledge that they may grow up to be less comfortable that I am with their lives being public, and I do my best to afford them a reasonable amount of privacy.
But here’s the thing:
While the Stacey who’s talking to you face-to-face may not perfectly match up with the Stacey who’s doing everything she can to make you spit out your coffee in a fit of laughter each Saturday morning, that disconnect is caused entirely by the awkwardness that underlies social anxiety. I have a much more developed set of self-expression skills with a pen than with my mouth. That’s just the way it is. The way I come off in person may be different, but the person I am is the same at home, at work, at the grocery store, in a restaurant. While I’m interviewing you. While I’m having coffee with you. While I’m waiting behind you in line.
While I’m screaming at you in traffic.
What have you.
Above all, I try to always, always be authentic.
I try to be an open book in all contexts, and I work very very hard to walk a straight line precisely on the border between tact and honesty.
Some people are horrified by this.
Mostly because I always wind up tripping over my big awkward feet and being more honest than tactful.
Listen, if you need something to worry about, Janet, start with them eyebrows.
You ain’t perfect either, Janet.
But there is a distinct faction of people who have told me that I should write less intimately, less candidly, and with less honesty about my weaknesses. They argue against self-deprecating humor and they even advocate for trying to hide my flaws by distracting with exaggerations of…not…flaws.
I could not possibly disagree more. And until two days ago it would have been very difficult for me to explain to you why, except to say that I am committed to authenticity.
And then Word Porn saved the day.
This perfect, succinct, effortlessly clear meme rolled up on me as I scrolled through Facebook the other day.
“Be the same person publicly, privately, and personally,” it said.
The quote was unattributed, but I have traced it to some religious fellow named Judah Smith.
I tend to distrust religious fellows who like to gather large followings. Their agendas and their actions usually wind up proven to be diametrically opposed, in the end. But he said this, and no matter whether he one day becomes the subject of a vicious public shaming for some reprehensible behavior brought to light is irrelevant in terms of this one thing that he said.
I love it. Don’t you love it? It’s so great. It’s so, so easy!
Just have the courage of your convictions.
‘Fess up to your failures.
Speak, in open defiance to the shame that comes along with them, to as many people as will listen about your traumas.
Do not hide your emotions.
Don’t do it.
And I’m not only saying that because I am physically incapable of controlling the things that my face does when you’re talking to me.
I apologize in advance (she said, rolling her eyes in abject frustration).
Be the same person to the mailman that you are to your children and your waitstaff and your mechanic and your spouse and your mother and your boss and your pet canary.
It’s going to freak people out.
The canary can probably handle it.
But the people are going to start getting really uncomfortable. That’s good. That’s what you want. This is how you weed out the ones whose opinions you don’t need to worry about.
I promise you, it’s going to feel amazing.
There is still a line. There’s a line between authentic and burdensome, and it is possible to cross it, and you always have to carefully consider what you’re about to share of yourself and, more importantly, your motivations for doing so. Everyone should have a handful of things they reserve entirely for themselves.
But I wholeheartedly believe that our handfuls should be just that – small in comparison to the things we do choose to share.
It’s the greatest, most vacuous sort of freedom, to be authentic.
If you’re afraid of embarrassment and rejection?
Dude. Sit down right now, write an essay about the thing that you’re most ashamed of in your entire life, and then publish it in a public forum. Or on Facebook. Or start a blog. Or make posters and put them up all over town.
Go out right now and get judged. Seek rejection. Seek other people’s negative opinions of you. Not by being a bad version of yourself but by being entirely yourself without apologizing.
Because you know what? The awkwardness and discomfort with interpersonal interactions for me has never ever gone away, but the only thing that’s made it manageable has been writing candidly about my life.
Be the same person publicly, privately, and personally.
Because the less people you have to be the easier your life becomes. The effect is immediate, and the reward is immense.