"For me, writing is exploration; and most of the time, I'm surprised where the journey takes me." Jack Dann
"No one is able to enjoy such feast than the one who throws a party in his own mind."
"We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little." Anne Lamott
I read a newspaper article recently in which the much younger and hipper columnist described the transformation of the seemingly innocent "Hello Kitty" diary of bygone days to the tell-all-no-holds-barred-secrets-be-damned MySpace blog of today. Capitano describes information revealed by today's teens that, quite frankly, shocks me. "Our reckless youth are comfortable with their lives being an open book," she wrote.* She calls these bloggers egocentric.
So I started wondering. Even if my postings pale in comparison, does the fact that I have started my own blog and feel free to post my thoughts for all the world to see mean I am egocentric? If it does, is there something wrong with being egocentric?
I am even older than the girls who, like Capitano, kept their secrets locked in diaries with cartoon logos or glitter-encrusted unicorns on the front cover. I think I had a color choice of black or blue, but the only other detail was the "My Diary" etched on the front of the book (a dead give-away if ever there was one to the secrets held inside). It did, of course, come with a tiny tab lock and an even tinier gold key attached with a red string. It was the kind of key that was easily lost, and the kind of lock that was easily picked with a bobby pin. (What's a bobby pin? That’s a subject for another post.)
I have never been very good at journaling. If I got a diary for Christmas, I waited to write my first entry until January 1 of the new year. Then I promised myself (and the diary, as in "Dear Diary," like it was an all knowing, all caring, all understanding invisible friend) I would be faithful in my daily entries. As with most New Year's resolutions, this promise wasn't kept for very long.
When I was in high school my English teacher required us to keep a journal and turn it in for a grade ... not on the content but on the writing discipline itself. This coincided with my first bout of clinical depression, so I undoubtedly had a lot to write about. But even then, I wasn't very good at daily entries; I usually filled in the empty spaces the day before the journal was to be turned in.
On my list of favorite things, a good journal would probably make the top ten. Whether it is an ordinary black and white speckled composition book, or a leather bound journal that you know you're going to keep forever, I love the feel and look and variety of the journals on the market today. I like writing in pen or pencil or colored marker. I like scribbling in a quick cursive scrawl, and I like taking my time by carefully printing each word.
Over the years, I've started a number of journals. Mostly I've written about depression and dreams and woe-is-me stuff. I keep stylish notebooks stuffed with quotes and articles and things I want to remember, as well as journals filled with favorite passages from books I've read. I actually believe that one day I will organize them all into a book so my heirs will have a picture of me long after I am gone. Not a photograph but a glimpse into what made me tick. Ahhhh, someday.
Even though I have not been a disciplined writer, I have always enjoyed putting words together. I like the act of writing, of choosing the correct word, of painting a picture with syllables and syntax. Since it's easier for me to write than to speak my mind, I like having people tell me they like what I have to say. As I've gotten older, and a little more sure of myself, I've gotten better about writing for the public (my family and friends) rather than for myself alone. I've even taken a few college writing classes and put myself, in the form of my writing, out there for scrutiny. The results have been positive enough to start this blog; some of my fear of rejection has dissipated (some not all).
I wonder, however, why people write? For themselves or others? Like that old question about a tree falling in the woods with no one to hear it will it still make a sound, if a writer writes something and no one reads it, do they still have something to say? If I post something everyday on my blog and don't tell anyone I even have a blog, is there a point to it? If I do tell people, "hey, guess what, I've got a blog and here's how you can get there," am I letting my ego get the best of me?
I am blessed to have some pretty good cheerleaders - my daugher, my dad, my aunt, and my true love (Okay, so the prejudice factor is kind of on the high side, but that doesn't get in their way of honest encouragement!)My sister is perhaps one of the best cheerleaders a writer could have. Actually she's a damn good cheerleader in general. But since I write, she encourages that. She sends me writing style books. She sends me articles about writing. She says things like "you can do it," with such enthusiasm, that it's hard not to think I can. I received two articles yesterday that speak to the subject of writing.
In one, "Write for Your Life"* the author says, "writing is not just a legacy but therapy." It is a form of "personal freedom." I think I'm at a point in my life where personal freedom is like an aphrodisiac ... I want more. In the other, a woman says she would rather be known for her writing than the fact that she is a cancer survivor.*
It seems to me that if one has the gift to put words together, they write. If one can draw or paint or climb mountains, or sing, or dance, or ride elephants in the circus that's what they do. It's not so much about who they are (ego?) as what they are. Each of us has been given a gift. It is in the using of that gift that we enlarge, not just ourselves, but our world.
Here's a good example of how my ego gets a tad bit carried away. Let's say I write something that I feel really good about. In my mind, I don't stop there. I begin to imagine myself demurely sitting on the same couch that Tom Cruise jumped all over across from Oprah as she tells me how much my words meant to her. My book is on her Book Club list (making it an automatic best seller)and all the audience members have a copy under their seats. Everyone in the room is anxious for the show to be over so they can go home and start reading. (Forget Oprah, this is all about ME!) I am able to accept accolades without throwing up, or deflecting every compliment that comes my way, like they are arrows to my heart rather than the warm fuzzies they are meant to be. I feel worthy. I'm glad I threw away that little diary key and opened up my thoughts for the world to see.
I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but the first thing I do every time I check on my blog is to see if anyone has commented. Even though my college professor told a story about his newspaper days when someone wrote in response to one of his articles that they hoped he would die(ouch!), the puppy dog spirit in me needs a pat on the head. I don't know what I'll do if someone leaves a negative comment. So, you see, I have an ego that still needs taming like the teen bloggers Capitano writes about. I also have an imagination that, if left to its own devices, could take me on a magic carpet ride. But mostly, I'm the "Dear Diary" kind of writer - private, yet led by a muse that wants to be heard.
*Laura Capitano,Jacksonville Times Union, January 14, 2007; The Last Word, Anna Quindlen, Newsweek, January 22, 2007; My Turn, Newsweek, Febrary 20, 2006.