1. On Keeping a Blog
I've been trying to start an online home for my personal thoughts for the past two years. Sitting outside on a late spring day, I bought the domain, set up the website, toyed with fonts and colors, and created a logo. But when it came time to write, I was hamstrung by cowardice. I was―am―afraid of having my thoughts and opinions scrutinized. So I continued to tinker with templates and layouts, and this post languished in draft mode.
Mary Karr observed in The Art of Memoir that, “As with everything I’ve ever written, I start out paralyzed by fear of failure. The tarantula ego—starving to be shored up by praise—tries to scare me away from saying simply whatever small, true thing is standing in line for me to say.” Fear of criticism has kept words frozen in my mind for far too long. No matter how many times I change the font or heading colors on this site, at the end of the day this has to be about the writing. And so starting a blog is my attempt to chip away at the ice.
Neatness and polish and order cannot be the end goal of art. Perfection in pursuit of praise hamstrings us as creators. In unearthing the chaos of our feelings we are free to cut, organize, and rearrange. But we'll never be able to implant our exact intentions and experiences into another person's consciousness.
In a 1977 interview with The Paris Review, Joan Didion remarked that writing is a "hostile" act. It's "hostile in the sense that you're trying to make somebody see something the way you see it, trying to impose your idea, your picture... The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to the dream."
It's true there is hostility in creative expression. I squirm at the inherent narcissism of sharing my opinions and emotions. Didion also stated that she wrote in order to reveal her thoughts and opinions to herself. I like how Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd put it in Good Prose:
But the good and honest memoir is neither revenge nor self-justification, neither self-celebration nor self-abnegation. It is a record of learning. They are one response to Kierkegaard’s dilemma that life can only be understood backward but lived forward… Every memoir worth reading could be called The Education of the Author. The ‘I’ has been somewhere and it now knows something that it didn’t, and that is a thing of value for writer and reader alike.
Keeping a record of my learning is not an altogether comforting idea. I seldom read old journal entries because the naive, self-absorbed girl in those pages reviles me. It all comes down to perfectionism, I suppose, plus an ample sprinkling of Imposter Syndrome.
Yet, personal writing can also be an exercise in generosity. Exposing our mess and chaos allows the reader to experience relief. We allow them to recognize that their own weirdness is not all that unique. Philip Lopate says as much in the introduction to The Art of the Personal Essay:
The trick is to realize that one is not important, except insofar as one’s example can serve to elucidate a more widespread human trait and make readers feel a little less lonely and freakish.
From one freak to another, Welcome.