For my ninth birthday, I was given a green leather-bound diary with a lock and key. I treasured it and wrote in it secretly every day. Here’s what I wrote daily during the months my mother was pregnant:
I hope Mommy has a baby boy.
Yup, that was it… repeated day after day. Yet I felt I was confiding to the diary my deepest hopes and wishes.
As a young adult, when I started to think of myself as a writer, I resumed diary writing. But now it was called a journal, not a diary, and I wrote in spiral notebooks. I’d expanded my syntax and sentiments a good bit by then.
In fact, I modeled my journal on Virginia Woolf’s commonplace book: a place to keep notes on what I was reading, to record daily events and to probe my psyche, and to test out writing techniques. I’d find a metaphor for something I’d experienced, then see how far I could stretch the metaphor before it went out-of-bounds—before the metaphorical play itself became my subject.
I’d tell the students in my writing classes back then to keep a journal every day. Write about whatever you’re thinking, noticing, reading, I’d say, because it’s only through the act of writing your thoughts that you truly discover what your thoughts are.
As I describe now that experience of keeping a journal, I feel as if maybe I’m describing something archaic like the rotary telephone or the typewriter.
Because hasn’t the blogosphere replaced the personal journal?
Of course, blogs are used for countless forms of writing. There’s no way to do a scientific count, and I check-in on only the tiniest fraction of blogs out there. But my impression is that the dominant blog-genre is the opinion piece, particularly on political events: the blog as op-ed or letter to the editor.
Another genre I’ve noticed is what I’ll call letter to like-minded-folks. Many knitters, for instance, have blogs, the most popular probably being The Yarn Harlot, recounting the humorous knitting adventures of Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.
Then there’s the blog as ongoing self-discovery. A friend of mine, Belinda, began a blog when she unexpectedly started losing her eyesight in middle age. She calls the blog Losing Vision Gaining Insight.
At first the blog probed her experience of this devastating development and her efforts to find grace in it. Then later she was able to write about other things… family events, friends’ experiences, searching for beauty in the everyday.
Before blogosphere-days, Belinda would have kept a journal for all these thoughts. Her blog is indeed a journal, but one she wants to share with others, one that is in fact totally public, that anyone in the world can read.
When we write of intimate personal experiences like this, do we write differently when the audience is just oneself or if it is potentially the whole world?
Part of me wants to leap to the conclusion that of course we write differently! How can self-censorship not be at work when we’re writing for a public?
Yet Belinda’s blog (just to stay with this example, though I’ve read many others) doesn’t feel self-censored. With comfortable honesty and openness, she’s using writing to explore her personal experiences.
I myself would not be able to do this. I do still occasionally make a journal entry in my spiral-bound notebook; but the content is, say, my agony about a relationship gone bad, or something I can’t handle psychologically. I would not make the contents public any more than I would make public a tense exchange with my husband.
So I guess I’m indeed coming down on the side of a privileged place for privacy.
I love writing for this Good Letters blog, because it’s a way to exchange thoughts with a faith community that shares my passion for writing.
But there are things I would not feel appropriate sharing even with this community (and certainly not with the larger potential audience of the entire world).
I’m also sure that Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, as around-the-kitchen-table comfy as her blog is, would refrain from certain subjects in her posts such as something sweetly painful her child confided to her. That would be breaking confidence with the child; though in a private journal, a parent might want to record this. I know I did in my journal-writing days as a young parent.
I’m aware that the very notion of privacy is fast becoming passé, thanks to Facebook, Google Circles, etc. There are, I expect, strong feelings among Good Letters readers on whether bloggers can or should wear their hearts on their sleeves (assuming that a cyber-creation can have a sleeve, let alone a heart).
I’d love to hear your feelings…as long as they’re not too personal!