Like many of you, I spent a lot of time with family at Easter. Over drinks and completely out of nowhere, my aunt posed the question: why do you share so much of your personal life with perfect strangers?
Up until that point, I had never really looked at it that way, sharing with perfect strangers. I’ve always written for one person: me. It’s free therapy and I feel lighter after pressing publish. I mean, there’s a definite narcissistic streak in all writers; we live for those 5-star reviews and positive feedback, and when someone tells us how our words have changed them, well that’s just a little piece of heaven on earth.
And yes, feeding my inner narcissist is one of the reasons I write.
But I also do it because I don’t know any other way. Because writing has always been a part of me. My Mom used to write my brother and me notes, sometimes of the “have a good day” variety, other times, to expound upon one of our recent missteps or to broach a subject we just wanted to avoid. I wallpapered my bedroom in teenage angst poetry, and as problems evolved from mean girls and broken hearts to careers and sick children, putting pen to paper has never led me astray. Closure, emotional rescue, a creative outlet, a way to connect with people I care about. Writing has always been the answer.
But why publish it, blasting it to thousands of people, many of whom I don’t know? Why don’t I keep my private life…well, private?
*clears throat for Mary Katherine Gallagher impression*
My answer to that question can be best expressed in a monologue from the made for TV movie, On Fire.
(And by “monologue” I mean excerpt, and by “made for TV movie,” I mean John O’Leary’s book On Fire):
We like to make a distinction between our private and public lives and say ‘whatever I do in my private life is nobody else’s business.’ But anyone trying to live a spiritual life will soon discover that the most personal is the most universal, the most hidden is the most public…
The most hidden is the most public…Ain’t that the truth! When we’re having a bad day, the kids and I leave the house and go ANYWHERE so I can keep myself in check. Mama’s not gonna completely lose her cool at the park while others are watching, ya know? But it’s about being with people, too; empathizing and identifying with one another’s struggles connects us. There’s that universal thing. Not everyone agrees, but I would personally be way bored if I didn’t share the private puzzle pieces of my bigger picture.
…you aren’t afraid to know and own your story; otherwise you’ll never know the gift of your story. You won’t know the power of your experiences. You can’t embrace the beauty of your scars. You’ll never be a light to a world desperate for it.
On Fire, pages 53, 55
Listen, my colonoscopy didn’t cure cancer. My constant battle with sugar isn’t going to end racism. I’m not the first parent, nor will I be the last, to second-guess myself and feel the heavy weight of self-inflicted guilt. But those experiences help me come to terms with whatever’s going on in my life, and that’s reason enough to write about them. A few times, those experiences have helped others come to terms with what’s going on in their lives, too, and that’s reason enough to embrace my story, however ridiculous or vulnerable it makes me seem.
I believe in the power of prayer, the strength in numbers, and the importance of community, whatever size or shape that community takes. I own my mistakes and I share the private side of me, the side previously reserved for only close friends and family, because I want to. That’s why I write.