In November, the Oxford English Dictionary named selfie its Word of the Year for 2013.
While trying to forget the word’s ickiness (it brings to mind the worst self references—self help, self esteem, self important—along with horrible diminutives like nightie and girlie), I began thinking about what might constitute the writerly equivalent of “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically… with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”
There’s the obvious, of course, which you might call the “lunchie.” The lunchie is a picture of a drink or a plate of food usually accompanied by a description of the environment and circumstances surrounding its consumption: “Yummy pancakes my honey made this morning” or “At Bar X with my buds.” (Now there’s even an anti-posting-pictures-of-your-food Facebook page.)
Another word-ly equivalent of selfies are blogs consisting mostly of discussion of the blogger’s daily struggles and exploits: keeping the weight off, getting to the gym, navigating relationships, or battling illness/addiction.
I’m not denigrating self improvement (here we go again with the self) or the horrific toll exacted by illness and addiction. If sharing helps ease the burden, by all means, share.
I, however, instead of blogging about such things, keep a handwritten journal that lives on my bedside table. On Christmas Day, 2013, it celebrated its 39th birthday (yes, I began keeping it when I was negative ten).
Why would I write in a little notebook nobody will ever see, at least not until I’m dead?
Because I’m old-fashioned. (Yes, maybe I’m a tad older than 29). But I absolutely cannot imagine sharing what I write in my journal, in its raw form, with anyone—let alone with everyone who has an Internet connection.
I keep a journal for some of the same reasons confessional bloggers keep a blog. It’s cathartic. I often write my way through life’s challenges. Sometimes I rant and rave. I’ve been known to stab the pages or have my handwriting deteriorate to the point that even I can’t decipher it.
Mostly I reflect on my emotional state, my relationships with the people I care about, and, of course, my ever-present existential dread. Sometimes I use longer entries to work my way through a particular problem. For a number of years, I documented my dreams, which was fun for a while, until it got tiring.
Rather than share these writings uncensored, I use them as raw material for my fiction. Anyone who knows me well can discern elements of my life in my work. Some things that happen to my characters have happened to me, but they don’t show up in the ways a casual reader might imagine. They’re twisted, shifted, and put in the service of the story. You won’t see an uncurated version of me out in public. I like my privacy.
Hands off my selfie
Privacy, too, was much in the news in 2014. With the lid blown off the NSA’s activities, we’ve been forced to contemplate what it means to keep something private. Just because millions of people choose to expose themselves online through social media sites doesn’t give the government—or anyone else, for that matter—the right to listen in to conversations we expect to be just between us and the person on the other end of the line (can you even say “line” any more when referring to a phone call?).
And the privacy/keeping-us-safe balance? Call me old-fashioned and a liberal, but I’d like to see it tipped in favor of privacy.
Where do you come down on public vs. private, journaling vs. blogging? Do you take selfies? Do you keep a journal, maybe one of those with a lock and a teeny-tiny key?
Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2014—and just the degree of privacy you desire.
I do take selfies, mostly because I know how to angle the camera and make myself look my best. When I let others take the picture I look awful. 😉 I try to keep a balance between online and private. Anything I post on Facebook even if I set it to private, I expect to be made public. I feel like that’s the best approach to online stuff–assume everything you post will be seen by everyone at some point and post at your own risk. 🙂
I’m also in the “post at your own risk” camp. Perhaps more people should be!
I had one of those little diaries with they key – but knew my big brother would/could open it anyway and would tattle to my mom.
So much is revealed by writing/blogs – that’s enough to leave behind – let them figure out what it all means…or that it all means nothing!
Ha! That it might mean nothing would be, of course, the greatest joke. I do wonder what will happen to these cybermusings as the years go on. I find it hard to imagine we’ll all still be blogging on WordPress in 30 years, but who knows?
I enjoyed this a lot, Audrey. It sort of reminded me of a passage in the Brock Clarke novel An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England. I hope you don’t mind that I include it.
“Anyway, I moved on to the memoir section. After browsing for a while, I knew why it had to be so big: who knew there was so much truth to be told, so much advice to give, so many lessons to teach and learn? Who knew that there were so many people with so many necessary things to say about themselves? I flipped through the sexual abuse memoirs, sexual conquest memoirs, sexual inadequacy memoirs, alternative sexual memoirs. I perused travel memoirs, ghostwritten professional athlete memoirs, remorseful hedonist rock star memoirs, twelve-step memoirs, memoirs about reading (A Reading Life: Book by Book). There were five memoirs by one author, a woman who had written a memoir about her troubled relationship with her famous fiction-writer father; a memoir about her troubled relationship with her mother; a memoir about her troubled relationship with her children; a memoir about her troubled relationship with the bottle; and finally a memoir about her more loving relationship with herself. There were several memoirs about the difficulty of writing memoirs, and even a handful of how-to-write-a-memoir memoirs: A Memoirist’s Guide to Writing Your Memoir and the like. All of this made me feel better about myself, and I was grateful to the books for teaching me–without my even having to read them–that there were people in the world more desperate, more self-absorbed, more boring than I was.”
Thanks for sharing that passage, Chris. The Clarke novel has been on my “to-read” list for a while. Now I will definitely have to get to reading it!
And so now “selfie” is a word. It feels like there is a trend for everyone to have their moment in the lime light. these selfies on Facebook, the confessional blogs, the reality shows about every day life. Is this mostly American?? I agree it is cathartic, but it is also self-absorbed, which I find troubling. On the other hand, I have grown to appreciate writing from this last decade from some very self-absorbed writers (Julie, Julia and Let’s Pretend this Never Happened–even Eat, Pray, Love). It is entertaining and stops me for a moment to go for a walk with a fellow human through a daily drama and marvel that they would dare write about it and shocked when I find it entertaining! But will I read that author again? so far no…not unless they grow out of it and embrace something more evolved…ultimately I want to be fed from something beyond the selfie.
Well said! I think the problem with anything “self” (selfie, confessional, tell-all) comes when the writer forgets that the ultimate purpose of writing–as I see it, anyway–is to connect with our fellow human beings, and it’s dang hard to do that while staring at our own navels…
I wish I had kept a journal since I was negative age. I really do. But I’m so glad I didn’t have cell phone technology when I was young and foolish. Now that I’m old and foolish all I have are these photos of my dog on my cell phone. Happy new year.
Indeed… I shudder to think what transgressions would be following me around if I’d had access to instant communication technology as a teen!
I don’t really keep a journal, per se, more just scribble in a lot of notebooks, about whatever is asking to be thought about at any moment, or stories I’m considering writing, characters I’ve observed. I used to keep journals when I was younger though, and think it’s a cool idea, because looking back at what you were like is a hoot. (Embarrassing too, sometimes – must remember to burn those before I die, or leave instructions for my daughter to do it.)
Blogs are so individual, aren’t they? Some are very formal, and some are almost confessional, and there’s everything in between. Personally, I like to use mine to think aloud about writing craft topics that dawn on me, with the thought that maybe those posts will help somebody else too. And also to talk about books, which I love more than chocolate.
I enjoy your blog. Keep doing what you do!
Yes, those earlier selves can be QUITE embarrassing!
I enjoy your blog as well because I like reading about the craft of writing and learning from other writers.
Of your statement “…books, which I love more than chocolate” all I can say is: it would be a cruel universe indeed that would make us choose!
Yes, been journaling since about 13 (and yes I too am older than 29). I wouldn’t want anyone reading them without me having the chance to re-read them myself but there is something about pen to paper that just works!
In fact, I was thinking about opening my journal before I read this post and now I am definitely off to get some words on the page 🙂
Happy New Year!
It’s so nice to hear from a fellow scribbler… perhaps we’re a dying breed, but then I hear about people who swear by their Moleskines, which are about as far from electronic communication as you can get these days. Happy writing!
I don’t keep a journal, partly out of laziness and partly out of not wanting anyone to find it after I’m gone. My kids will have enough fodder to make fun of me with. I don’t need to leave them anymore. 😉
Happy New Year!
My journal-keeping is more of a compulsion, so I don’t have to worry about the laziness factor :-).
I have definitely thought of my kids reading my journal after I’m gone. Though I’m not sure they would, I plan to account for the journals in my estate plan… kind of like an “open at your own risk” label.
Ha, yes, after a few pages, they might change their minds. 😉