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.