On Privacy and Sharing

In a recent newsletter, Alexandra Franzen included a list of writing prompts, one of which went like this:

“What are the parts [of your life] that nobody sees?”

This question has been on my mind quite often lately. Could I actually find good writing material in the banalities of my everyday life? In the things I don’t feel compelled to photograph for Instagram? In the ugly truths, and the private fears and insecurities I carry with me every day?

I like the idea that my best, most meaningful writing could be right under my nose, trapped within the parts of my life I dismiss as insignificant, unglamorous, messy, the parts I don’t share.

Why don’t I share?

I have never identified as “a sharer.” It does not come naturally to me to share my hopes and dreams, details about my weekend, stories about the people I meet, things that happened to me while I was on vacation, thoughts I had in the shower, etc. It rarely occurs to me to text a friend unless it’s about making plans to meet in person; I don’t leave creative handwritten notes for people in my life because I never think to leave them, though I idealize a relationship comprised of secret messages left behind for a person to find.

Sometimes I am hyperaware of my non-sharing tendencies and take steps to “work on it.” I want to be more of a sharer because the people who I see doing this well always seem interesting, better able to command a room and influence a crowd; and they always seem to have an easier time of meeting new people, connecting with acquaintances and advancing casual friendships to a more intimate, meaningful plane.

But I also prize my identity as a private person. I don’t share freely because there are always the emotions and thoughts I don’t want to admit to having, the parts of my life I don’t find interesting and can’t imagine anyone else would, and the topics I’m not comfortable talking about or on which I struggle to express myself accurately.

I require time to process my thoughts; I don’t like having to speak before I finish parsing through them and before I feel prepared to express my perspective eloquently and with intelligence.

Sometimes, I experience anxiety around the act of conversing. Conversations are scary. You can’t plan them, and sometimes you can’t even know what the topic of conversation will be until you’re already in the conversation.

And, there are the parts of my life that are simply mine, that most people have no claim to, and if I accidentally give something private away in the moment then I have violated my own right not to disclose what I previously chose not to disclose for reasons that I defined for myself, privately, earlier.

Writing grants me the control not to do this.

Perhaps this is why I’ve always been drawn to writing. It can be a way to share more, at the pace that is agreeable to me, with the control I crave.

So maybe if I share more through the craft of writing, someone will see herself reflected back at her in my writing. Maybe she’ll feel so connected to me that she’ll reach out to tell me, and then I’ll feel that connection too. I’ll make more connections with more people that I wouldn’t experience otherwise because my sometimes weird and awkward presence in person tends to deflect such opportunities for connection.

Maybe I’ll have some material to turn into a book of confessional personal essays that someone will call self-indulgent and silly. That would be an OK thing.