Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Readership and Susceptibility

I have learned people read this. I somewhat expected this to happen, but each time I hear about it from an unlikely source, I am taken aback. It’s a dubious honor, being read. I must weigh each word with care for the double-edged sword published thoughts can bring.

The following lyrics come from a favorite song, Breathe (2AM) by Anna Nalick:

2 AM and I'm still awake, writing a song

If I get it all down on paper, it's no longer inside of me,

Threatening the life it belongs to

And I feel like I'm naked in front of the crowd

Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud

And I know that you'll use them, however you want to

Nalick’s sentiments are exact. We write because we must. Putting it out there for the gesture of expression or for reward, however, can be prickly. I often hold back on things I wish I could write—for example, I have a blog on mental illness that I keep reading, tweaking, and then putting away in case the person that triggered the whole thing eventually comes across it. Before you start giving yourself a Rorschach test, I will tell you this individual does not have access to the web. Still, I defer to greater sensibility just in case. I know too many people who struggle with emotional disorders. I want to be sure of my words. I’ll publish it another time. Maybe. Frankly, I found the Hooters post hard to publish for a variety of reasons, but the primary one? I was suddenly naked in front of a crowd. Sound familiar?

Recently, at a wonderful reading by poet Major Jackson, he said he had to stop worrying about what his grandfather would think and simply write. Jackson is an award winning poet with a successful professorship at a fine university. His words are truth, the kind we crave to hear, even when it hurts. Readers need this. We look for subject matter that helps us feel connected, understood, and informed. We often forget that telling it comes with risk. This triggered the memory of a book I read by Ellen Douglas, Truth: Four Stories I Am Finally Old Enough to Tell. Douglas waited years to publish this work. Reading it at the age of 20 or so, I could not understand why the stories were held private. There seemed to be nothing that would embarrass or provoke storm, but only Douglas could know the trip wires of her family members, who no doubt were her first and consistent readers. I will have to reread Truth with adult eyes. Perhaps how she described events may have made her family feel naked. She may have revealed that she misses nothing in her shrewd observations.

A cousin once published an incredibly revealing article about his father’s alcoholism, the culture of my family that enabled aspects of it to continue, and his own emotional damage. He wrote this for a well-read  newspaper and it created a small scandal in my family. Private things, personal things, damaging things—definitely. But the greater good his work provided was for students in a heavily peer-pressured environment. Everything he wrote was a lesson for me that day as well. He made real the previously unspoken. I saw him as I never have before. And I saw us, our family, our culture in a new light. You should know that to this day my family still considers him not just an incredibly talented and esteemed writer, but a treasured, worthy, and upstanding individual as well. Risk worth having taken? Yes.

Good writing always comes with caution. Readers want to know if a character in a book was based on truth, if the book is autobiographical after all, if the point of view spoken is the author’s own, and authors can say no or be fairly evasive. But blogs are creative non-fiction, mostly. Blogs are our lives, our points of view, places of personal interest. Editorial columns on random snatches of life. Thinly veiled egos at work. We post on the world wide web and are absolutely exposed. Even the risk, though, is a journey worth writing.

Thank you to all my readers.


  1. Probably the most introspective piece i've written on my blog generated more than i wanted at the time. But, it's gone on to provide some relational healing that needed done.

    There are times that i WANT to write stuff that most just wouldn't understand, and would cause much more trouble than its worth, "let sleepin' dogs lie". But the thought is always there. Sometimes i wonder, "Am i scared what people might think...or do i just not want to deal with the aftermath." I think its more of the latter.

    Lastly, it never ceases to amaze when someone walks up to me and says, "Hey, i read your blog..." Really? I have no idea who or how many, and i just don't really care that much about those little tracking devices.

  2. When Piper writes in... this time about the tea and the fish, the fish in particular, I cannot stop laughing. Can't.

    And about readership-- the unfair part is your stuff is out there, and the reader internalizes it, but you really, really cannot see HIS stuff, so to speak. We just have faith that eventually something we said has a positive impact for another person.


Be kind, be thoughtful. Words travel.

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