Uncoding the Self

When I was 13, I began keeping a diary. But since I feared someone might read it, I invented a coded language to record whatever I needed to write about at that time. I don’t know what happened to the diary. But I like to think that whoever found it thought s/he had stumbled on a relic from a space ship or another country because of the unfamiliar words.

journalThe impulse to send myself messages took hold of me again in my early twenties. Thus began a life-long practice of carrying on this conversation in multiple forms. Each morning, the first thing I do after I get up is record my dreams. At different points during the day, I’ll jot down comments about whatever is happening in my world. I also use this form to explore ideas or work out inner tensions. I would be lost without this method of being in touch with myself.

But for writers, keeping a journal has ramifications beyond self-understanding. In order to write insightfully about characters we’re developing, we need some self-knowledge. Otherwise, it’s difficult to imagine our way into another psyche. Since I’ve been practicing this way of deepening my insights into myself for so long, it’s much easier for me to tease out whatever dynamics might be impacting a character.

I’m thinking of 57 year-old Feather, one of the major characters in my novel Fling! She’s a visual artist (sculptor mainly) and leftover hippie from the ‘60s who travels to Mexico with her 90 year-old mother Bubbles. Both are as different as night from day (pardon the cliché). And both also are very unlike me, their creator. But I still managed to imbue them with the essential qualities that make them stand out as individuals.

Dream content is another way journaling shapes me as a writer. Almost every morning, I have at least one—and often more—narratives to record. Dreams usually unfold as a story does, building towards a climax as well as a resolution. Therefore, I am constantly tuned into the creative source in myself that likes to tell stories. Recording my dreams also puts me in touch with the great maker of dreams (whomever s/he may be!), a rich source of material for us all.

On Blogging

Full disclosure:  I started this blog so I would have a “writer’s platform” I could show agents and potential publishers.  But it doesn’t come without a cost, and that is one’s privacy.

The idea of public and private has shifted in this new century.  While some people still keep private diaries/journals, others are blogging their hearts out for all the world to see.  Facebook, Myspace, YouTube, chat rooms, etc., have conditioned a new generation to spill it all on the web, to not hold back.  Some even set up webcams in their houses so strangers can follow their daily routine.

Has the isolation we experience in our neighborhoods caused this overreaction on the world-wide web?  When I was a child, I knew everyone on our block.  I walked to school, which allowed me to see my neighbors, both coming and going.  People sat on porches in the summer time and shared produce from abundant gardens.  We formed neighborhoods, not these individual units that make up most communities today where few people know their neighbors or interact with them.  Even the words neighbor and neighborhood sound quaint now.

What is the effect on our consciousness of such willingness to turn ourselves inside out for anyone to see?  We won’t know the answer to this questions immediately, but we can speculate.  Of course, writers learn early that they can’t hold back.  They must be willing to expose their private selves, whether in fiction or non-fiction.  Even the most objective academic or journalistic writing can’t conceal entirely the person behind the prose.

What is the effect of blogging on our consciousness, on our relationships with ourselves and others?  What does it mean not to have a private self any longer?  What are the drawbacks to this kind of exposure?