I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about what it means to live a pseudo-public life. I don’t truly live a public life, of course—unlike, say, movie stars, I can move about without being recognized or bothered by people I don’t know. I’m not really anyone important in the grand scheme of things. But because I write about my life online, I have a certain public window into my life which people who would never “tell the Internet all those private things!” don’t have.
I’m often asked how I do it by people who cannot imagine laying themselves bare in this way, always in a hushed tone as if I routinely strip naked for anyone who asks and don’t even have the good sense to be embarrassed. The answer is twofold: first, that the things I share online are just a small, carefully cultivated sliver of the private me; and second, I don’t know how not to. Writing down and sharing parts of my life—maybe even especially the hard parts—is a kind of living therapy for me. It makes me more whole. (If you are nodding, right now, you’re a fellow writer. If you are baffled, well, chances are you’re sane without writing. What’s that like?)
Two things happened to me recently that got me thinking about all of this. The thing is, we writers tend to be a prickly bunch. I know everyone jokes about “creative types” being a little off-balance, but it’s a stereotype with a seed of truth—I’ve yet to meet the artist/writer/person-with-a-drive-to-create who isn’t a little… different. Seeking something. No, we’re not all nuts, but we tend to be working through some stuff, y’know?
The result of a group of people like that interacting is that you tend to see some meshing and connections that seem to run deeper and a little more profound than maybe you see in the general population. And the converse is true, too: frictions rear, and feelings get hurt. And somewhere in the middle there’s this… jockeying amidst all the words. Some writers have time for no one and fiercely guard their “secrets” and aren’t interested in community. Others eschew all boundaries and end up laid bare, often to their detriment both professionally and personally. Sometimes all of this is apparent to readers, and sometimes it’s all carefully hidden and contained behind the scenes.
All any of us can do is determine our own comfort levels, boundaries, and how we wish to interact with others.
So: the two things. On the one hand, I recently had a falling out with a fellow freelancer who I’d believed was a good friend. In retrospect (gotta love that 20/20 hindsight!), I grossly overestimated the other person’s level of commitment to the relationship. I can see, now, the signs that I was not a friend, but a convenience, and maybe of some professional “use” to this other person. When a problem arose, I was discarded as a nuisance. Later, I was also chided for daring to write (without identifying anyone) about it, because I was “humiliating” the other party. Simply put, I was terribly hurt, and also (for a time) confused. Given that we continue to work in the same or at least overlapping circles, this is a professional discomfort as well as a personal one.
The lessons I learned from this experience are many, and several of them have to do with my needing to remember that not every writer’s persona is who they actually are. In this particular case, I believed this other person’s writing was an accurate representation of their personality, when it turned out that I absolutely should’ve realized that the persona is significantly kinder and more patient than the person fronting it. And apparently the neurotic, emotional person I reveal myself to be in my writing—and have revealed for many years—and have always made no bones about being “the real me” was not sufficient clue to the other party that yes, I really am neurotic and emotional.
Personally, I wish none of it had ever happened. Professionally, I put on my big girl panties and give this person wide berth. And consider it a lesson learned.
On the other hand, though, a bit of proof that good deeds come back ’round: I get a lot of solicitations to help support or even just “spread the word” about good causes. I tend to guiltily delete them, because they’re all good causes, but how would I pick and choose? Where would the line be? Instead, I have always said I’m happy to help out/mentor folks just starting out, and I do it because there are people who did the same for me when I was green and learning to stand on my wobbly new freelancer’s legs. Until recently, I really believed this was just me “paying it forward” appropriately, and for the most part I find such interactions intrinsically rewarding, because it’s just nice to be able to help someone. But! Guess what! I recently landed a nice new writing gig… courtesy of a writer I’d helped out a bit when she was just starting out. She’s established, now, and passed my name along when a client needed more writers. And just like that, the circle of freelancing. Or life. Or something. It’s good karma, no matter what you call it.
I’m going to keep trying to do what I do, chalk the missteps up to necessary lessons, try to be a good citizen of the world as much as I can, and appreciate the good stuff when it happens. The truth is that I’m not sure I know how to live any other way.
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