a finer sieve

We all go through the same thought processes upon beginning a blog or a post, joining an online forum or group (unless you’re 15 and don’t have any concept of consequence or of any future whatsoever beyond the next nanosecond…): how much shall I reveal and how much shall I keep within? Just do a random blog hop and you will quickly confirm that privacy is a topic often discussed, and often discarded.

Anonymity is a clever shield and at times a gentle filter. When I read confessional blogs by strangers who clearly wish to remain so it is very much like reading a novel: the writer is no more than a character to me and I can keep an emotional distance from them. I’m certain I am not alone in feeling like a terribly naughty child when I come across blogs of those I do know who either inadvertently or intentionally left their blogs public. I  read of their personal dramas schizophrenically: fascinated and drawn to read more yet as guilty as if I were caught masturbating or busting open the tiny lock of someone’s journal. Is that what draws people to write and read such personal things on the net? The titillation of it all?

At some point every writer, regardless of the medium in which they write, realizes that inevitably something in your writing will offend someone. If that someone is a loved one that can be a quite scary prospect, yet most good writers agree that self censorship leads to mediocrity. But is there not a difference between revealing the self where it is warranted and just spilling out our guts willy nilly so that anyone who walks by can voyeuristically watch us in our most intimate moments?

David Shields, in his “Reality Hunger, A Manifesto,” writes about Oprah and the “cult of confession” she has created. (This book is incredibly a propos to any discussion of modern media and culture, truth and privacy and originality and writing and so very many things.) Just go to the local café or the bus stop and I suppose human nature proves that we are all natural lovers of gossip and confession. People depend on this cycle of revelation, either through confession or act, and its discussion. Redemption? Not so important after all, although that adds to the longevity of the gossip, but can get boring.

Adam Gopnik, with characteristic brio, analyzes the impact of the internet as reflected in the theories of its proponents and critics, and says this:

Yet surely having something wrapped right around your mind is different from having your mind wrapped tightly around something. What we live in is not the age of the extended mind but the age of the inverted self. The things that have usually lived in the darker recesses or mad corners of our mind—sexual obsessions and conspiracy theories, paranoid fixations and fetishes—are now out there: you click once and you can read about the Kennedy autopsy or the Nazi salute or hog-tied Swedish flight attendants. But things that were once external and subject to the social rules of caution and embarrassment—above all, our interactions with other people—are now easily internalized, made to feel like mere workings of the id left on its own. (I’ve felt this myself, writing anonymously on hockey forums: it is easy to say vile things about Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the N.H.L., with a feeling of glee rather than with a sober sense that what you’re saying should be tempered by a little truth and reflection.) Thus the limitless malice of Internet commenting: it’s not newly unleashed anger but what we all think in the first order, and have always in the past socially restrained if only thanks to the look on the listener’s face—the monstrous music that runs through our minds is now played out loud.

(“How the Internet Gets Inside Us,” The New Yorker)

There is an urge that I quell each day to stop blogging. My thought process, clouded not only by fear of being discovered (that desire for privacy, anonymity) but also a humility that seems to have grown over the years that says “why does anyone care what I write, so many others have said it before and more eloquently.” For now, though, I will forge ahead, dipping my toes in the raging waters and writing to my invisible, unknown and minimal or nonexistent audience, although tightening up the mesh of my sieve, still believing that there is value in keeping somethings to myself. Trust me.

There is a reason why I chose the nom de plume anopisthographiste, which means one who writes on one side of the page only….


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