I’ve come to a recent realization that I have a lot of thoughts and nowhere to share them. I recently quit my usual online social media platforms, i.e. Facebook and Instagram awhile back. While it has been great not being constantly distracted by them, I don’t think I fully appreciated how they were means of personal expression.
My blog, while I pride to be an expression of all the things I love, is public which makes me hesitate to share more personal or immediate happenings. There is also a finality with a blog post, which comes with some pressure to polish content before it goes up, removing the spontaneity that usually comes with a social media post. I’m still on Twitter, and yet I’ve somehow cornered myself into a situation: I fear being open because I have seen enough displays of aggression to understand that exposing emotional vulnerability, while it allows for true human connection, comes with the caveat that it can be used against you.
And so I turn to my blog, a public diary of sorts where I can fully control the contents and level of audience engagement. Which is currently close to 0%, by explicit choice to protect myself. A cowardly act perhaps, but one that allows me enough freedom of expression that I don’t have to think twice about posting or to censor myself. Here is a window to my innermost thoughts, but behind glass. See, but don’t touch.
I like the idea of writing blog post updates as though it were a long-distance friend that you were keeping up with. This may have something to do with the fact that I’ve recently become very enamored with handwritten letters, writing friends and family or anyone who would entertain me, really. I’ve been reading Anaïs Nins diaries and her and Henry Miller’s correspondence via A Literate Passion: Letters of Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller 1932 to 1953 and her journals which frequently reference beautifully written letters. For the unfamiliar, Nin is known for her erotica and series of published diaries detailing her life as a woman and a writer in Paris and later, the United States. The diaries were published in her 60s and earned her fame. Before that, she wrote fictional novels and short stories. Reading her diaries and then her fiction, you can easily tell that a significant amount of it draws from her diaries. Nin fascinates me for her use of her personal life experiences in fiction. You really get the sense that she lives her writing – there is no separation of Nin the artist and Nin the person. I have long felt that way about my art. A lot of my best work is deeply personal and drawn from violently visceral emotions, many of them (but not all) unpleasant ones. But because they are so personal, it makes it extremely hard for me to share them.
Many artists tell personal stories using a simple trick: fictionalization. Yet I struggle to do the same. As with Nin, I value the detail of truth to these events. I am blessed (or cursed, depending on how you see it) with good episodic memory, which makes it easy to recall the details of these encounters. When someone tells me a story a second time, I can interrupt them to tell them the exact moment when they first relayed that story to me. In that scene, I may remember that we were having coffee on a summer afternoon, the shoes they were wearing, the smallness of the coffee table we sat at, the pastry I ordered, the jewelry I was wearing and so on. And so I struggle to fictionalize this event because it is so firmly imprinted in my mind as a real, factual incident. Maybe I’m just bad at creating fictional characters and scenes.
It is also worth nothing that while Nins diaries were initially published as autobiographical material, it was later revealed that they were heavily expurgated, leaving out her husband (at his request) and of numerous details of her various affairs with her fellow writers, Miller included. Nin fell from grace upon her death and the publication of her unexpurgated diaries. This is covered succintly in Sady Doyle’s article on Nin in the Guardian. Yes, Nin was a liar, but I can understand why. She didn’t have a choice. When your most beautiful work is born from the ugly truths of your life, it is difficult to share it, knowing that it will be cannibalized by the judgment of those who do not attempt to empathize. She could have published her diary as is, but at what cost? Her beautiful writing would have been dismissed for being those of an adultress of no moral conscience. Publishing the expurgated diaries was her way of sharing a part of her inseparable life and art.
I had the fortunate circumstance of discovering Nin quite by accident. This allowed me to enjoy her work without knowing any of the above. I recognized her name in passing, but was drawn to pick up her work thanks to a little sandwich shop La Maison du Croque Monsieur on 13th Street in Manhattan, a former residence and printing press of Nin in the 1940s. La Maison du Croque Monsieur named the items on their menu after Nin and her lovers. Let’s just say that there were a lot of sandwiches on that menu. They were delicious sandwiches, by the way.
With all that said, I have a lot of thinking to do about what it means to make autobiographical art. I have many stories to tell, but many of them are difficult to tell and even more difficult to share. Yet the beauty of difficult experiences is that you’re probably not the only one who has been through the same thing. By putting your work out there, you are showing the others out there that they are not alone and that there is another human being out there who understands their pain – a reminder that they are not alone. Maybe one day I’ll draw up enough courage to do just that.