analysis, Anna Appleberry, autobiography, blogging, Byron, Crevecoeur, Dickens, E.E. Greyson, experience, Faulkner, fiction, Frankenstein, George Elliot, Gulliver, honesty, Poe, pseudonyms, Rousseau, Shelley, Swift, truth, writing
Guest post by E.E. Greyson
When I was twelve years old I started keeping a diary. I remember an incident three months in when I decided to go back over what I’d written. There within the pages between June and July I read an entry where I complained of a sibling squabble, and then and there all the frustration and fury of the incident flooded over me.
Just a few seconds later I was shocked and ashamed of myself. But I learned a valuable lesson: what I chose to immortalize on the page had power. Had I not written it down—I would never have remembered. Henceforth I was very selective in what I chose to record. But I have since then wondered: How true is what I write? If I leave out the bickering, the sharp words, the days better forgotten—does my writing really resemble reality?
The line between reality and falsehood is so thin—and for the writer emerges as often from the material left out as from what was actually committed to the page.
The question of “What to tell?” is a dilemma as crucial to the writer as the annalist. Not all information can be recorded. The details left out from the chronicles of history books, or the admissions eased over in over-crafted autobiographies (think Rousseau), are the same omissions I constantly make myself as a blogger, forever second-guessed and wrestled over.
A blog is not a diary. Nor an autobiography. A blogger should feel no obligation to lay out their life sans filters to a reading world.
But neither is it fiction. To the extent I feel my greatest gift lies in drawing from my own experience to connect, empathize, exhort, and encourage other people, it is the raw data, sensory information, and subsequent rational which I strive to recreate, in all its tumultuous beauty. To fabricate would be to destroy. How could I, when my writer’s heart delights in the perfectly recreated experience you too can relate with, strive to create anything short of Truth?
Yet in an effort to maintain emotional modesty and to shield friends and family from their own intimate interactions being immortalized in cyberspace, I inevitably bury details, gloss over particulars, and attempt to hold my own experiences at arm’s length, gleaning, what I can, from them only what you, the reader, will profit from or enjoy.
Are you content with the shadow?
I have had countless people approach me about a post—wonder which X-boyfriend I was talking about, whether I’m doing alright, and what-in-the-world was going on in that poem?
Did I tell you too little, or tell you too much?
It is also unfortunate that the greatest writing usually springs from traumatic life events (we instinctively know this and look for it within author’s lives). I think writers are drawn to pain. (Think Poe, Dickens, Byron, Faulkner.) Through it, all the shades of the human experience are magnified. Writers seek out the wretched and sublime like moths to a flame, attracted to that which will destroy us.
But is it enough for the writer to simply understand pain and misery and to write something that makes you understand it too? Or must they know its depths to be reliable sources?
Would you trust a book on Death and Separation by an author who had never lost somebody dear? Or, (one of my pet peeves), trust a book on marriage and romance by somebody who had never even been in a relationship? (Remember the writer Karen from Stranger than Fiction, standing on the edge of a skyscraper, trying to understand what it’d be like to die?)
Experience is our credential. Without it you would not believe me. You look for the reality in-between the lines. It’s only natural. We do it to even the greatest of authors, people still wonder about Shakespeare’s relationships with women because of the multiplicity of lovers in his Sonnets. (Why can’t he have just made them up?)
But is it right to lay the human heart open—naked—on the written page? Does not the writer, like the photographer, sometimes have a moral duty to turn the lens away and stay silent?
I wonder sometimes if it would be easier for me to blog if I wrote under a pseudonym. What if you were reading the words of the fictional Anna Appleberry? Would there not be a layer of analysis between what she said and what I the author have experienced? I would not be the first to have done so—I envy Swift his Gulliver, Evans her George Elliot, Crecevoeur his Farmer James, Mary Shelley her anonymous monster’s tale within Frankenstein’s narrative within the letters of her fictional Captain Walton.
But I have no shield between my words and the public screen. The best I can do is italicize and remind you that I’m an artist: I create. I can tell you plainly that I’ve written poetry that had no direct correlation to any life event—I claim my right to write non-autobiographical work while still being inspired by my experience. But I’ve also written posts plainly dealing with my own thoughts and revelations—I’ve tried to make it clear when I’m doing so. But sometimes I still feel bitter. Resentful that every post and poem will be compared with my life.
But there is another part of me, a more brave part I hope, which rises to the challenge. I embrace the paradox. These are the challenges which face every writer, their every work immortalized for scrutiny. Words have meaning. And when we commit them to text, we inevitably must accept the reality of a subtext.
And therein lies half the fun.
– E.E. Greyson
Author’s note: After writing this I realized this might be read one of two ways: bloggers might feel encouraged to start “spilling the beans,” so to speak, to which I feel the urge to caution that some discretion should be taken along with revelation. OR, bloggers will start writing under pseudonyms and we’ll have a hundred million blogs by “Kermit”, “Austen”, and “Cleopatra”—which will basically undermine the intellectual honesty of blogging and the world of the written word as we know it. Please write under your real name. -Greyson
From Tenderly, Too: Note: E.E. Greyson is actually Anna Shelton (possibly hinted at via “Anna Appleberry”?!?), who blogged for several years over at Salt-Rain Tidings under the name “L.E. Fiore.”