In October, a person I lived with hit me. On purpose. It was an event that was both the climax of one narrative, and, perhaps, the precipitating action of another.
Ever since, I have been struggling not only with living this narrative, but also with knowing how or whether to tell the story, to put it into words to share with others.
Like Joan Didion, I’ve long thought that the primary reason I write has been fairly simple and very personal:
“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
Publishing–the act of putting our writing out into the world–is an entirely different thing.
When one writes primarily for personal reasons, as I do, whether or not to write is a simple question with a simple answer:
When one publishes, when one has at one’s hands the means for easy publication (as we all do now), the question is much trickier.
And even this doesn’t really capture it. Far more often than the chart would indicate, the question needs the word “possible” and my answer is actually “maybe.” The idea of my own gain is always mostly abstract because for me, both writing and publishing are entirely optional. I made choices early in my life to make it so. Though there was much I didn’t understand (about everything), I somehow knew (fiercely, without doubt) that I did not want to tie my writing to my livelihood. Not “real” writing, anyway–the words I cared most about, the ones I set down in order to find out what my experiences mean.
I’ve experienced traditional publishing, but probably because I did not care much about influence or money (and subsequently didn’t get much of either from it), my experiences with traditional publication felt a little hollow, a little flat. (Not unlike losing my virginity, which mostly caused me to wonder what all the fuss had been about.)
Blogging has been a different thing entirely.
To carry my questionable metaphor further, writing and (traditional) publishing are, it seems to me, fairly masturbatory acts, at least for the writer.
Yes, yes, yes, I know: Published words can have profound effects on readers. But in the traditional model of word sharing, those effects are rarely known by writers in any but the most abstract of ways.
Blogging–the small, old-school blogging of the type I do here–is much more a two-person affair with the potential for intimacy. The answer to the question of Why publish? is different here. I’m under no illusion that publishing isn’t still very much about my own desires and gratification, but the notion that putting words out there will do something for someone other than just me is more than an abstraction. And what we create here is just that: what we create. Whatever happens in this space is as much about readers as it is me. My words are the opening of a conversation, not a lecture.
So, the question of whether or not to publish is a quite different one when the venue is a space such as this. To answer it, I must consider what value my words might have to others, what benefits my partners–my community–might get from them. I have to weigh those potential benefits against possible costs to myself and others, which are so often those I know (sometimes intimately) IRL. It’s rarely an easy equation to balance when the topic and the truths are hard.
So. Do I tell the story of being hit? I’m down in that last big bubble on the chart, where my words are hanging out in a drafts folder. There are things I want to say about mental health care. I know that shared experience is always valuable, but I don’t know how much value my words on this might create. I don’t know how much sharing those words–even in a space as small as this one is (but which could blow up in size at any time)–might cause more harm than good, particularly to some I love. Though I boldly claimed voice as my word for the coming year just days ago, I have more questions than answers about how to use it. That’s why I’m doing here what I always do when I write: I’m writing entirely to find out what I’m thinking. And by publishing here, I’m letting you know that I’d like to know what you think, too.
Hope we can talk in the comments.