Every couple of months I get the same phone call from my mom: "I read your latest article and I just wanted to mention..."
What follows is her mentioning that my kids might read what I wrote. Or my ex, my friends, my hairstylist, my postal worker, or my doorman -- and that one of these readers might not like what they read. On the most recent of these phone calls, I told her, "Mom, rest assured that everything I write to be published, I'm prepared for anyone, no one and everyone to read. I have already considered this before I submit whatever it is that I've worked on. You can feel free to voice your opinion, but you do not need to 'mention' that someone might read it."
Typically, I work on something for several days or weeks (depending on the timeliness of the topic) before it is ready to be submitted and ultimately published. I will have edited for grammar and typos several times, moved things around or re-worked the piece entirely. I cut, add, read and re-read countless times.
I know that every time I dole out my personal stories, views or opinions, there will be some who won't like what they read. Maybe they're a part of whatever situation I am exploring and would rather it be kept private. Maybe it's someone across the country that I've never met and they disagree with my premise, don't appreciate my intention or maybe they just had a bad day. Some won't like the style of my writing, my virtual voice akin to nails on a chalkboard and, without doubt, some will notice a typo I've missed. For the record, I do know the difference between "loose" and "lose" and, for the most part, know when it should be "I" vs. "me." I can read something 50 times and hear my words as I've intended them to flow yet they're not always how my fingers typed and spell check, checked. Some of those noticing the aforementioned typos will pick apart what I've shared, focusing solely on the error (while missing my entire point) and then rip me apart online for being human.
Which leads me, my mother and other family members to wonder, why bother? Why do I share my private life on public platforms? Why divulge awkward dinner conversations, unsuccessful relationships and parenting fails? Why put myself into an online world that is as cruel in silence, as it is in booming criticism?
Growing up I was late in finding my voice. As a young woman I started to uncover it, only to lose it entirely in my marriage. The blame for this loss is altogether mine. I gave up my voice bit by bit until it was gone. There were years of quiet silence and loneliness. By not speaking out loud the only voice I heard in my head was my own. In keeping everything private so private, I was isolated and alone. Even in times that should have been fun or enjoyable and might have looked so on the outside, inside they felt hollow. Years of hard work, pain, laughs, tears, joy, friends, family, the kindness of strangers, breaking into pieces the life I knew and then putting it back together so it looked all together different than it once was, ultimately led me back to my voice.
Four years ago, at the urging of a friend, I shared my first writing publicly. Someone close to the situation I wrote about was upset, asked me to take it down and I did. Dozens more encouraged me to put it back up and keep my head up high. As I published more, people started reaching out to me. By sharing my voice, it was no longer the only voice in my head. Welcoming more voices into my head I invited more love, depth and meaning into my life.
I wish everything I share to be welcomed with open arms. But, accepting that not everyone will be happy with what I offer, I take care with what I put out into the world. I have made mistakes. I have put my foot in it, made choices I regret and and know I will make more mistakes. My friends, family, strangers, doorman, colleagues, hair stylist and dreadfully, even my own children, will all at some point be disappointed in something I have shared.
I don't relish or take joy in being at odds and I abhor confrontation. Online criticism isn't easy to take when it's nasty and vicious (which it often is) especially when things go viral. I have been there and my feelings do get hurt. But, if the only way to avoid that is to silence myself, again, that is a concession I cannot make. Joy and sorrow are both more palatable when shared. For every online troll that will find and focus on my editing fail, there are a dozen more who will appreciate, relate and respond to my personal offering. For one put off by this weeks essay, many will take time out of their days to read what I have written and in having my voice in their head, they will no longer be alone. For every acquaintance that gossips about personal details I've shared, there will be another who finds it worthy, will themselves share my words and then often times reach out to me online and off.
By offering myself publicly, people in turn offer their stories. It is in these exchanges that we all find connection. It is in connection that I find the reason why.