The other day I read a comment someone made about my generation, the ones the hippies raised, saying we’re a bunch of narcissists. I’ve been called a narcissist once. I have also listened to many people suggest that people who write about themselves on blogs or post pictures of their lives too often are self absorbed.
Writers are documentarians. We record stimuli constantly. We tell stories, sometimes literal ones based solely on facts, sometimes inspired by facts, but always pulled from the stimuli we are constantly taking in and noting and capturing in multi-media formats. We listen in on conversations in pubs which become field notes. We watch light changing on the roads we travel and look for words to cement it into our memory for later, for revisiting, for using.
Anyone who thinks that writing their experiences on a blog or in a book is somehow a great big navel-gazing narcissistic ritual of a me-generation and a sign of extreme vanity is someone who is exquisitely uncomfortable in their own skin, uncomfortable with the idea of mattering, and is definitely not yet a writer.
One of the greatest gifts of sharing personal experiences publicly is that every time we let ourselves be vulnerable, every time we let strangers hear our most private revelations and our most sour or corrupt moments it creates an opportunity to pull someone in from isolation, from the lonely outskirts of the population who has been feeling dreadfully alone. Telling our stories out loud isn’t vainglorious, it’s inviting tribe recognition.
How many times in your life have you been relieved to hear someone say something you were too afraid to say? How often has reading a book made you feel more whole, more understood, more connected to humanity? How do you think you make friends – you get to talking with people you understand, who have things in common with you, who speak the same spiritual language, or who came from a similar background.
What if no one ever shared their private thoughts or experiences out loud? What if no one wrote books? What if no one explored themselves with paintings, photography, poetry, and in doing so revealed more universal truths? Do you think that J.D. Salinger pulled his books out of his ass? He did not. His books are an amalgamation of his personal experiences, his imagination extrapolating beyond personal experience, and his ability to see people in the world like himself. What if he had never written? What if he thought writing books was a narcissistic activity? What if artists never painted or sculpted or assembled parts or photographed or sketched or welded or put their ideas on a pottery wheel? What then? What would the world be like then?
All art starts with a reflection of the artist. If you can’t look inside yourself then you can’t get beyond yourself. If you can’t get beyond yourself then you can’t connect with others. We take in stimulus and we hash it and wash it and thrash it against the walls of our own spirit, we evaluate what it feels like, what it means, and what it has added to our day, our life, our perspective. And then we spit it back out in a way that only we can do. We share it. We share it because sharing matters. Because sharing creates community. Because sharing creates strength. Sharing lets others in. Sharing, when it’s honest, is all we have to give as human beings.
So when you’re harshing on people creating a public personal narrative, at least give them a chance to share truth. Give them a chance to open their veins for you. There’s more of that going on than people recognize or appreciate. Sometimes a picture of a home made meal shared on instagram is sending out a home made hug rather than assuming that you really care what someone had for lunch. Sometimes it’s a dialog, one meant to unite beyond politics, beyond religion, and beyond social status. All the people you see putting their lives out on the laundry line of social media are doing what people have always been doing, just more efficiently now, seeking connections and conversations with other human beings. But now we have the whole world at our fingertips.
I have bled myself in my narratives. I have skinned myself. But there has never been a moment when I have shared my narrative because I felt self-important, certainly not any more important than any other human beings. I use my own image quite often and it isn’t because I think I’m sexy and need everyone to admire me – often it is to let you see through me. Through my eyes to where I’m most raw. I’m also my most convenient subject. Sometimes I represent a universal mood or I share what I think you might look like if I could get hold of you with my camera.
I submit that if you are a real writer you have to get beyond privacy and be willing to share what infects you more than anything else, you have to let go of pride and be willing to reveal your flesh in both its weakness and its strength. If you are a writer the act of sharing isn’t vain, it’s a constant experiment and dare to become more naked than you thought you have ever been before. You do it because you have something that needs coming out. You take in so much stimuli that something must come out of it. And in the end, the things you experience are being experienced by many other people simultaneously. Sharing gives them hope. Sharing gives you hope. sharing brings you all together.
Writing the minutiae of my life isn’t about vanity or narcissism. It’s about finding my own tribe and pulling the outsiders in. It’s about expressing what has to come out and letting it be what it is, letting me be what I am without shame.
I’m a writer. I’m a recordist. I am the opposite of narcissism. I look inside myself to find you. I look inside myself to find all of us. I’m a small person hiding in big skin. I’m a mouse with a gramophone. I don’t share my life out loud because I think highly of myself but because I have a facility with words and meaning and narrative that bring outsiders in.
Outsiders like myself.
When I was a kid my parents taught me the concept of divinity being reflected everywhere. You can find the cosmos in all living beings. God lives in all of us. Every molecule carries the magic of creation and wonder. I dislike the work “wonder” because it implies an innocence I’ve never had as a person. It implies fairies and magic and everlasting glitter streaming through the veins of angels. But I got it – as much as there can be a God – it is reflected in all of us to some degree. It’s all around us.
Then when I was in my early twenties working at the Coffee Roastery there was a guy named Chris who developed an unhealthy attachment to me and attempting to elevate my spirituality he gave me a copy of the Kabbalah. I honestly tried to get into it. I got as far as this concept: AS ABOVE, SO BELOW.
Which blew my mind away. I got it completely. It was the same thing my parents had been trying to teach me. What’s in us is in the universe. What’s in God is in God’s creations. The microcosm reflects the macrocosm. What happens on a petty level happens on a global level. When the plants and the insects are out of balance, the whole ecosystem is out of balance. When single cells are sickening you will find that all the complex beings are also sickening.
None of us live in a vacuum. If anyone says “what I do is none of your business”, that may be legally true, but it’s not true in any other way. Everything we do has an effect on those around us. When a nuclear plant melts down in Fukushima it reaches everyone in the world eventually. When meth producers blow up their premises they poison everyone around them. When we throw trash out individually we are having a world-wide impact on everyone.
As above, so below.
None of us live in a vacuum. We are all connected to each other by invisible but strong threads.
I write and share because I feel my part in the whole. What I say might not be important, but keeping silent would give strength to a tyranny I can’t support.
Speaking out, for me, continues to be my most potent form of civil disobedience.
As above, so below.