Writing personal essays, otherwise known as “blogs”, is scary.
Very, very scary.
Kate over at Eat The Damn Cake wrote about it in her blog post “Why Personal Essays Are Really Important”. The point of her essay is that personal essays are important to create solidarity between human beings and, more specifically, young women – the bulk of personal essay bloggers. The following quote sums it up nicely:
“They allow people to tell their own stories, instead of waiting for someone else to show up and record and edit them. In doing so, they give the writer control. They place inherent value in the human experience, in every shape it takes. They emphasize small, meaningful moments. They connect us with other people by exposing the similarities that exist even in our very different lives. Because of this, they create community, because honesty surrounding particular experiences draws other people who also want to be honest about the same issues. They give people who have been silenced a platform to speak. They celebrate non-famous individuals, investigate mundane but serious problems, and reveal meaning in everyday life. They allow us to learn from the mistakes of people we’ve never met. They tell us the truth about experiences we’re curious about but can’t ask about in polite conversation. They make it clear that there are many, many truths, and help keep our perspectives diverse and more tolerant as a result. They encourage openness and vulnerability in a world that can feel impersonal, cold, and disinterested. They acknowledge that people’s experiences, as well as reported facts, are innately interesting and relevant. They reassure us that we’re normal just when we were worried that we were weird and unacceptable; there’s someone else out there going through something similar. And so much more.
Personal essays provide us with historically relevant and valuable accounts of what people’s lives are actually like. They are an amazing opportunity to learn about other people and ourselves, and in doing so, to delve deeper into the human condition.”
But something else that Kate talks about that really speaks to me is the fear of being judged harshly. She goes into her own experiences with vitriolic comments left on personal essays wherein the main point was simply to help reach out to other people going through similar experiences. While I’ve never had the traffic on my blog to warrant trolls, there’s still a big fear of the response I may get from family members and friends who are exposed to my blog entries on Facebook. I don’t think judgment is inherently a bad thing (remember “Judge and Let Judge”?), some of the things I write about in the interest of human solidarity are very personal issues. The fear of judgment and victim shaming is what keeps me from writing more about my experiences as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, despite the fact that I believe “paying it forward” and talking about my experiences can be helpful to other survivors struggling with similar issues. There’s a lot of fear about being accused of making things up, of being told I’m not actually a survivor, and especially a fear of people asking me who the abuser was – something I have no intention of disclosing and a question I have been pressed on in the past. The fear of judgment is what keeps me from discussing my religious beliefs and journeys in my spirituality, because of my dearth of religious friends and my abundance of atheist or agnostic ones. I feel very alone in being an intelligent, rational, liberal, queer person of faith. I know my experiences have the potential to be helpful in establishing a place for a queer person in a faith community, but I’m scared to talk about them. The fear of judgment is what keeps me from writing about more academic subjects, particularly race/racism and feminism/gender equality, because I dropped out of college and fear that because I haven’t studied these topics extensively in a classroom setting I will therefore have less valid or coherent opinions.
Overcoming my fear of judgment is probably the biggest boon managing my blog has given me. It may take some poking or prodding from my fiancée or a close friend, but putting myself out there and being honest about my experiences helps give me power over them. It’s a challenge, but it’s one that I welcome and I embrace your patience with me as I continue on this journey of solidarity of the human experience.