Writing Through the Personal
Self-Censoring, The Shifting Negotiations of Intimate Relationship Boundaries, And Remaining True to Form.
Do you remember last week’s blind items? When I first penned my lil shady missive, I had about a dozen items. The draft was meant to be an index of interactions that were haunting me, without my response, or the implication of my body. Also, I fantasize that I’m both a celebrity and celebrity gossip columnist. What was published was a pithy, sanitized, self-censored version of the original essay. I tried to trick myself into believing I was employing compression, but the reality is that I left a bunch of shit out because I was scared and self-conscious, not because of what I thought the assholes who I wrote about might think about it or me, but because I was more concerned about what my partner thought.
And despite my trying to hide this fact: I AM TIRED.
As I sat on my sofa gnawing on my bottom lip, I imagined if any of the people I was trying to obscure, and reveal would be able to locate themselves. I also imagined having to confront these people again in person and was thrilled by the chance to hold up a mirror to someone else for once. A big part of why I chose the form was A) I love lists, B) I love gossip, and C) I was tired of holding these incidents in my mind. They gnawed on something in me. As I grinned at some of the shadier, and more revealing, characteristics and settings, I thought about the likelihood of responses and wondered who might have the moxie to say something. I drew on this excitement – getting energy to push past my burnout towards a version of myself that is more carefree and incisive. I am a version of this when I am in conversation but on the page, it is so hard for me to take what is in my mind and put it there. My hope was to stir up a little mess because I am someone who likes a lil’ controversy. I knew what I was revealing was relatively minor, especially on the grand scale of harm that I have suffered. But somehow, this rationale was lost when I shared this list with my partner.
And despite my trying to hide this fact: I AM ANGRY.
My boo and I are very close, and a big part of our dynamic is that we witness so much in one another’s life. So, 90% of the tea on that list of blind items were things she had seen herself or had heard my account of after it happened. Too close is what I thought and what I said. I assumed she thought I was too great of an embellisher, thought I never asked. She is more private than me and she is someone who is more public than me. Her concerns about the potential for “backlash,” were interpreted to me as something I should fear and therefore avoid.
I wondered though, as we sat down next to one another, my stickered laptop closed on the dark coffee table grazing both of our knees, what did backlash even mean for me? Did she feel I would indirectly bring something her way that would impact her negatively? I was too defensive to even initiate a conversation about her response because I hadn’t weighed out that all I wanted from her (at that moment) was affirmation. But I didn’t know then that was what I needed. I am influenced by her because she’s very important to me. I was losing confidence in something that felt fun and low stakes. I sent it out to be edited anyway. The marked-up document came back to me without many structural changes, and I queued it up to be published, but then something happened. I lost out to an impulse to hide.
And despite my trying to hide this fact: I AM SCARED.
When she and I first got together, I never shared with her my desire to write, to write about my life, to use form as a means to make sense when things confused or upset me – to use story to find belonging. For most of my life, it was a private agony that my words were unwritten and unread, that I didn’t have the imaginative tools to share them. She was my and is one of my biggest supporters, holding my hand as I inch closer towards the life I imagine.
And here I am now, living this writerly life and I am self-censoring.
With no stamina to write anything else and no desire to write some low-hanging fruit post, I allowed that impulse to truncate everything I worked on. What I got was an abbreviated version of the original essay, and a week later I am still mad about it. But mostly I have anger. Not so much with my partner, but yes with her. Not fully with myself, but yes with her too. Really, I am angry at the impulse to betray myself for an unknown fear and swapping it for the familiar sensation of disappointment.
At the time of the post, it had been about a full week since I had completed coursework for my two-year MFA program. I still have one more lil’ social obligation and one big ole thesis to pen. It’s been rigorous, enlightening, challenging, and fatiguing, and I will for sure talk about my road to the institution at some point. Right now, I am exhausted – my mind is at capacity, and my life is still happening. What I’ve been most proud of during this time is how I’ve managed to distance myself from the worry about what others think, but I never fully fathomed the otherness of the people who I know and interact with. They are at once other and familiar. Creative nonfiction is not just about reporting the facts. For me, I’ve learned it’s about the circumstances and environments that render these “facts” as “truth” and how those intersect and diverge. Regardless of my age, I am a young writer in the way my myopia obfuscated this reckoning: the proximity or distance I have from some of my readers. I have to decide how much responsibility I’m going to take for what I am putting out into the world. This is a lesson I am guessing is learned through practice, and I’m not thrilled about it whatsoever.
I am mutable. If I’m not mindful I will write in a way that is not sincere to my artistic vision. Instead, I might follow the tradition in which I’ve been conditioned to write: a boring, singsong, a style in response to some ambiguous white gaze. Being intentional about structure is how I think about craft. When the turnaround time is as quick as I am obligated to on this platform, the container that houses my story is very important to the story itself. Usually, I ask How is this about belonging? But when I was cutting lines and trying to neutralize that post, I was motivated by my fears of somehow not belonging…to whom…my partner…to readers…to writers…I am still unsure. What I know for sure is that I was being disingenuous to my creative process by sanitizing my output, and the fire and joy that went into that draft was extinguished.
At the same time of my weekly post, I was working on something I was commissioned to write! A letter to an ancestor, something I felt in command of and a form that is my favorite: epistolary. Though I embarked on research and had to synthesize a lot of information, the form came to me and so did the contents. I was writing a letter to my ancestor and muse which felt so different and was in response to an impulse to research a woman who I wanted to be. In this instance, I didn’t need or desire validation from anyone, not even my partner, before I sent it out. Obviously, I was upset, and holding on to some resentment but the impulse for that essay to be affirmed had vanished. Is it about the container, the content, the subject? This is something I’m still trying to understand.
When the form is a lil’ iffy it means I’m a lil’ iffy, and when I’m trying to help people understand my writing it can be confusing for them to have to learn how to pick up what I’m putting down. Imagine the personal frustration of having one thing in the mind and another thing on the page. There are stakes for me, because I’m no longer writing in vacuum, no longer writing inside of the sharp white boundaries of my workshops. Here, I am writing for myself. The Blind Items post wasn’t the essay I wanted it to be because I chose to follow an instinct that pulls me further away from genuine expression. And by following that feeling of fear, of dread, of self-doubt, of being a disappointment I think I may have subconsciously allowed my partner and her opinions to fuel my hesitation. Plus, I cannot forget the impact that my mind needs REST. The work I’m doing here at Tiny Violences is part craft experiment, part portfolio, part exercise in community building. Mostly it’s a space for me to find belonging in the face of the overwhelming harms I have to endure to get there - some of which I inflict upon myself.
Right now, I’m so tired, my brain, my heart, and my body need a fucking break and reset so I’ll share the FULL Tiny Violences with you next week. 😈