I’m a remarkably public person. I’m always talking about myself: my darkest secrets, my greatest fears. I reveal these parts of myself with impunity all over the internet, even when I can’t articulate them to people I know.
The other day I was talking to John Hansen of the Teens Can Write Too! blog chain and discussing whether or not we’re public about the fact we’re writers. For him, it’s something he’ll advertise on the internet, but not in real life. I’m completely different. I don’t think anybody leaves their first encounter with me without having figured out I’m a writer. I can’t not talk about something that’s such a huge part of who I am and how I spend my time.
(It’s exacerbated by the fact I get asked, “What did you do to you hands?” and I have to explain that I wrote too many novels, so I guess my case is an exceptional one.)
Most people have a private persona and a public persona and to some extent, I do. But the offline version of me is very similar to the online one, since the only hidden parts of me are inside my head, and they don’t tend to stay there for long.
When I was figuring out my sexuality, I didn’t tell anyone except a few close friends. Once I’d figured it out and was comfortable with it, though, I told the whole internet. The only pattern I’ve been able to see in my behaviour is that if I’m okay with it — if I’ve thought about it, come to terms with it, got over it etc — I’m not private about it.
The only things I keep secret are the things I haven’t come to terms with. The things I’m afraid of, unsure of; the things I don’t know how to deal with. Sometimes, I’ll discuss them with a friend. More often they’ll remain between my journal and myself until such a time as I know what I’m thinking and I’m prepared to talk about them.
I never used to be a very open person, and I think a lot of it has been instigated by my health problems. Being obliged to discuss my aches and pains with half a dozen health professionals means you tend not to try and make little of them or ignore them. In the same way, trying to move past anxiety triggers means being open about what the triggers are. The process of being able to discuss my insecurities wasn’t easy, but it happened.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t terrify me to talk about myself. Firstly, I’m always convinced you’re bored of my introspective navel-gazing (le nombrilisme in French; I learned that word from my super-massive-vocab-learning), and you don’t want to hear about me. So whenever I post, I prepare myself for crickets in the background. Secondly, I’m afraid of negative responses. And thirdly, well, I don’t know exactly what it is, but it feels a bit too much like chopping out a piece of my soul and handing it to the world to use as it wants.
That’s kind of how it feels to publish poetry. A lot of my poems are written from the heart, and how people respond to them is far more personal than how they respond to a novel, where all the emotions are carefully constructed. Poetry is far closer to non-fiction, even when it’s not 100% autobiographical, so it’s not a piece of writing they’re reviewing: it’s a part of my soul.
Working on the poems that will probably go in my third collection, I’m more aware of this than ever before. Though it’s not finalised and there’s a lot still to write, it’s effectively a collection about fragility, both physical and emotional. It’s about my health, but it’s also about people who have hurt me. And that makes it astonishingly terrifying.
I sometimes wonder why I bother. It’s not like I make more than a few pennies out of selling poetry — it hardly seems worth opening up in this way and sharing these deep, emotional pieces with others. It requires a lot of bravery to press ‘Publish’, even when I know that very few people will end up reading it because nobody buys poetry.
But something inside me doesn’t like having secrets or things I don’t tell people, and I guess poetry is a better way to get them out of my head than just straight-out non-fiction autobiography. I can exorcise all these emotions built up inside me without having to explain them the way I would if it was prose, and when they’re out in the world they’re not choking me or overwhelming me. I don’t like secrets, because secrets stick in your throat and make it hard to breathe.
Is this is a really weird view of the world? I know my parents are always telling me to be careful about what I put out there and not to share my whole life. Maybe I should just learn to deal with secrets and not feel the urge to shout them at everyone.
But I can’t help it. For example, at the weekend I wrote a piece for LGBTeen about my experiences of realising I’m asexual. Which isn’t something I talk about, but it’s something I want to talk about. And writing for someone else’s blog is scarier than writing here, because here I have control over it. I can moderate it, edit it, delete it. That post is now out of my hands, and it’s another little piece of my soul being dished up to anyone who cares.
In my journal a few weeks back I was reflecting on this and I wrote:
I’m baring my soul to anyone who might possibly be bothered to read it. None of that makes sense to me. But I do it anyway. Selling my secrets to pay for harp strings, and “I must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words.”* A words-whore, a secrets hooker. That’s all a poet really is.
Well, that’s one way of looking at it, I guess.
*Hamlet quote. Because I like Hamlet.