For the past few months, I’ve really enjoyed writing this column. Being able to engage in open conversations about the things and moments that have impacted me most these past four years has been a very fulfilling experience. But unfortunately, as we get closer to the end of the semester and I prepare to graduate and head off to get my MFA, I’ve decided to bring this column to a close.
To finish up I wanted to explore the experience of sharing such personal things so publicly. Our generation is pretty well-known for its internet exhibitionism, and we get a generally negative reputation for being self-centered and hungry for attention. The popularity of YouTube, reality TV and other vapid routes to celebrity involving drastic amounts of self-exposure have garnered us quite the image of superficiality.
Still there are a lot of positives to this compulsion toward public display, and this kind of sharing can be comforting and productive. For instance, there’s a solidarity that comes when survivors of trauma share their experiences with each other, and the expulsion of deep emotional wounds is the foundation of things like talk therapy. Overall, though, these benefits are largely considered separate from social media exhibitionism.
After the past 10 articles of extensively oversharing about things like my mental illness, past relationships and connections to art, I’ve come to find that there may be something more to our generation’s need to publicly share than older generations may want to believe.
I won’t lie and say it was an easy time. Whenever a new article was posted, the same nerves would set in. I’d get nervous that I had shared too much or that someone would confront me about how I had portrayed them. I’d try to have someone close to me read the article before I submitted it to my editor, but it was impossible to feel totally confident the moment a piece went up.
It was so much more exposure than I had ever had. I write poetry and plays which tend to veer toward the personal, but in my column there were no characters or detached narrative voice to hide behind. Here, any experiences I recounted would be indelibly tied directly to my life.
Exposing yourself to public judgment is terrifying, and the more personal the story the more intimidating that can be. But when we think about all the ways in which we more readily share ourselves with the world — Twitter, Instagram, Facebook — it becomes a question of whether we’re scared of sharing ourselves or just sharing a more truthful version of who we are.
When writing an article for my column, there was a need to be more honest than I may have wanted to be in past writings. There was no sugar-coating or tip-toeing around my traumatic experience with birth control or my emotionally volatile exes. I couldn’t soften or obscure the difficulties I have with anxiety and reconciling my love of art with the abusive men who created it. I think maybe that was the thing that scared me the most — the vulnerability in truthfulness.
But there’s also something freeing and empowering in that. Being able to own a narrative that no one else could control and sharing opinions and lessons through my eyes without anyone else inserting their thoughts was incredibly powerful.
As a young woman it can often feel as though my point of view is not considered valuable or useful. My experiences have, more than a few times, been funneled into more convenient, simpler renderings in order to serve other people’s conversations. But with my own carved-out space to talk about whatever I wanted however I wanted, it became a lot easier to assert myself.
Ultimately, looking back on these past few months writing for The News-Letter, I see how I’ve learned to process my experiences publicly without being scared of it. After my first article, I realized how much I could help others who had been through similar things, and that pushed me past that inner fear of vulnerability. Now, for my final parting thoughts, I’d like to encourage you to do the same.
Share, even if it’s just with a few people. Write a poem about something you've never been able to get over. Write an open letter to someone you’ve struggled to forgive. Show people that you are vulnerable, just like them, and that they don't have to be quite so scared to reveal that anymore.
Channel that need for exposure into something positive. Don’t hesitate to be truthful, to go into a place inside yourself you’ve never been before and have a look around — there’s a good chance that’s where your real self might be hiding.