Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Privacy and Trust: Franzen on Fresh Air

Yesterday I heard a brief segment of Terry Gross' Fresh Air interview with Jonathan Franzen. Franzen explained that as a writer he is a bit of an exhibitionist. He takes his privately lived moments and filters them through his imagination to create fiction. Increasingly, he simply shares his private, interior life publicly.

Gross asked, how do you share responsibly? How do you share your experience, as it's relevant and compelling to larger, shared experience, while having a sense of respect for those in your life implicated in your stories and while protecting your own sphere? I'm paraphrasing as I can't find a transcript yet but here's my take-away: we have control over what we share. We share what stimulates the collective imagination and clarifies individual and collective experience. We keep secrets. Our secrets give us identity.

If our every thought and perception was shared in a sense, we would cease to be. The boundary between what is known and unknown about us breaks down. In this instance, there is no longer intimacy. Intimacy comes from that deep sharing of secrets. When you fall in love, you start listing your previous homes and jobs and moments so that the other person is allowed in to your memories and past. Intimacy comes from the trust, the sharing of secrets. When everything is known, there is no longer the hope or possibility of creating trust and intimacy.

Mind blown.

Last Sunday I lounged on a raft in a pool and had a similar conversation with some friends. A few had read my blog and mentioned this to me (thank you, kind people!). I shared that this blog came into being when my fantastic web designer suggested and created it as a way to direct more traffic to my site. I began blogging so that folks might feel compelled to take a yoga class with me or join me on a retreat. And I found that I like blogging.

Given that I'm an entrepreneur, I have to market. Given that I teach yoga, host retreats, and a number of other services that have to do with creating a charged or meaningful space for another, it's helpful to share something of myself so that those working with me have a degree of comfort. I've self-identified as a writer since I was a teenager, which also pushes me a bit towards the exhibitionist camp.

Yet, with the increased presence of social media and our collective increased sharing, I worry. I still share (obviously). But I worry. I worry about what I'm relinquishing that I don't even see or know or recognize or value. I worry about the implications of my tellings on those in my life. I try to behave responsibly, ask those involved how they feel, and proceed from there, but still. I worry.

I wrote about this before after posing a similar question to Cheryl Strayed at a Free Library event in Philly. She said a lot, but my takeaways were: she's waited 20 years to be confessional about certain events, she also talks to implicated parties, and ultimately, they're her stories.

And I read them. I read them voraciously because they connect to my own experience.

I think about this too because I've spent plenty of time being repressed and surrounded by repression. I'm fearful of once more living without emotional honesty nor transparency. I err towards sharing because it feels safer to me. I think we can all use a bigger emotional vocabulary. I want emotional literacy to be cultivated and practiced. Some secrets control us individually and collectively. I want these closets opened, the skeletons excavated.

But I realize that much of this feeling could be reactionary. How do we cultivate balance? Share in a way that promotes transparency and honesty? Withold what is dear for privacy and mutual respect?

Strayed and Franzen have each made choices about what they share and what they guard. Something is guarded and those details are precious. These secrets are only given to those in close proximity where intimacy is created and nourished. It helps me understand how I can trust myself and be trustworthy to those around me: I give thought to what I release and thought to what I hold close. There's substance to me.

It makes me think about larger social media as well. What do we give away and what is it worth? I will happily tell you about my current work projects or how we can work together. The quieter details of my private life? You have to buy me dinner first.