This is going to be one of those “off the cuff” and probably rather long posts – nothing concluded in my mind and without the structure of the well-considered essay. Just a few thoughts to, perhaps, inspire a few in return – a conversation, if you will.
I’ve been thinking about privacy and its first cousins solitude and silence this past week. I think about these things a lot. Not because social media seems to have brought such considerations up close and personal – to coin a phrase – but because I value all three and do my best to cradle them gently, lest I lose them. And I was traveling all day yesterday through three airports (privacy aside, you pretty much all know how I feel about flying) – and unless you’re driving alone on a deserted road with no radio signal and a dud sound system, travel will always compromise privacy, solitude and silence.
In one airport yesterday, among the people around me, I learned the following: That the young man in the black pants and black check shirt with a black tie – though the shirt was hanging out of his pants – was on his way to California to make a movie about skiers. Even the people in not so close proximity to him knew this about him (and I’m using some of his language here) – that he didn’t give a f**k about what so-and-so thought, but everyone just had to get out there and make it happen. He fielded several calls to this effect, and I was not the only member of his audience – for what does a projected voice demand, but an audience? – to notice that he chewed the inside of his mouth as if he were eating dinner while talking, and he looked around and fidgeted as if he could not concentrate on just one thing. I did not want to hear any of this, so I moved away, as did other audience members – but we shuffled straight into another “sharing.” The woman with very dyed blonde hair, a bright pink smock and tight leggings spoke in a voice loud enough to let everyone at gate B9 know exactly what she thought of her ex. In my book she was trumped by the girl next to me who had to make arrangements for her two dogs, given the delay – I began to worry about her dogs. Anyone who has been at an airport in the past twenty years would have a similar story of unsolicited information reaching them too loud and too clear. These experiences led to me thinking about privacy and what we consider it to be now – and I began by looking at myself, and my behavior with regard to that which is personal in my life.
Once, at a meeting of writers, the person interviewing me said words to the effect that, “We know all about Maisie Dobbs and the other characters in Jacqueline’s books, but here’s what we know about Jacqueline – that she’s a writer, that she was born in the UK, and that she lives in California – and that’s it!” And I wondered if that wasn’t all everyone needed to know. Around the same time, my then publisher encouraged me to add more about my life to my website – a page with details about my pets, for example. They wanted to see more about my family, about me – to “share” with my readers. I was pretty much convinced that all my readers wanted to know was when the next book was coming out! But I went ahead and “shared” more about who I am and what I had done, and it seemed that no big dam of information was breached. You see, despite what you might read about me or by me, I’m a rather private person. Or am I?
Writing posts for www.nakedauthors.com has given me the opportunity to indulge in the personal essay – and what is the personal essay if not an opportunity to touch the universal by way of the personal? You who visit this blog know quite a bit about me, don’t you? You know I adore my horse Oliver, that I am getting to know Wolke, who I bought last summer and that Maya, our Labrador was a rescue pup from the LA County Shelter. You know – I think – that my beloved mare, Sara, had to be laid to rest last summer, and that losing her all but broke my heart. You know my Dad died in 2012 – I wrote about him on my Facebook page, mainly to thank the booksellers and readers who were so understanding when I had to cancel most of my book tour. You know that sometimes I like to write about the lighter moments in life, and that at others I write about elements of life that affect me deeply. But where is the line? Have I opened a bottle and released the genie of my past, present and future so that nothing is private any more? I wonder about that sometimes, especially when I skirt very personal questions at events (such as bookstore readings and so on). I try to use humor when I do that, scanning the audience for the next raised hand. At one bookstore event several years ago, the bookseller said afterwards that she had never known an author have so deal with so many personal questions, tap-dancing around them. I wondered, then, if perhaps people think I am the characters I write about, and because they know so much about Maisie Dobbs, perhaps they think they know me more intimately than they do, therefore such questions are OK. I think other authors with a series have experienced the same thing. It’s not that we don’t appreciate every single person who bothered to turn out to see us – heaven knows I am so grateful for that support – but sometimes we unwittingly blur our own line in the sand, and therefore must look to ourselves for the consequences.
And remember, I’m still thinking out loud.
Although I keep my cellphone with me for emergency purposes, I find I am leaving it off more and more. I called my husband yesterday from a discreet place in the airport to tell him about the flight delays and that I would call from the car when I’d arrived at my final destination. Then I turned off the cellphone. There was nothing important I wanted to say to anyone, and at that point, there was nothing I could do about any emergency that might arise, so it was better left off. No big-voice sharing from me.
I’m also thinking more about what I want anyone to know about me, and I want to make sure I am clear with myself – what do I want to hold close? What do I want to reveal because there’s something of a story there. I have shared personal stories when they have inspired something in my writing - and I love to read the same of other authors. I’m interested in where stories come from.
Finally, perhaps we all think we’re more interesting than we are. On the other hand, in the sharing of stories – even the most personal stories – we know we aren’t alone in the world. There’s something to be said for that – as I said earlier, when the personal becomes the universal. The word “universe” means “one song” after all, and apparently the root of the word “conversation” means “learning together.”
I just think some conversations are best held in private.
In closing – here’s something I read in “When Women Were Birds” by Terry Tempest Williams:
“It is winter. Ravens are standing on a pile of bones – black typeface on white paper, picking an idea clean. It’s what I do each time I sit down to write.”
What do you think? Maybe we can pick this idea clean ….