Hemingway famously said that writing is easy: You only need to open a vein. He acknowledged the pain of digging into one’s own truth. But times have changed, and from what I read in some print and on social media these days, we’re in the midst of a bloodletting. Writing is easy, because there are few boundaries of decency or good taste or privacy.
We take the master’s point, that to write with authenticity, a writer needs to reach deep inside herself. In recent years, however, authenticity and honesty have morphed into crass exhibitionism. Media spew posts and podcasts and photos that are inappropriate, embarrassing and disturbing.
Do we really need to blather everything and anything into the public square?
Today, all the major newspapers publish pieces that would never have found their way into print 10 years ago, about really intimate relationships and health issues. People “out” their relatives and partners with embarrassing details of their foibles and failures. And to what end? A byline? A millisecond of fame?
With the advent of Facebook, where a friend of mine recently discussed embarrassing details of a spouse’s surgery, to the rise of Instagram and Snapchat, where some people post before thinking, exhibitionism runs rampant.
Even the ubiquitous smartphone invades privacy and personal space. People who carry on loud conversations in close proximity to others clearly have become desensitized to the concept of privacy itself. They don’t realize that other people don’t want to hear their intimate chat with a friend or their fight with a surly teenager. They don’t understand that the very ring of their cellphone in a quiet environment — a waiting room, for example — is jarring. Of course, nobody’s phone rings anymore. It plays Beethoven’s Fifth, or the theme from “Super Mario Bros.” or the scream of a hyena.
Overheard at a nail salon in Hewlett: an overbearing mother-in-law apparently talking to her daughter-in-law about the grandson who doesn’t want to go to nursery school. Mother-in-law has a know-it-all tone as she says, “You’re letting him walk all over you, Beth. If he wets his pants, so he wets his pants.”
Overheard while waiting on line in a fish store: a woman talking to her husband about ordering food for lunch. She says, “I will not! Your sister only serves tuna fish. I’m not buying sturgeon for them.”
Finally, overheard in a supermarket, a mother talking to her presumably married son. She says, “I’m telling you there are ways to conceive twins without fertility drugs. Just look on the internet . . .”
The distinction between private and public is disappearing. Posting photos of drunken bridal showers or a boys’ night out isn’t just inappropriate; it can come back to haunt you.
Recently I was asked to provide a reference for someone looking for a job and, on a whim, I looked him up on Facebook. He had posts of himself not only wildly intoxicated, but also exchanging racist remarks with his pals. What was he thinking? I wondered. And the truth is, he wasn’t thinking that he had compromised his own privacy with his stupid posts.
People post comments about their co-workers or bosses or family members as if those words won’t land hard and possibly hurt someone.
There is no standard at all for spelling or grammar in the age of LOL. But supervisors and colleagues and college admissions officers may very well take note of sloppy communication skills, not to mention that keg party photo.
Why in the world don’t people know not to write in a public forum that they hate their job or that their spouse chews with his mouth open or that their mother-in-law is a bossy nuisance?
The Washington Post, in particular, a grand old newspaper, now publishes personal essays that push the boundaries of what anyone needs to know about anyone else. I can’t give examples because that would undermine the point I’m trying to make, which is: a little decorum, please.
Some things are too raw and personal to put in print, but they’re getting published, in part, because of the insatiable need for new copy.
Hemingway’s point about opening a vein refers, of course, to finding deep emotional truth in our writing, not invading the privacy of others or exploiting someone’s secrets for a good story.
Copyright 2019 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.