Last weekend, I was hanging out with friends when my cousin pulled me aside and told me she had been reading my blog:
“It’s not bad, but it comes off really stiff and formal. I hope my saying so doesn’t piss you off, but I think you’re used to academic writing and you need to loosen up. Speak with your real voice.”
“Hmm… Well, I’m trying to write in a conversational style, but I’m kind of a nerd. Maybe that IS my authentic voice.”
“No, no it isn’t,” she insisted. “Pretend you’re writing me an email and post THAT on your blog instead. THAT’S how you really sound.”
At first, my brain fought the idea. I mean, do we even have a single personality that we can call the “real” us? We are all different people at different times: at work, at home, at a formal dinner, talking to our grandmothers versus our friends, at a job interview… I mean, it’s not “lying” to walk into a job interview wearing business casual instead of a robe and bunny slippers, right?
Part of me believed my persona IS the real me, but if someone who knows me really well doesn’t think so, then maybe not. Maybe I’m like the guy who lets his hair down by loosening his tie when everyone else is wearing shorts.
I think there are two reasons that I (and probably others) have trouble expressing my raw, most natural self in writing:
- First, it’s because you think too much. It’s hard to act natural when you know you’re being watched. It’s like trying to take a candid photo when you’re aware someone’s aiming a camera at you. You freeze.
- Second, it’s because of fear. Every time you write something, it becomes a permanent part of the blogosphere that anyone and everyone can read, including your friends and family. Or worse, complete strangers who might judge you out of context.
So you can end up watering yourself down, presenting a bland, uncontroversial version of yourself that bores everyone senseless. You don’t connect to people as well as you would with your true personality, because you’re playing a role you boxed yourself into.
After doing some internet research about how to write more naturally, I came across this excellent article about how to break down the mental blocks that keep you from fully expressing yourself.
In it, the author talks about how to bring out your bolder, more colorful side. He shares 33 things about himself that he never told his readers before, then suggests other bloggers try the same.
It seemed like a fun, though scary, exercise. You reveal a bunch of stuff about yourself so there’s no turning back. I decided to follow his advice by taking the plunge.
Here we go:
- I’m unabashedly liberal, but have a lot of conservative friends. I consider myself a Social Democrat, meaning a liberal who wants universal healthcare, more family leave, and better-regulated industry. I’m also weirdly traditional and care deeply for my family, so many of my conservative friends think I’m secretly a conservative who doesn’t realize it. I figure that’s a compliment from their perspective.
- I consider myself a Unitarian Universalist. Unitarians believe there is a greater power out there, but that your spiritual journey is individual and personal. They don’t condemn anyone’s religion.
- Yet I’m a big traditionalist. I get really into celebrating all the major holidays and consider it culturally important. And fun. I also wear black to funerals and like to follow any traditions that don’t exclude people.
- I grew up close to one of my cousins. We’re a year apart in age and spent so much time together that we feel more like sisters than cousins.
- And we grew up with a lot of freedom. Anything went when we were at our grandparents’ house, so we did stuff like run around naked with flaming sticks when we were little. We also waded into creeks to catch crawdads and played with BB guns.
- My cousin and I figured out how to pee standing up when we were kids. She was jealous that boys could do this, so we figured it out one day. My mom was the high school French teacher at the local high school I attended and I guess she thought it was funny enough to tell her students about it, because the first day I showed up, some guy walked up and asked me if I was the girl who knew how to pee standing up. I think I imploded on the spot.
- I’ve been traveling through Western Europe since I was tiny. Since my mother was a French teacher who took free trips through Europe by working as a guidance counselor, I’ve been traveling through France, England and Italy since I was seven years old. Being able to visit other countries was one of the best things that ever happened to me and it opened up my perspective from an early age.
- I’m obsessed with Tudor history. When I was about eleven years old, I learned about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. I was fascinated and went on to learn all about the British monarchy, especially Tudor history. You want me on your team if Tudor history comes up at a trivia game.
- I’m obsessed with European history in general. There aren’t a lot of women in American textbooks. We’ve never had a woman in charge and little girls in America don’t leave school with the impression that women have ever done much besides sew flags and become pop-stars. So when I went to Europe and found out about women like Joan of Arc, Marie Antoinette, Queen Elizabeth, and Eleanor of Aquitaine, it rocked my little girl world.
- I was a weird kid… I did stuff like take a shoe box to elementary school and put it on the corner of my desk, grabbing it protectively whenever anyone walked by until kids were desperate to know what was in the box. I just wanted to see what would happen.
- Who always had strange friends. Friends from different countries, guys who play Dungeons and Dragons, whoever wasn’t part of the “in” crowd was on my team.
- My friends are really funny. The world is a confusing, sometimes dark, place and I think a sense of humor is one of the best qualities a person can have. Luckily, my friends are hysterical.
- I love studying language. I’ve studied French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Arabic. They made me learn Arabic when I was in the Army, but my French is much better.
- I couldn’t find my way out of a paper bag. I have a horrible sense of direction and get lost all the time. It’s a running joke in my family and it was really bad when I lived in Los Angeles. One time, I thought my car had been stolen and it turns out I’d been searching through the wrong parking garage for an hour.
- I started out as a Music Performance major. I played the flute growing up and was very serious about it. I went to Tanglewood and Interlochen music camps and competed in a billion contests.
- I’m bad at remembering dates. I’m not good at memorizing dates or other specific information, even though I used to memorize entire concertos. I’m more a “gist” person than a detail person.
- But I’m a bit of a neat freak. Clutter freaks me out and I like everything organized. Mostly, this is because my brain is so scrambled that if my world is out of order, I’ll spend hours looking for my keys and forget what year it is.
- I used to draw compulsively. I used to doodle whenever I was awake, even on napkins in restaurants. One time, when I was a senior in high school, my great grandmother pulled out a huge stack of my napkins that she had been secretly collecting since I was about five. It was really touching.
- I wrote a comic strip for my friends in junior high school. It was about four ballerina friends with all kinds of drama going on in their lives. I’d draw a new issue every few days and my girlfriends would pass it around between classes to find out what happened.
- My favorite movie is Man of La Mancha. The old musical from the seventies, with Peter O’Toole and Sophia Loren. It’s considered a really bad movie, but I saw it when I was tiny and Sophia rocked my world. She was a big-bosomed, badass brunette in a world of sunny blonde waifs, and I still tear up when Don Quixote talks about how living in a world of honor and decency is worth losing your sanity over.
- I’ve always loved animals. I’ve had pet cats since I was three and used to carry a rabbit around on my shoulders. I’ve tamed feral cats, wild bluebirds, and raccoons. When I was little, I once nursed a baby bird with an injured wing back to health in a fort I built in my back yard. I had it for a couple of weeks before it recovered and flew away.
- I was a waitress in Germany for three months. I was a German major for a while after being a music major, and was part of a student work exchange program that landed me a waitressing job in the Black Forest over the summer. I learned a very obscure German dialect there.
- I was an Arabic Interrogator in the US Army. Needless to say, I didn’t fit in. I’m still not sure how that happened.
- I had a really gay friend in the Army. He actually moonlighted in musicals during training. I attended his performance of Caiaphas in Jesus Christ Superstar and you can’t be any more on fire than that. He was the usher at my first wedding.
- One time, when I was living in LA, I threw a drink in my boyfriend’s face and ran away. I mean, I literally ran out of the building and down the street. I had gone out to a 1940’s style club with my girlfriend so she could flirt with a trombone player and my boyfriend didn’t know I was there. I caught him flirting with the singer, so I walked up and threw my drink in his face before bolting out the door.
- I’ve reinvented my look many times. I was the nerdy kid who wore glasses and turtlenecks in elementary school who went on to wear leather pants and black lipstick as a college student in Los Angeles. I’ve gone though red-lipstick retro phases and been a blonde, a redhead, and many shades of brunette.
- I’ve been married twice. The first time was in the Army to a guy I had known for a couple of months, who was also in Arabic class. We held it together for seven years.
- I didn’t know if I wanted to have children. I was never the kind of girl who squealed when she saw baby pictures and I was scared whenever someone handed me a baby. I heard they have soft spots on their heads and I was afraid of touching them.
- But I had a surprise pregnancy one month after my second marriage. It happened so soon that people would immediately ask me “when were you married, exactly?” after finding out I was pregnant. I thought it was pretty rude and not very sly (they could have thrown a couple of other questions in first). But no, my husband and I didn’t *have* to get married.
- I was really afraid of being a mom. Since it came as a surprise, I hadn’t decided I was ready for motherhood and didn’t feel like a typical mom. I didn’t craft, didn’t want to cut my hair short and wear flats, and didn’t worry about what color to paint the nursery. I was terrified of not doing a good job.
- But I ended up loving it. I’m not saying it’s right choice for everyone, of course, but having a kid was one of the best things that ever happened to me and I decided to have another one on purpose.
- I like video games and mystery novels. I played Mass Effect 3 when I was pregnant and am playing Fallout 4 after the kids go to bed, whenever I’m not reading a detective story.
- I use my kids as an excuse to let my freak flag fly. I do things like make race-car sounds when I’m pushing my daughters around in shopping carts at the grocery store and will yell out stuff like, “We’re heading down Vegetable Alley! Now we’re on Cereal Street! Where does Captain Crunch live?”
Whew, I made it all the way through this experiment and I hope it helps me open up when I write in the future.
Thank you, if you actually read through all of this. I think I might have made some breakthroughs and I challenge you to try it yourself.