Faye Rapoport DesPres

Knowing me and knowing you: where is the "I" in our writing (or our blogs)?

I had lunch with fellow writer Cindy Zelman today, and our conversation strayed to the reasons her blog appeals to me. I mentioned that her blog and the one written by our former teacher, Joy Castro, are the only two blogs that I find myself checking regularly to see whether anything new has been posted. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate quite a few blogs, and there are many that would make excellent choices for regular reading (Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour comes to mind). But the Internet can be overwhelming, and if I read everything that is good and that’s available on a daily basis, I’d never get anything else done. So I’ve limited my regular reading to just a few blogs, and Cindy’s and Joy’s are the only two I find myself actually seeking out.

Why? We pondered the question over lunch, and Cindy made a good point. Both she and Joy are very “present” on their blogs; when you read their posts you know exactly who is writing them. The “voice” is highly identifiable. You get the sense that you are getting to know the writer better each time you read, and that’s an appealing and comfortable feeling. Their voices are friendly and inviting. You find yourself returning periodically to read what that familiar voice has to say. At least this is the case for me with Cindy and Joy, even though their writing and styles couldn’t be more different (check out their blogs through the links above and you’ll see what I mean). Having met them both in person, I know, in fact, that they couldn’t be more different, although they share certain core qualities, such as compassion and kindness.

The conversation got me thinking about my own blog, and whether or not it has much of a “voice.” I don’t pretend to reveal a lot about myself on this blog. I am always very aware that it is in the public domain, readable by anyone with Internet access. In fact, according to Google Analytics, my readers come from a wide variety of U.S. states as well as from countries as far away as Brazil, the Philippines, Indonesia, Finland, and Russia (by the way, if you’re reading this blog post right now, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment below to let me know who you are and where you’re from — I’m curious!). Because blogs are so public, I keep the focus here on writing and the writing life, and generally on topics that would be of interest to anyone who writes (and maybe to some friends or other artists).

But I wonder, after talking to Cindy, if I’m losing something by not having a stronger “voice” on this blog. I am a creative nonfiction writer after all, and the goal of the CNF essayist or memoirist is to reveal one’s self, is it not?

Actually, no. I don’t think so (but if you disagree I’d love to have you comment below). Certainly CNF writers describe true events and experiences, and must reveal, to an extent, their thoughts and the workings of their minds. But when I really think about it, the goal of it all is not to reveal who I am. I don’t think “who I am” is necessarily that interesting. Instead, what I hope to do is to bring stories, ideas, concepts, and thoughts about the world to life on the page. My goal is not to share ME — instead, it is to share my experience of the world in a compelling way. Why? Perhaps simply to inspire interest and to entertain, and to record moments and thoughts that otherwise would be lost. But on a deeper level I try to spur others’ thinking about life and the world and perhaps, occasionally, even to inspire change. It is all I have to give in a creative way, and one day it will be all I’ll have to leave behind.

This might go along with one of the current lines of thinking in creative nonfiction, that the “I” on the page is not the personal “I,” not even when incorporated into personal essays. The line between the personal “I” and the narrative “I” can get blurred, of course, and the narration usually doesn’t work if the narrator strays too far in language, style, or personality from the personal “I.” (If you want it to, it might be time to write fiction.)

Maybe the best way to put it is like this: the narrative “I” in creative nonfiction is a construct made up of selected parts of the personal “I,” but it is not the writer. It can never be the entirety of who the writer is. A CNF writer has to find that thin line between “going for the jugular” and revealing honest truths about life and going overboard into personal revelation or confession.

That’s the way I try to write, anyway — but frankly, I think that Cindy does a better job than I do when it comes to blogging. On her blog, she has found a way to be engaging, personable, frank, and courageous in both her language and story telling. The voice on her blog is funny and human and crystal clear, and that’s why I keep going back for more.

My blog is, well, a bit more subdued.

That’s more than OK; I thoroughly enjoy the good things that my friends and colleagues do. And my goal here, meanwhile, is to share thoughts and ideas about writing (and maybe a little bit about life), as well as literary news and other tidbits. My stories and observations come out more in my essays and other creative writing, which I hope you’ll read and enjoy.