For me, writing is confession. A very private part of me is naked for you to see. I’m vulnerable and embarrassed at times — but what you see if the truth. If you want it.
If you read what I write here, you know a side of me which remains hidden from the rest of the world. Those who work with me have no idea about the things I confess to you. Those who meet me casually anywhere else would never guess about what I have to say here.
When I was young, I was very guarded, because I was afraid about what people might think of me. I wasn’t going to change who I was to suit them, but I was still afraid of their judgment. Slowly, though, that changed. I realized that I could be very open about who I am. Why?
Nobody else is paying attention to the things which I openly share — because they’re too busy being terrified about what people might think of them, too.
And so I engage in therapy here — by telling the truth — secure in the knowledge that almost nobody else will hear. And it makes me wish or hope that there are those among you who will understand and identify with my confession — who will silently say to themselves, “That’s the way I feel, too.”
I sometimes get emails like that from strangers. People will write as though they’ve discovered a long-lost kindred soul.
“When I read what you wrote about your father, I cried for days, because my own feelings about my mother suddenly broke through,” wrote one woman. “I have felt blocked and numb for years. I knew there had been something about my family which hadn’t been right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. And as I read you share all of your experiences about your father, I just wept off and on for a long time. That was what I went through. I just never had the words to explain it even to myself. I’ve started to therapy and I’m making progress on getting to know myself. This never would have happened for me if you hadn’t been willing to share the truth of your vulnerable stories.”
When I used to write about politics, I didn’t get letters such as that one. I got messages from people who agreed with me. I got messages from others who called me names because they disagreed with me. But I was merely holding up a sign that said my own version of, “Hooray for our side.” (If that sounds vaguely familiar, listen to this Buffalo Springfield song from the 1960s.)
Today, those people who used to write to me are gone. They’re praising or attacking someone else without actually hearing what he says. The few people who remain — or who’ve arrived since then — are here for an entirely different reason.
I’ve been thinking lately about what my confessions here make me feel. I’ve told you before that confessing my flaws is my way of trying to avoid narcissistic tendencies that I might have learned from my father. The deeper confessions, though, aren’t about flaws as much as they’re confessions of being human.
We are taught in our culture to hide what we feel. We are taught to hide our vulnerabilities. We are taught that nobody wants us to be open or to sound potentially needy. But the truth is that we need to confess dark and hurtful truths about ourselves — including our fears — and some people need to hear our confessions just as much as we need to make them.
The playwright Arthur Miller wrote about how writers get past their fears. For a long time, I didn’t understand the notion of a writer being afraid, but that’s because I was a journalist first and then a political commentator after that. Miller was talking about an entirely different kind of writing. He was talking about the kind which requires that a person open himself in ways which made him uncomfortable.
“The best work that anybody ever writes is the work that is on the verge of embarrassing him,” Miller wrote in his book “The Courage to Write.”
I constantly embarrass myself with what I write here. I’m confessing things which I don’t really want you to know, but which I desperately need to confess. Being able to confess — and hoping to be understood in some small way — lets me go out into the world the rest of the time and accept the fact that I won’t be understood elsewhere.
So I will continue to confess my fears and faults and deep needs to you here. I will continue to be on the verge of embarrassing myself — sometimes even slipping over that line.
But I can take comfort in the fact that I am shouting my confessions to the world and almost nobody hears. I hope something in this act of confession is worthwhile to someone among the few who notice.