Why do I blog?

My therapist thinks in writing online I'm reliving the experience of being unheard

Published February 9, 2011 1:20AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I want to think out loud with you for a minute. This isn't a big problem like some you get here, but I would like to hear your thoughts.

OK -- I've had an online journal for about seven years; I write pretty much every day, sometimes more than once. I process my life there. I'm currently in intensive psychotherapy, and my therapist seems to think my semi-public journal is evidence of my inability to protect myself, to understand what is private and what is public. Initially I resisted her stance; I told myself she's older, it's probably a generational thing, she just doesn't understand. But it made me uncomfortable that she commented on it. That discomfort has not gone away, so I've been thinking about it.

We talked about how I write about very raw, vulnerable things in my journal and rarely does anyone comment, even though I can tell (by a counter) that people are reading. She commented that it seems like I am living out the same dynamic I had in my family; I'm having pain and wanting someone to notice, yet no one does. She thinks I am retraumatizing myself. At least part of me thinks maybe she's right, but I don't want to give up writing every day, and for some reason, I want some (selected) people to read it. No one I have regular contact with in real life reads it, which is also odd; I find it easier to be real and open about myself with strangers than with people actually in my life.

How do writers deal with this? Wanting to protect and respect one's own boundaries, yet feeling as though they want to be revealed somehow as well? How do you deal with it? What are your thoughts on Internet relationships? Not talking about dating, as much as the "relationships" that can form on blogs.

The forum I journal in creates the sort of intimacy that my therapist thinks is false. I still am trying to put these in a category for myself. I know they feel differently from face-to-face relationships. I detest feeling like I'm being put on a pedestal or that someone is being nice to me instead of being honest, things that this Internet intimacy seems to breed. But does that mean the relationship of reader-writer is all fake?

It feels like I am asking more than one question, but maybe not. Any thoughts would be great.

Thank you.

Publicly Private

Dear Publicly Private,

When I have crafted something colorful that seems to cage my pain and then I carry it through the streets like an exotic bird, I do not need people to walk up to me and tell me they see the bird. They see it. I know they see it because I walk by them carrying the bird in the cage, holding it aloft.

You know people are seeing what you write because you read the hits counter. Your knowing that they see it makes it real, does it not? Is that not what we want, to know in our hearts that what we wrote is being seen?

Do we need people to say it?

Now, I must also say, in my case, it is thrilling to receive letters from people who have noticed the smallest details of plumage, gradations of iridescence you assumed were for your delectation alone, or people who have had extraordinary moments of ecstasy looking at this caged bird of pain. It is extraordinary, and sometimes nearly erotic, when someone tells you what your words have meant, as though you had whispered those words into that person's ear.

My guess is that you are doing something sacred, which you must continue to do.

Technology has given you the ability to share certain things in a certain way with certain people. You can sit in a darkened chamber and speak your words and someone on the other side is hearing them and sometimes responding. Not always. But you know your words are heard. And this satisfies something in you.

Here you are in your cell all alone and the torture of loneliness is unbearable. Then you discover someone in the cell next door. So you communicate. Of course you do. Who wouldn't?

So why are you in the cell? Does your psychotherapist not believe that we are in cells and we need to communicate with the strangers in the cells adjacent? Maybe she has a loving family with whom she communicates so she does not need to tap out messages on the wall. Maybe she thinks the ideal for all of us is to bring our families into our cells and stop tapping on the walls.

But how are we to find this perfect family to whom we do not need to speak in code? How are we to overcome our loneliness? Perhaps she is saying that instead of tapping on the walls you should be plotting your escape. But how is that done? How are we to escape?

Is she saying that this blogging is a substitute for some more robust and life-giving activity you would engage in instead if you weren't so pathological? That it's like an addiction? That it's a sickness?

Well, OK, writing is a sickness but a sickness that heals.

Is she saying that tapping on the walls is a bad habit and we should look for an alternative? And what alternative will give us the satisfaction of tapping on the walls and hearing an occasional tap back?

Is she saying you are shirking duty? Is there some duty to family and country that you ought to be discharging?

Well, OK, I think your therapist is probably brilliant and sees things we don't see. She is urging you to look into certain horrific corners. She is urging you toward the edge, to look there, to see what is roaring silently at your throat. Bless her. But maybe this is how you edge up to these horrific corners. Maybe this is your way of approaching the beast.

Really what we are talking about is an evolving cultural practice. It is changing what constitutes a relationship.

We are all pen pals.

We are all prisoners. We are all doing time. We are all tapping on the walls late at night waiting for answers from distant cells.

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By Cary Tennis

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