Becoming real through journal & memoir writing

(July 12/16)

“It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become [real]. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."                              (Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit)


Reading an article in “brainpickings[1]” about being versus appearing, and our tendency towards self-display, started me thinking about all the ways we exhibit ourselves these days. Instagram, Selfies, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, YouTube, WhatsApp and Medium are just a few of the social media sites we use for this purpose. I say “represent” because when we depend on these sites to communicate, let’s face it, we all want to portray what we consider to be our best selves as defined by the pop culture of the day; people we envision to be us.


Imagine the possibility of interrupting the act of your creation to make small edits before you are born. Let’s cross out that terrible temper and dot that beautiful smile. This, in essence, is what we do before we post ourselves on a social media. As Sherry Turkle, MIT professor and long-time researcher of the impact of social media on human interactions says,  it’s highly unlikely that we would post anything that we wouldn’t want pinned to our company bulletin board[2].


On a personal level I wonder about the dangers, “selfies,” pose to my ability to disentangle 📷the real me from the “selfie,” Facebook or LinkedIn me.  If I repeatedly tell myself that the me I present on social media platforms is authentic, will I lose touch with the real self? The very complex and multi-dimensional me formed by what Virginia Woolf refers to as the “cotton wool” of life; all of the forces—cultural, spiritual, institutional—that make us who we are. Cornell University professor and literary theorist Jonathan Culler might refer to the social media me as the “performative me.” Just through the act of performing an alternate me, he might contend, I “make it so” as Star Trek’s Jean Luc used to say. In essence, I am birthing a new, more perfect me, as defined by the social media group to which I would like to belong.


It sounds like a harmless activity. Why shouldn’t we all have virtual selves that we can form and alter through a remote controller, er mouse? Actually there is no particular reason—except for the fact that we would be living someone else’s life. We would become “person clay” molded by our social media group’s idea of what we should be. In the process we sacrifice the identities that would normally unfold as we negotiate the dips and dives of the “cotton wool” forces that make us real, that make us unique.  We become virtual characters with our lips and tongues programmed by confused and anchor-less personalities, selves that become increasingly anxious due to the lack of integration of the real person, versus the posted person. That makes us run to our computers whenever a moment of self-doubt—otherwise known as a growth experience—presents itself.  Just as the fictional Velveteen Rabbit seemed afraid of becoming real, it is perhaps our fear of the self-growth pain associated with becoming real that causes us to cling to our virtual selves, safely tucked behind a social media wall.

You may wonder why I discuss this topic on a blog devoted to memoir and journal writing. 📷While the solution to this modern day schizophrenia is much bigger than I can deal with in a simple blog, I can pass on some advice offered to me by a wise teacher: If you find yourself in somebody else’s life, get out!


Journal and memoir writing offer a way out, a path to a more integrated and anchored you.  The devices of memoir and techniques of journaling can help you drill down to the actual stuff of your being and untangle the real, versus virtual you.  The techniques are designed by journal writing pioneer Kathleen Adams to offer you multiple perspectives—from both your conscious and unconscious—which bring new awareness’s into being and assist in clarifying/exploring you in safe and supportive workshops offered by Life's all Write.


If you would like to try a self-discovery workshop drop me an email at smcleay@lifesallwrite.com. I love hearing from my journal writing tribe.


[1] Popova, Maria. Brainpickings. Viewed on: https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/10/14/hannah-arendt-life-of-the-mind-being-appearing/

[2] Turkle, Sherry. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age. Penguin Press: New York, 2015.

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