I went out for happy hour with some good girlfriends. Sweet Julie always asks, “What are you writing these days?” and so I talked a bit about the essay in progress (“Can I Be Absolved of Gentrification?” that went up on Medium.com later in the evening).
What I didn’t discuss: my halting fear about publishing it.
Spilling Your Guts by Writing
Within every author lives private vs public dichotomy. Letting loose words and ideas, molding thought into phrases, opening a window into one’s psyche: soul-searchingly private. Writers go deep to ponder, structure, craft, and polish content.
By committing inner explorations onto paper or screen, we’ve begun a fraught journey. We’ve launched that private craft into the stormy public sea. Who wouldn’t be afraid of such a potentially disastrous voyage? Why set out at all?
Writers crave an audience, readers who grant safe passage to that public landfall. Somewhere in the anonymous void, people are (possibly) reading. Often, that vast potential readership exists in a lonely sea of silence. Is anybody really out there? And then, just as frightening as that lack of response is sad, there’s–shudder–feedback.
Online Comments Can Get Scary
In case you haven’t noticed, media (yep; published writing like my blog) is under attack. Internet trolls, the U.S. government, and generally angry folk savage writers with impunity. Civil political discussion and actual conversation among people who disagree…well, when was that last time you (happily) experienced an interaction with an ideological opposite?
[Here’s where we quietly reflect on Facebook for a moment.]
Hateful comments are today’s blood sport. Much like chumming the water for sharks, publishing online has the potential to get very, very ugly.
Connections Through Writing
At SXSW 2017, I was excited to hear author Jessica Luther again. Luther wrote Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape and, while her presentation was good, my true fan girl moment came afterward, when she signed my book. We chatted just a bit, and I asked how she managed the negative feedback women sports writers endure. “Therapy,” she answered with a dark chuckle. (Her next book, How to Love Sports When They Don’t Love You Back, is due out in 2018. That will be another timely one, won’t it?)
That kind of online harassment Luther experienced got called out in a Twitter thread, #MoreThanMean. Men reading hateful online comments in person to female journalists was meant to make the hurt “real.” Yeah, OK, but here’s a thought: let’s just slay the trolls and skip the mansplaining theatre, shall we?
And then there’s racism, America’s most pressing issue. The U.S. is careening toward a critical choice: change or implode. Ever the patriotic optimist, I’m counting on change.
When systemic racism is addressed and intersectionality embraced, I firmly believe our country will overcome many of its economic, health, and quality of life issues… and life, for all citizens, will be better.
Prior to 2015, my blog is pretty devoid of racial commentary. Then, on June 17, 2015, nine Black churchgoers were murdered. Since publishing “Charleston: Hate and Terrorism in America,” I’ve written eight more essays that specifically address racism (and that number again on feminism). That’s a huge shift for someone who’s focused on workouts and healthy living. But truly: is America healthy while racism runs rampant?
Despite my convictions, I’m scared to publish personal thoughts on this divisive issue. On one hand, attacks by racist would be hideous. On the other, knee-jerk judgements because I’m white would be awful, too. Is my skin thick enough for trolls of both stripes? Is it possible to publicly explore racism without fear?
I took a deep breath before publishing that gentrification essay. Like any writer, I waited anxiously for some sign; had I’d touched a nerve, sparked conversation, invoked an invective? Then, an unexpected connection from somewhere in that wide audience sea.
Since our initial Twitter interaction, I’ve looked for and read Dowling’s recommendations and pieces. Our conversation continues (OK, it’s a little one-sided right now, since he’s not totally cognizant of me, this tiny speck of an audience). Maybe, just maybe, I don’t have to fear publishing my opinions quite so much.