Who Are You Protecting When You Don’t Write?

“The page is no place, today, for what is pulling at my heart. Notebooks get misplaced; they lie around; they flip open in the wind. Who might see these pages, read them?  My heart is a secret place, especially now. The wide open plain of a page is a place with no boundaries, no etiquette, no conventions. How would I begin to lay the fervid, lumpy core of myself out there in the open where I myself could no longer shield my eyes from it? What might happen? It could bleed through, soak all the pages in the book, slop onto the floor, stain the carpet. It could make a mess so bad that no one could clean it up. I might still be there, scrubbing at the pentimento of its spillage, decades from now.”

–End Brock, in response to the prompt, “What’s pulling on your heart today?”

Who’s sitting on your shoulder telling you what you can and can’t say?

If the fear of having your work read by others is making you censor yourself, consider strategies for keeping your writing private. I’ve had students get safety deposit boxes, lock boxes, and locked file cabinets. Others have stored their writing notebooks or discs with a writing partner, a therapist or a friend.

Comments

  1. Ginger Fernandez says

    I ran into the problem of which you speak the problem of intruding upon my privacy just a few weeks ago. I keep a journal religiously always have always will. Not thinking I left my computer exposed to the prying eyes of my nosy Granddaughter. My journal is private so I thought. While I was sleeping my granddaughter of whom we will refer to as: {Fife} proceeded to ramble through my files. Well you know what that means. She was looking for something and unbeknownst to she her she hit the mother-load.
    The story precedes something like this; several years ago my daughter once again needed a place to stay. No matter how much I hate having unwanted guests I as usual allowed them to move in under the pretense of she moving out when she got her income tax within a few months time. Well you know the story she received her income tax, spent it and is still under my roof two years later.
    I had just inherited the property lock stock and barrel mere months before she lost her home. I hadn’t even had an opportunity to sift threw the things my Aunt left me when they piled her things in every available corner of my home. Now I can’t do any of the refurbishing I wanted to undertake.
    In the mean time she her man and children are not big on cleaning up. I am sure you can imagine how my home looks. It is a total mess. My home is a perfect candidate for the hoarders show.
    As each day passes my patience is growing thin. I am ready to throw in the towel. I can’t put it up for sale because they have done so much damage to the property I would have to pay somebody to take it off my hands. To top it off they don’t pay rent so I am living here in a house full of grown-ups with no gas, lights, or water. My life is like living in hell.
    At one point I was seeing a psychologist. Christine was coming to my home every Tuesday listening to me cry my eyes out through the indignity of my existence. It wasn’t long after their arrival they ran her off. My only outlet at that point was to write about everything and I do mean everything.
    To get back to the story at hand Fife went through my personal files and got just what she was looking for. I had written about every last indignity they put me through. Baby Girl got just what she needed; a heavy dose of reality.
    Oh yeah I forgot to tell you Baby Girl has the nastiest attitude of any young girl alive. She feels that the world owes her something just because she is here and if you don’t do what she wants and with a smile she can talk to you any way she choose.
    Well ha ha the joke was on her. She read my work and discovered in no uncertain terms that she and her family is not welcome in my home. And to put the icing on the cake she found out she most of all in unwanted.
    My thinking on the matter of prying eyes intruding upon my privacy is: if you look through my things and find something that hurts your fragile feelings then you shouldn’t have put your grubby little paws on my computer. Don’t get me wrong I love my Grand daughter with all my heart, but as for liking her. I have no reservations about my feelings. I wouldn’t spend one waking second around if at all possible. In my opinion she needs an attitude adjustment. Actually she needs to run up into an immovable object without her mom to fall back on. She will soon learn that she is the one who needs to make a change.

    • Tammy Tucker Weston says

      Ginger your granddaughter just learned a hard lesson. If you look hard enough you may just find what you hoped you wouldn’t. Hopefully she will also learn to respect others. I write out of frustration a lot, I would hate for anyone to read it. If I died, some would think I died hating them. Make sure everything you write for you.. and your own healing….is hidden well.

  2. Theresa Parrish says

    When I sit down and open my notebook, I’m never alone. My husband is cuddled up on my right, peering with great interest at every word I form, hoping to be mentioned in a positive light, scared to death I will reveal something horrific — a love affair perhaps, or a plan to leave him. He is joined before long by my parents who really don’t want to look but can’t help themselves. I might express a liberal political view, or discuss my sex life, or — God forbid — my pre-marital sex life! I might mention my loving relationship with my brother’s only daughter, whom they haven’t spoken with for over 25 years. Or I might write about my liberal religious views, including but not limited to my rejection of Christianity in all its forms. They don’t want to see these things in print. Any portion of it would constitute grounds for my dismissal from the family. Still, I make room for them every single time I apply pen to paper. And now I’m bringing in the nuns who were my teachers at Catholic grade school. They are the sex police for sure! They don’t like it when I admit to having a body, much less a female body, much less a body that likes to cavort with other bodies.

    “Other bodies?” my husband asks. “Don’t you mean just MY body?”

    “Who could possibly enjoy their body?” That’s mom. “The whole mess is just a curse and frankly I’m still surprised you didn’t get pregnant in high school the way you and John carried on. Shame on you!”

    They’re getting noisier by the minute and I’m tempted to put my pen down and close the damned notebook forever. But then I see her, sitting a few feet away, off to my left. It’s my darling daughter, Gina. Unlike the others who are falling over each other to catch a glimpse of the page, she sits quietly, patiently, her chin cupped in her hand like she’s ready for a long wait. “I’d love to read that sometime, Mother,” she says. “I’ve always been curious about your writing.”

    “Any time, my dear, sweet daughter. Any time.”

  3. Jean West says

    They don’t all fit on my shoulder, since I’m a product of the time and places in which I was reared, and my family, my religious upbringing, and my culture. I could go into a long recitation for any single one of them, but I’m not. It’s not because I’m muzzled. It’s quite the contrary. I buy fully into the concept of audience. When I write for me, it’s no holds barred, nothing’s off the table. I encrypt the file and password-protect and there you go. However, when I am in my public voice mode, I consider my audience. In my adult-targeted Civil War mysteries, there is a great deal of violence and gore, because it was America’s bloodiest war and there’s no gilding that lily. There’s been little sex and strong language in the stories simply because I’ve tried to write from the middle-class Victorian perspective, respecting the mind-set of the era, trying to avoid projecting modernity backwards and doing a historical revisionist number. Do I try to write for every audience? No. I’ve been blessed with a life free of great loss, abuse, or want and cannot write about those topics with any authority or truth. I try to write from what I know and feel passionate about, especially the interaction with people I’ve experienced through teaching and travel. There’s little enough time to write everything I would wish to write so whether it’s called self-censorship or focus, I practice it without qualm.

  4. Lisa Bulman Taylor says

    I write fiction. I write fiction because I do not care who reads it. There is no one to protect or shelter. I don’t have anyone or anything to censor the words that go onto the page. I can be whomever I want at any particular time or place. I can be whatever I choose. The words tumble out of my mind onto the keyboard, creating realities that could be or should be or never were or never should have been. I write for the sheer love of writing.

    I write non-fiction. I write about my life, its pains, its sorrows, its injustices as well as the beauties and glories I have discovered along the journey. I write about my thoughts, my experiences, my hopes and my beliefs. This writing is more difficult. Between my mind and my keyboard sit a number of censors, creatures built out of fear and shame and doubt. They are the two-headed demons that whisper barely legible affirmations out of one mouth and ear-splitting criticism from the other. They are being birthed, are dying off, and are being born anew with each new passing day. These censoring devils are your children. They are my children. They are everyone I ever knew or will know. They are people I have never met and may never meet. They are demons of evil intent. They are demons of malcontent. They are demons of misintention. Love, hate, indifference… each comes with a new censorious bedevilment.

    Edward Bulwer-Lytton coined the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword” but when it comes to those demons between my ears, the pen is the only weapon in a fight for freedom from darkness. Each new bloody word spills light into my soul. I write for the sheer necessity of writing.

  5. Paula Hill says

    I’ve realized through this writing prompt the roots for my not creatively writing all of these years….It has to do with a particular memory over-lurking from a personal theft I hoisted a half-century ago…..ah, ha….protection from my own self….and loss…..ONCE….

    Once, in my own long ago, I stole an idea…..an idea conveyed to me from a friend, a young girl with the most beautiful voice I’d ever heard sing. She was lovely, very feminine with large deep blue eyes, had the skin of smooth pearl, and wore, in the style of the day, a long thick blonde ponytail, tightly drawn to the middle of the back of her head. In the mid-50’s, we were around 11-years old and shared a fifth grade class together. Joie Kincaid… I was smitten with her gifts and popularity; the boys had their own ways of admiration.

    Joie and I were in Girl Scouts. We were fortunate to have a leader and co-leaders, mothers to a few girls in our troop, who led us on exciting and long camping adventures. It was a two-week trip to Yosemite where Joie and I shared a tent together. We gathered stones, making a two-sided border along a path that led to our tent. Plants and pinecones were placed ceremoniously in various places of deference around our temporary nest. We spoke the secret language of “gibberish” to each other without sharing our “knowledge” to any others. She enjoyed hiking, as I did, and though she didn’t seem to be as boy-crazy as some in our group (which included me), the boys would gravitate towards her like the sun’s light upon the Full Moon in the evening time.

    Joie and many of the other girls in our troop were comfortable in the elite levels of elementary school society. I was agile, quick-bodied and coordinated, but very skinny and buck-toothed in those days. High self-esteem was not a gift bestowed on me. I can’t remember anyone that could have matched my shy demeanor. To have the friendship of Joie was surprising to me, but in remembrance, I shined the most brightly under her wings of camaraderie.

    We were rather inseparable, or at least, I felt inseparable from Joie in school. I don’t remember visiting her home, nor she mine, except for maybe a birthday party or two. I do recall a feeling of a less-than-perfect familial bond, a subtle cloud veiling a secret or two within the confines of her rather silent demeanor and voice.

    She remained an important friend up to 7th grade….We shared a choir class with one of my favorite, most influential and kindest of teachers, Miss Wynant. Joie and I were in the soprano section. The difference was my favorite friend was the main soloist in voice. I was a novel type of soloist. The choir teacher gave me a unique part that entailed using my hands. I was situated in the uppermost corner of the soprano section, and while I sang with the group, my hands moved expressively to the music with a black light illuminating my white-gloved hand movements. The song we sang was “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”. Miss Wynant’s kindness in giving me a significant part was her way to draw my shy nature out by letting the light shine solely on my hands while the choir, including the rest of my body and face, remained in darkness. It was a way to allow me center-stage attention without the unfortunate side effect of freezing in fright which I would have otherwise done. More than likely, Joie sang the solo with her amazing angelic voice, a spotlight cast upon her, while my hands danced, and the rest of the choir hummed in harmonic darkness. However, in memory, I’m not precisely sure.

    I can’t recall my English teacher’s name nor looks, but he was male and middle-aged. It was his class, the one other that Joie and I shared in 7th Grade. One day he gave an assignment that entailed writing a short fictional piece. I had written poetry, various reports, interviews and such, and had gained some recognition as a budding writer. Looking back, I never put much credence in that skill, but, nevertheless, the new assignment threw a curve ball towards me. I was stumped, frozen with no creative ideas of my own from which to begin the project. I worried myself into a new-for-me emotional experience, uncoined, but a definite frustration which metamorphosed into a dire fear of failure. At wit’s end, I expressed my feelings to Joie, and somewhere in our conversation she shared her idea she was using for her fictional piece, unwritten at the time.

    The days advanced to the night before the assignment was due. I had no ideas. Fiction was not my gift. I thought of Joie’s idea, and began my writing. I was awake through most of the night completing the story. Thinking it quite dumb, I turned in my stapled short story along with the rest of the class. Without reading the assignments, our teacher began picking at random from the stack and reading out loud a few of his student’s works. Oh my gawd! He chose mine first and began to read….I was in anguish. Joie and I shared a desk in the middle row. As I sat next to her and listened to my mediocre story from the mouth of our teacher, I sank inside myself. I shrunk to a depth so deep, I haven’t contemplated it much until this day, fifty years later. My story was written in the detail of outline to Joie’s. I had stolen from her. She had wanted to write about a nightmarish event that occurred from which towards the end of the story, the protaganist awoke from a dream. Just as the reader would be relieved, the main character arises from the bed from which the dream took place only to have the beginning of the dream unfold in real life….and it ended there. The idea was 7th grade brilliant, my story undistinguished. Joie’s story was not read to the class that day, and I never asked to read hers. Joie…never….said…a word. My shame broke our bond. I could never look her in the eyes.

    The next year, I heard rumors that Joie was hanging out with the “fast” crowd. They would sneak out and go to dances where our age group was prohibited. Later, I heard she was starting to drink, and then horror-of-horrors in the beginning years of the “Sixties”, smoking marijuana. I believe she eventually got pregnant, never to be seen in our hallways of high school again.

    I have at times wondered what happened to Joie. Did her bright-lighted spirit find a way to use her charismatic gifts beyond the early high school years? Did motherhood suit her to give offspring that through evolution and ancestral talents advanced into the world?

    I have Joie to thank….I learned to never steal again. Any writer’s talent was stunted from that day forward though it did get me through college. Perhaps I didn’t major in literature nor journalism because I never made amends to Joie. I’ve struggled in life in finding my niche beyond the fulfillment of motherhood. I wonder and find hope that it’s not too late to find my whiff in the wind……perhaps Joie found hers……

  6. Tempered Ashes says

    I am protecting you–and me I am protecting the angels–and the demons I am protecting myself like I never have before–and never will again I am protecting the useless amblings of my soul that feel so hurt that they will never be heard again. I am protecting you from my banter, my craziness and general lack of sense

  7. Bobbie Anne says

    I used to journal nearly every day. I had a diary when I was young with a lock. It broke. Family members read it. I journaled in notebooks. My parents and siblings still read what I wrote. They were abusive. I didn’t stop journaling. My sister read what I wrote and wrote mean comments, I still journaled. I journaled when I was physically abused by family members. I kept journaling. My father called me “the reporter”. I journaled some more. I journaled to keep me healthy mentally. I journaled to keep me sane. I journaled when I got hit. My husband wanted to know if I wrote about him. I journaled when I was sick. I journaled when I got raped.. The criminal got away with it, so I wasn’t protecting anyone, I was journaling as if my life depended on it. Sometimes, it seemed, it did. Much to my dismay, after I got hurt, I did stop. I was hurt in a few accidents over the years, and I eventually did stop journaling. I’m going to go back to it. I’m not protecting anyone, including myself. If what I write gets read that is personal, so be it. It has happened before. The truth isn’t pretty sometimes, but it needs to be told. So I will get back to journaling. It’s what I did. It what I will do again. I just took a break. I can pick up my pen anytime. Don’t worry, I will.

  8. Tempered Ashes says

    I’m protecting the nighttime sky, the willows who refuse to hear and the laughing game that just kept going on and on. I’m protecting the little turtles who scream so loudly that only a bank river could sweep them under the rug. I’m protecting the laughter of the little ones–and the big ones but most of all i’m protecting you! I’m protecting you from me–you see, I’m a demon I was brought here to wreak havoc on the kind souls whose only wish is to live. I’m a demon that entered a little girl at the age of 8 and refused to leave. I’m a demon that took over her body and decided to camp out there for a while. I’m a demon that laughs when you cry, aches when you are happy and shivers when you are cold–or hot. I’m a demon that excarcates lampates grinnates (you know what i mean–ha ha–i’m a demon!)
    Now I’m a vestin-an evil little gnome that takes pleasure in your pain (I hope that one day you see me so that I can finally reveal myself to the world and stop hiding…)
    now i’m just a beast. I used to amble here and there. . at times.. (and now all I do is laugh since I know I’ve won–I won over her soul and I will never give it back to her–I’ve WON!!)
    Now I’m a little girl again–pure as the driven snow–waiting to hear from the demons again- hoping that I don’t though.
    Goodbye.

  9. says

    nsightful thoughts here. Are you certain this is the best way to appear at it though? My encounter is that we ought to pretty a lot live and let live because what one person thinks just another person simply doesnt. Individuals are going to do what they want to do. In the end, they always do. The most we can yearn for is to highlight a few issues here and there that hopefully, allows them to make just just a little better informed decision. Otherwise, fantastic post. Youre certainly making me think! Barry

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