vulnerability in writing

September 18, 2013

book publishing, quote-worthy

When I’m afraid to publish something, online or otherwise, I run through a cursory checklist, trying to pinpoint the origin of my discomfort. Does it fall into the “what will people think of me?” category? Do I fear it’s just another thing for people to throw shit at? Am I violating someone’s privacy? Am I telling their story instead of my own? Is it my story to tell? What will the consequences be? Is this something I’d say to the person, in person?

I write about a lot of embarrassing things, honest things. Things I don’t like about myself, about my husband, about my friendships, about my relationships with my parents and sometimes even my in-laws, though I shy away from this lately because I know they will be deeply hurt.

Recently, in my blog writing, I haven’t been authentic. I’ve been avoiding. Fearing I will hurt people, fearing I’ll be judged, fearing I’ll give up too much information, and I can’t take it back. When I want to write about something hard I am dealing with, my children for example, I fear that it may one day bite them in the ass. Putting information out there about your child’s strengths and, more so, relative weaknesses, and writing about my personal dilemma on how to move forward, what to do, document my experience in mothering my way through it–I don’t fear judgment of myself, not at all, but one day of my children, or their own reactions to my choice to share my life, and by extension theirs.

I’ve said this before, my husband Phil is the most secure person I know. When people were telling me to stop writing this blog, back when I was documenting my dating life, because no man would want to read all the TMI details I share, and even if he was fine with it, his mother wouldn’t be, I knew that the right man for me wouldn’t give a shit what other people thought. Phil found me via this here blog, and he wasn’t shy in letting me know that he thought it was awesome, the way I was able to put it out there, lump sum, direct and raw, however fleeting a feeling was. Since then, I’ve documented fights and fears, writing authentically, without Phil having a chance to truly tell his side of things, and we’ve read it all. Divorce him! Leave her already! You two deserve each other! He’s the worst. You’re the worst. You’re spoiled, self-centered, a whole lot of projection and judgment. And, I can take it. Phil can take it. The blog is an outlet, but it’s not how we communicate with each other. It’s my destination, a place for me to air my thoughts, however one-sided or limited. One day I agree forcefully with what I write. Another day, the emotions have passed. I don’t believe I’m superior or inferior to anyone else, nor do I believe that Phil is inferior or superior to me. It all comes out in the wash.

The truth is that the minute I start to worry what people will think, how people will react, is the minute my writing stops being authentic. It’s never designed to hurt anyone. I realize of course that it absolutely 100% will of course sometimes hurt. But it’s never my intention. I’m not malicious. I am respectful when people ask me not to write something, not to post something. I don’t then, of course. I never write things I wouldn’t say to someone’s face. Overall, when I run through the cursory checklist, I always measure my responses against this one metric: am I being authentic? Is this my truth, my feeling, however fleeting, however wrong, is this how I feel right now? If it is, then I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and push “Publish.”

“I think there’s a difference in being vulnerable about yourself when you blog and slashing and burning your mate.”

I don’t see a difference. Because if I’m being honest, truthful about how I’m feeling, however wrong, however entitled, it’s still sharing my authentic experience, detailing what’s in my thoughts, what has me feeling as I do at any given moment, and my struggle in dealing with those thoughts, working my way through the conflict of wanting to shove myself in a bathroom stall for even having the thoughts, and my courage to share that these thoughts even exist… that is vulnerability. Knowing I’m going to be dumped on for admitting that I care, that although Phil tries tries tries his very best to please me, that I still feel disappointed, that’s not a good feeling to have or to share. Admitting it takes courage. Writing a comment stating as much takes the same amount of courage. It’s why I always welcome people to share their thoughts on such subjects. Because I realize that my perspective is mine alone, and I want to grow, to hear from others. It helps. Support helps, so does criticism when it’s meant with love, which is mostly the case on this blog, aside from anonymous comments intended to lash out only.

“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.” — Franz Kafka

“If we are not ashamed to think it, we should not be ashamed to say it.” — Cicero

“If an offense come out of the truth, better is it that the offense come than that the truth be concealed.” –Thomas Hardy

“Women have often felt insane when cleaving to the truth of our experience. Our future depends on the sanity of each of us, and we have a profound stake, beyond the personal, in the project of describing our reality as candidly and fully as we can to each other.” –Adrienne Rich

Things are going to change around here. I’m going back to posting my real life. Which yes, includes posts about makeup and beauty and fashion, too. But also the day to day feelings, however temporary. The only bit I’m on the fence about is how much to share with regard to my children, sharing their own specifics. I do not, however, worry about how they’ll one day feel about the things I write about myself or my relationship with their father. That’s my truth alone, one they may or may not like. I hope to raise them to respect that there’s a difference between authenticity and “the truth.” I hope to raise children who mimic what I do, who live boldly and authentically, without fear of what that may look like to others.

30 Responses to “vulnerability in writing”

  1. Kathy Says:

    “I don’t see a difference. Because if I’m being honest, truthful about how I’m feeling, however wrong, however entitled, it’s still sharing my authentic experience, detailing what’s in my thoughts, what has me feeling as I do at any given moment, and my struggle in dealing with those thoughts, working my way through the conflict of wanting to shove myself in a bathroom stall for even having the thoughts, and my courage to share that these thoughts even exist… that is vulnerability”

    Stephanie, I have to disagree with you. Unless Phil is some sort of automaton, there will always be some part of him that feels slighted and hurt by you airing your critiques (no matter how many times he tells you that he can handle it…he is human after all).

    Just because you feel this is your outlet to be authentic and vulnerable doesn’t make it right. Period.

    Through the years I’ve read your site, I’ve never understood why you cannot understand this and the importance of sanctity in your relationships with others.

    Reply

    • erose Says:

      I get the impression that Phil is more than capable of asserting himself if he feels that he has been unfairly treated or portrayed. If she wants to write about her feelings, and the two of them are ok with it, I don’t see why it should bother the reader. I like reading her personal posts because they are relatable. It’s nice to know that we all think and feel these things that most people are afraid to vocalize.

      Reply

  2. erose Says:

    This is so refreshing to read. I’ve missed your more personal posts, and I am excited to see that they will be returning. I’m sure it is hard to know what to share sometimes, and to take all the crap you take for it, but lots of us love reading what you have to share. I really appreciate your authenticity, for the good and the bad.

    Reply

  3. Jennifer Says:

    Keep it real!

    Reply

  4. 3 teens' mom Says:

    I, too, am excited to read this post. Authentic is what brought us all to you, and brings us all back.

    And FWIW, I vote that you use a heavy hand when deleting the ridiculous anonymous comments. None of us likes to see that kind of spewing of vitriol, and by deleting them before they hit the blog, we can keep the conversations civilized and authentic.

    Reply

  5. Carol Cassara Says:

    Stephanie, I get that you don’t see a difference. But, there is one. Authenticity that comes at the expense of someone else, whether you think he is hurt or not, is not really authenticity. I am just not a big believer in the “I was only being honest!” excuse for causing pain. There IS such a thing as TMI, info too personal to be blogged about. I completely get that you don’t see this.

    You’re just venting, but you don’t see that’s what it is. And for some reason, you want an audience.

    A good writer could write about your disappointment in gift giving, the high standards you have etc without making Phil out to be an idiot. This is entirely possible and I could rewrite it that way and it would be even more authentic because it’s about YOU and not making Phil out to be a loser. Since you’re a good writer, you should have been able to do this. You CAN do this.

    All struggles do not have to appear on the page in a way that hurts others. Authenticity is not a reasonable excuse for inflicting pain. Next time, try to write about YOU and not how Phil has let you down. Then let’s talk authenticity.

    I agree with Kathy. And of course, the “slash and burn” comment is mine.

    Reply

    • Jacks Says:

      I agree

      Reply

    • carolina Says:

      it fundamentally has to do with the fact that disappointment happens when expectations don’t match reality. fighting the present moment and what is is a waste of time and effort. if you focus on the bad, you amplify it in your life. if you focus on the good, you amplify the good. its all a choice.

      Reply

      • Stephanie Klein Says:

        “Fighting the present moment and what is is a waste of time and effort. If you focus on the bad, you amplify it in your life. If you focus on the good, you amplify the good. Its all a choice.” No one can argue that, of course. That’s all fine and good. But how do you manage expectations? “It fundamentally has to do with the fact that disappointment happens when expectations don’t match reality.” Given that logic, if you expect nothing (very low expectations), you’re likely to project nothing. Shouldn’t “if you expect the best to happen, it will” reign supreme given this projection theory?

        Reply

  6. Michelle Says:

    Good for you, Stephanie. I admire someone that can be blunt about how they feel, completely personal and raw, and not hide between the nicety. And really, the saying is overused, but it is your blog and your right to say whatever you want. If people don’t like it, don’t read it. I, for one, will be reading it because I like hearing your thoughts and your opinions, even if I don’t always agree.

    Reply

  7. shortcake Says:

    Your tag line says it all. These are stories of “your” life. And you are a mother and wife. That is your life. I don’t think you have to try to figure out what authentic is. It just is you and what you write when you really feel whatever you are writing about. You do this blog for you and at the end of the day (or decade), you have these recorded for you to look back on, to relish, to reminisce. I love your writing, but we are just bystanders to your life. Please just keep doing what you love and what makes you happy.

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  8. Liz Says:

    I have never understood your detractors and their constant berating. Stop being so brutally honest! Stop telling us the raw truth! You should be hiding and concealing your life and your thoughts!

    Why is everyone SO damn offended by your honesty? Let me guess, there is a time and a place for such revealing dialogue and that place is…NOT a personal BLOG?? Hmm.

    Phil can take care of himself. He is not the poor, castrated victim the commenters believe him to be. Remember: He fell in love with the writing and the woman that you are now saying has no right to write the way that…Phil loves.

    Stephanie is not catty and mean. She does not say, “OMG you guyzzz my hubs is such a douche!” and search for cheers. She basically shares the same thoughts that every last one of us have had in the privacy of our brains, and yes, they can appear ugly when seen right there on the screen for God and everyone to see. (Yes, I have cringed, too). But we all think them, and she is the only one with the balls to say it out loud. Does that make you uncomfortable? Do you wish maybe you had a fraction of the gumption that this woman has? Because you don’t.

    People. This is literally the essence of what Stephanie is. She cannot NOT write this way, and why should she have to? Newsflash: no one else writes this way. So go read every other 20 million shit blogs full of rosy family portraits, inspirational messages and product shills. They are everywhere, go find them and read them and feel good about how censored they are. Let Stephanie do what she does, which is what NO ONE else does. If you know anyone else who writes as vulnerably and revealingly as Stephanie, please leave a link and I will be there.

    I do not personally know Stephanie, just been reading her for maybe 8 years and I GET IT. I GET HER. It’s not TMI, it’s a human being sharing herself with the world in the way that most feeds her soul. If you don’t like what she shares, then why are you here? She said she is only happy when she is authentic, so who are you to tell any random person to change the way they write? Just…leave. Simple as that.

    Reply

  9. Julie Heimer Says:

    I suppose I find it curious that the people who tell you how to write, and scold you for how you choose to share with your audience remain here as readers. Is it that they enjoy judgement? You know Phil and your marriage better than they do, and yet here they are, with their ‘slash and burn’ opinions. Ironically, they can’t take their own advice, which seems to be “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say something at all.”
    I come here because I love memoirs, especially well written ones. I am grateful that you choose to share your stories with us. I don’t agree or relate to each little detail you share, and I don’t even know if we would hang out in real life. It doesn’t matter. It’s YOUR story. Carry on.

    Reply

  10. Rae Says:

    I don’t understand why so many people have an opinion about how you write your personal blog on your personal site. If they find it so offensive, or are horrified in how your portray your husband…don’t read. I mean, I find everything I see on FOX News offensive. Therefore, I don’t watch FOX news. Ever.

    Oh and sidenote – my husband is a total asshat when it comes to gifts. Seriously. I had the most disappointing 1st Mother’s Day that brought me to tears. Not because he didn’t spend enough money or buy jewelery (although jewelery would have been a nice memento to commemorate my first M-day), it’s because there was no more thought to it than his own mom’s. He got us the exact same thing. Worse – he asked me to help wrap his mom’s the night before. And one year for Christmas he got me (amongst other things) a hat, scarf and gloves set. But with one glove missing. When I inquired, he said “that’s how I bought it…it was 50% off because they only had one!” (said with pride too!). Now an intelligent gift giver, would have omitted the glove altogether and just wrapped the hat and scarf. But when it comes to gift-giving, my loving, kind, generous, sometimes unbelievably annoying, well-meaning husband is a total idiot. And I have no problem saying it. To you, to him, to his mother. And quite frankly, he would also admit that he just doesn’t have the brain power to think of a thoughtful gift.

    All that to say, keep writing. It’s your space. It’s your marriage. Phil is your better half and vent away. It’s really what keeps us from killing them.

    And as I say to my husband, just please don’t buy the gift the night before at the gas-station/pharmacy/grocery store. Can you at least TRY to show that you put some thought into it? I don’t think that makes me spoiled or entitled. Cook me a meal with my favourite things, buy me a bottle of wine and bubble bath and give me the night off from the toddler, write a lovely letter about how blessed you are to have our family, take me to our favourite cheap Thai place and you find a babysitter, clean the house (the bathroom too!). So many things that cost very little that just show you appreciate me.

    I totally get it.

    Reply

  11. sharon Says:

    It’s great today to see so many supporters. It’s like I said the other day, Stephanie writes what many women think and feel, but she says it out loud and most of us if we’re honest…relate. I’m happy you will continue writing what you feel and ignore those nay-sayers. A tweet I read just today:

    “If you’re one of those chicks who constantly posts quotes about what a good relationship is, I’m 99.9% sure you’re in a bad relationship.”

    I could not agree more!

    Reply

  12. Ulli Says:

    Can’t wait to read. I have always loved your courage in writing and will continue to do so. I haven’t always agreed, but I have always admired it. And I admire Phil for being the man he is and accepting you as the woman you are, the one who writes.

    Reply

  13. stacey Says:

    Long time reader here…..I enjoy all of your posts. You keep me coming back

    Reply

  14. therobynnest Says:

    Carol, writing about hypothetical things is not nearly as interesting as telling a story about Phil and the poly-nighties, complete with a side-by-side photo. I’m thrilled that she posted the picture and it didn’t even cross my mind that she was embarrassing him. He is old enough to know better, has plenty of money to buy nice things, and he sure knows who he married by now, doesn’t he? Maybe her love language is “gifts” and no amount of scolding is going to change that. I kind of think he was giving her material to write about, honestly.

    No one would leave comments that said, “Thank you so much for your generic story about gift-giving! I had such a laugh and felt like I was right there with you.”

    She’s a story teller. Let her be. It truly sounds like you are projecting your own needs into her relationship. People don’t read personal blogs to hear boring generic stories and people don’t marry blog writers without knowing they will be written about.

    Stephanie, this reminds me of my Mothers Day 2012, my first Mothers Day to two, and my husband did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Finally toward the end of the day I was like, “What the hell is your problem?” and he said, “What?! You keep telling me to ignore days like this so I didn’t do anything this time!” And I was like, “THAT’S VALENTINES DAY YOU IDIOT, NOT MOTHERS DAY!”

    Mother’s Day 2013 he came correct, teaching our children that it is by far the most important day of the year.

    Reply

  15. RzDrms Says:

    Longtime reader, infrequent commenter (mostly about how I wish it seemed that Phil treated you better as a fellow human and partner).

    I’ve *loved* and admired, more than any other writing, your fierce honesty. I think about that honesty periodically, particularly sometimes when I want to say how I feel about something or just want to let someone know something about me.

    Blunt. Truthful. Straightforward. Straight up and dirty.

    The line that has stuck with me for almost eight years (I had to search for it to quote it exactly) came from this post: http://stephanieklein.com/2006/01/scans/

    It was, “Then I use the corners of the pages to clean beneath my nails.”

    Around that time, I think, you also wrote about your relationship with Linus. Some of those entries still rattle around in my brain. (Is he still alive and with Leah? If so, I hope he’s well.)

    I love you, Stephanie.

    Reply

    • Stephanie Klein Says:

      That was so loving. Thank you. Yes, Linus is still the love of Lea’s life. And thank you for saying so. It truly means a lot.

      Reply

      • Karen Says:

        Just read the quote/link from RZ… Stephanie, picking your scalp and smearing it on the pages of a book? That is one of the most immature things I have ever heard, and gross. I cannot imagine any ‘writer’ doing that. I may have to re-evaluate my own reading of this blog.

        Reply

  16. Carol Cassara Says:

    Writers write for many reasons and one is to get reader response, which can be positive, negative, neutral, additive or just plain mean. I believe that all reader comments that aren’t mean-spirited have value, whether I agree with them or not. I suspect Stephanie doesn’t require every reader to agree.

    I’m in the camp that believes “just because I CAN write it doesn’t mean I should.”

    I get that people like hearing this stuff. There’s a certain voyeuristic enjoyment readers get from a window into a writer’s life, maybe the same kind that tabloid readers feel. Misery loves copany, I don’t know. I love a window into a writer’s life, but perhaps I suffer from an abundance of empathy — I wouldn’t want my love to write about me in certain ways, even with the excuse of “authenticity”.

    Stephanie will continue to write as she likes. I will continue to read her blog and books. And once in a while, I’ll give my opinion.

    Reply

  17. holly Says:

    I have been missing your real life posts. I have been reading your blog for quite a few years, since before we were both pregnant. I came here today to check and see how you were doing. You haven’t posted much and I have missed it. How are those kids? My oldest started kindergarten!

    To be real with you, my husband isn’t a great gift giver and I have been really hurt by it in the past. Not by the lack of a gift, but the lack of THOUGHT. It is sometimes sad to me that I have just lowered my expectations so that I’m not disappointed anymore. I feel like I either had to speak up or just accept the situation. FYI – I completely related to your post!

    Reply

  18. ruth stoops Says:

    these fashion posts certainly look like sponsored content. if so you need to disclose that.

    Reply

    • Stephanie Klein Says:

      They are NOT sponsored. I am always up front about which products I buy myself and also which products are sent to me. And I would of course be very up front about any sponsored content.

      I just know that personally, I am very interested in knowing which products the very top makeup artists rely on, beyond their own brand… which is why I’m passing it on.

      Reply

  19. Karen Says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for years… before the twins… just before The Suitor, so obviously I’m with ‘keepin’ it real’ and yet. I believe that there are boundaries. I’ve read things in your blog that, in my opinon, should only be told to good friends or perhaps a therapist. It’s up to you, though— we all have our different boundaries. I would agree with you that The Kids should be off limits. I think sharing too much about your children would not be a good idea in this age of Everything Being Out There. There’s a lot to be said for an age of innocence; they’ll eventually start their own, independent lives and can decide upon their own boundaries!

    Reply

  20. RzDrms Says:

    One other thing, re: writing honestly about your children and their behavior/lives/etc.:

    I always cringe and feel sad whenever I read bloggers’ posts about their children’s potty habits, quirks, psychological problems, etc. because I know that those same children’s future employers will — in some cases, in possibly just 5-10 years — begin searching their names online and finding out about their constipation, or their temper tantrum, or their feuds in which said child was clearly wrong, or their struggles, or their dyslexia, or their brief period of bullying, or… you get the point. HR groups will see these things and possibly extrapolate. It mortifies me to think about teenagers’ angst being written about for the entire world to see. Once it’s published, it’s out there, somewhere, accessible for those who really know how to search….

    While we’re all a product of so many various things in life, why balance the scale unnecessarily for a grown child trying to make it in this competitive world? Not every child will own her/his own business or be independently wealthy; many will work for companies with HR firms who research prospect employers. I’m eternally grateful that my own life wasn’t put on display for anyone to read at a later time. This doesn’t even go into future suitors who could use such normal childish behaviors against them. The reprocussions are, in my opinion, endless.

    On a slightly related note: I also have often recalled, and always admired, a statement you made in a blog post that I can’t find now. It was written either when you were pregnant or possibly when the children were very young. The gist was that you had no intentions of ever complaining about your children, of acting like they were these huge or difficult burdens, that you very much looked forward to motherhood and all its various challenges and joys. And you have stuck to that promise (at least online), and every time you’ve written about them, I’ve recalled it. That has amazed me and made me respect you, as a woman of her word and an example of a *good mother.* That’s not to say that complaining about one’s children makes one a bad mother. I meant that it makes you a good mother because you kept a promise about them, and for all these years.

    Please write whatever you do about them online with the thought of, “Could they proudly hand this post to an HR employee of a firm for which they hope to work, to a client they hope to gain, to a competitor who’s looking for something to use against them?”

    Reply

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