Bio Hazard

Post Date: August 4th, 2008

“Fiction is written not so much to inform as to find out, and if you force yourself into a mode of informing when you haven’t yet found out, you’re likely to end up pontificating or lying some other way.” — Janet Burroway

Welcome to my blog!

This will not be fiction, creative nonfiction, or personal biography. I’ll discuss the life of the craft, especially the how-to struggle behind my fiction writing, rather than the life of this writer. From time to time I’ll share anecdotes but only if I think it’s wise to post them. I first considered posting a detailed bio sharing everything from employment history to meditations on spirituality. Then I caught myself. Instead, if I show any cards, it will be for the sake of casting opinions about the life of the craft.

Blogging is cheap and easy, like talking, so the fast and verbose talkers like me will be especially tempted to spew. The small stuff like the pontificating blog post eats at the big stuff I should be doing – noveling, essaying, short-storying. Robert Frost said, “Talking is a hydrant in the yard and writing is a faucet upstairs in the house. Opening the first takes the pressure off the second.”

I want tremendous pressure roaring from that upstairs fiction faucet.

Then there’s the hazard of releasing too much personal life through that hydrant into the streets of cyberspace. Call it a bio hazard.

Excessively personal blogging sneezes all sorts of viral trivia out there. Now your family’s reaching for Purell and your friends, Airborne.

We wouldn’t stand on our front lawn shouting our most salacious thoughts. We wouldn’t stand up in a restaurant and yell details of a blind date. We wouldn’t rail against our mothers in a full-page ad. We wouldn’t post party plans with a limited guest list on every street corner.

Or do we?

There’s a scene in the movie Me and You and Everyone We Know where the creepy neighborhood guy places huge raunchy signs in his front window directed at passing teen girls – and anyone else who cares to notice. If not a symbol of certain blogs, this scene makes you think about the current urge to confess and rant. The zeitgeist demands you knock aside the confessional and priest and let the whole church in on your business.

Or try this metaphor: snap a bedroom shot of our brains and what you get is bad photos, terrible lighting, the worst of angles…Or how about this one: the glimpse of a neighbor at night before blinds are drawn – only picture that same neighbor staying to vogue and ape at you, fly open, bra slipping.

But online it’s somehow okay.

In the movie No Country for Old Men, Tommy Lee Jones’ character laments, “It all started with bad manners” – “it” being drugs and homicide. Lest you think he’s indulging a kind of grumpy-old-man hyperbole, invoke the image of Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park fluttering his fingers to emulate a butterfly’s wings. If we open our own little doors online to gossip and retaliate, we risk treading on the feelings of hundreds. Thousands; heck, why not butterfly effect it into the millions? (Personally, I’ll be satisfied if a few friends and family check in!)

If you have no shame and no manners, why should anyone else?

Suddenly you find yourself mudwrestling with strangers.

You’re a *%#*@ idiot.

– Anonymous.


Thanks, #@%$^&. Right back atcha.

— Alias.

Come on people, now, smile on your brother; tell me, why isn’t everybody gettin’ together in the new cyberutopia?

That little exchange I just imagined – do you want that carved for posterity on your tomb? Will the hieroglyphs of our lives read full of Netspeak and expletives? Suddenly the words we thought were 100% ours – signed, sealed, delivered — turn on us. We’ve reduced ourselves to a label, a caption, a hormonal moment, a bad-hair day. It’s too late to squirm out of the stereotype. After all, we posted it.

Post no bills about your life you don’t plan on seeing fifty years from now. Tattoos, anyone?

When we keep a diary for the world, can our confessions really inspire evolution? Or do we devolve toward narcissism? Do we force ourselves into situations where we inform everyone else about our emotions, our relationships, our most salacious intellectual meanderings, before we’ve “found out” what’s really going on? Doesn’t discovery merit some private thinking? Doesn’t discovery best happen in an intimate setting between two friends, family members, or lovers…on an emerging canvas, in a dawning melody…and in the writer’s case, in a hidden journal?

I’m an educator, so pontificating is my first language. (Ask my sibling who was forced to face a chalkboard at age eight and spell words like “simultaneously”). I believe it is wise for me to avoid the subject of my life on this blog, since a tell-all could limit my fiction to pedantic concepts, lessons, and themes. I’d rather my fiction be the fertile ground for my finding out.

I just learned the noun and verb “dooce” the other day for something that might well have happened to me. When I wrote a certain FacultyShack article back in 2004, the reaction of my employers helped me decide it was time to leave. The story goes that an anonymous someone forwarded my bosses the link. There was no message attached. My supervisors said they were puzzled and concerned by my article. They noted I had referenced people by name. True. I had referred to some with compliments, using first but not last names. It was also pointed out that I mentioned helping dismiss a subordinate who did less than his job. The upshot was “People might put two and two together and realize what place you’re referring to.” True.

At the time I thought my behavior justified. Hadn’t everything I’d written been basically public knowledge? Didn’t I have a right to free speech? Kinda sorta and yes. But do people want to work with you when you’re standing on your front lawn in your underwear sharing behind-the-scenes, play-by-play action? No. And as Greg Hawks has been known to say: Just because you can, that don’t mean you should.

Dooce who was actually dismissed from her job wrote, “My advice to you is BE YE NOT SO STUPID.”

I still think it’s a good article, and I’m glad FacultyShack published it (maybe because I was in different position, already decided to leave, so my supervisors weren’t forced to make a decision). But you won’t see me holding forth on colleagues, contracts, and other aspects of my current place of employment. You won’t hear about my friends and family unless it’s of benefit to them.

Don’t let me sound disingenuous in this rant. It’s not that the “world,” the audience, doesn’t matter to me; audience plays a powerful role to get me at the keyboard and committed to my art. Now I have someone to answer to when I post my weekly or daily writing goals. Now I have a marketing vehicle.

Don’t let me pretend that today’s spewing isn’t a soapbox rant, either, an occasional flash of my dark side, a TMI place of my opinion. Call this a reflective mission statement, and one of the most long-winded. If I want to get my fiction done, the other posts will need to be shorter. Much shorter.

A final note: I respect those who write memoirs and other creative nonfiction and who choose to publish online. It’s a different mode of discourse and a different writing process that precedes the electronic delivery, whereas blogging fast becomes a scratch pad of self-indulgent, regrettable spewing. It’s too tempting to do sloppy first-draft work when ironically the subject is sacred stuff – your life. That’s why I aim to draft and redraft when I can before posting, letting the post simmer for a couple days before going global.

It’s time for me to turn off the teacher and get to work. All I know is, I have much work to do to keep discovery front and center in my stories.

If you care to comment, perhaps you can keep me honest in this endeavor to talk craft. Thanks for checking in! — Lyn

Monday’s writing goal:

Discover what’s essential about pages 73-76 in my novel But Yes and cut, cut, cut.

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