There’s been a few articles about over sharing recently. How much is too much to share in memoir, personal essay, and even Facebook posts? Since I am pretty good with seeming like I over share, I thought I’d try and explore the intent and ramifications behind opening yourself to strangers.
Having just finished Wild by Cheryl Strayed, I wanted to write her, become best friends and talk about the devastation of losing a mother. Her wound was so raw—and so all encompassing—not having a father or close siblings to tether herself to. I reveled in the fact that she was worse off than I was. That is what makes for a good memoir. The writer is further out on the lonely dock than you are. She tells you, it’s tough out here, but I’m still okay.
The fallacy of over sharing is that it is innocent—that I, or whomever, is oblivious to what they are doing. But it is usually calculated. To believe my life is laid bare is incorrect. I only reveal what I want to reveal, and only for a purpose, some of which is to either 1) make myself look good or 2) garner help for myself (which, fortunately, sometimes comes in the form of helping others).
Sharing is manipulative. One does it for some sort of response. For me, there is something helpful in getting what is poisoning my inside out. I feel it release. But what is shared is only small parts of me. It’s never everything. We must leave more for our spouses and close friends. And a few things for ourselves.
Even this article, with all its vulnerability, is still a form of manipulation. I’m the worst at getting annoyed at professional writers who use this technique as a way to garner fans because I can see right through it, since I understand how to do this same thing. I am always going to get a return on my being vulnerable (not that that is a bad thing) because that’s the nature of humanity. Everyone wants to cuddle the lost bunny.
Then there is intent. Along with it helping me to release it, it also attracts some sort of accountability. The “how are you doing” question is usually the first thing people ask me these days. Since getting over a personal crisis, I can find it a bit annoying, but it is what I signed up for, so I give a thoughtful response. My main intent in the first place was to find community.
For the past few months, I have been contacted by strangers, old friends, people on Twitter, work colleagues, all who are dealing with anxiety or depression in some form. A few times a week I end up texting, Facebook messaging, or talking to someone who is/has gone though a difficult time. I’m positive I’ve missed the cues of people who were trying to tell me they were going through something. I’ve brushed people off. I’ve given crappy advice. I’ve pushed too hard. I’ve assumed what worked for me would work for everyone. But, that’s not the same as intent. That’s plain effing-up.
For the over sharing debate in writing, it really is relative. Rarely will the writer feel she is oversharing. It’s the reader who will. And that’s what you need to decide. How much do you care what people who don’t need the message really think?