Here’s a conundrum that has been on my mind lately: should there be a level, a standard, a boundary when it comes to sharing? By which I mean, sharing personal experiences or reflections via the medium of writing. I suppose I have come to the conclusion that one’s boundaries are very individual, that they vary according to the subject matter, and might shift according to mood or disposition. When my husband died two years ago, one of the ways that I found a path through was to write and write and write about it. I wrote from every angle – past, present, future – and I put to paper every thought that came flitting to me, whether it seemed significant or not. Quick, record it, piece it together, make sense of this incomprehensible time. And, for me, maybe it was some form of self-therapy – although I wouldn’t have called it that at the time. Then, little by little, I shared paragraphs with friends and family; pages, then chapters, then – as the need to write about it dissipated – a completed work.
Looking back now (although still from a close distance) I think I wrote because it was too early to talk, or to share. I think with grief comes a period of internalisation and quietude, not forcing the inexpressible but bearing it and letting time pass. Early on, I had one memorable conversation with a close and wise friend about the quality of one’s grief. He talked to me about maintaining integrity in my grieving; that I did not need to share everything (or indeed anything) and that the body and spirit needed a period of mourning. Mourning: it seemed like such a desperately old fashioned word to me; you don’t hear it much these days. As a concept I think it has fallen out of fashion. I associate the word mourning with Queen Victoria: black taffeta, jet beads, and some rather affected ‘look-at-me’ nonsense. But now I see mourning as serving a very real purpose – it is about quietude, reflection, stillness, and maintaining a sense of (yes, that word) integrity and self for a period of time. “Savour the aloneness”, my good friend told me, “knowledge will grow from it”. I understand this now, in hindsight. It was/is true. In my isolation I could often feel closest to the one I lost, as he whispered to me in the darkness of the night.
Lately, I came across this poem and read it with wonderment:
‘As Much As You Can’, by C.P. Cavafy (translated from Greek)
And if you can’t make your life as you’d wish it,
try, at the very least, to accomplish this much:
do not make it less than what it already is
by mixing too excessively with the masses,
by hanging around and endlessly chattering.
Don’t cheapen your life by parading it around,
hauling it everywhere and laying it out there
for the dreary humbug of familiars and fellowship,
until it comes to feeling like a curious deadweight.
On a first reading, it made me think about reality TV and of tabloid newspapers, about those people (many without their agreement) whose lives are paraded around in public. It made me think about social media, and how its overuse seems to sedate our innate knowledge of when to hold back, when to keep things to ourselves. But the poem can be read on many levels, and it also reminded me of grieving; about that need to be cocooned, to shelter oneself from over-sharing, and knowing when the time is right to speak and to share. For there will come a time to get out there again, when mixing with the masses is just what you need. There will come a time when someone challenges you with that line from the ‘Beautiful South’ song and they are bang on: “you know your problem? you keep it all in.”
Some people were caringly cautious on my behalf when I started to blog for fear of me over-sharing. Others told me to give more of myself. One (from a more journalistic world) advised, “When it gets to the line in difficult subject matters, are you prepared to cross it, offer detail, share your feelings? Writing forces a loss of privacy. Be generous with your insights and feelings. Don’t run to the line and then not step across.” Is it true? Does writing really force a loss of privacy? I’m not so sure. In applying the same assumption one might also say that talking forces a loss of privacy. In either instance it depends what you talk about or write about. And so, I’m back to what I wrote last year: did it serve its purpose in helping me figure things out, or has the time come to share it, to see if it is of any use to others? Will that require me to cross my personal boundary into over-sharing? I’m not sure. Time will tell.