institute for documentary studies

{Week 7: Writing}

Week 7: Writing

“To be a writer is to betray the facts. It’s one of the more ruthless things about being a writer, finally, in that to cast an experience into words is in some way to lose the reality of the experience itself, to sacrifice the fact of it to whatever imaginative pattern one’s wound requires.”
– Christian Wiman


I am an over-sharer by birth. In my family, feelings are like food: to be set down on the dinner table and shared, chewed over and digested. I make friends on airplanes to San Francisco, or elevators to the tenth floor – any enclosed space where it is perfectly okay to ignore the people around you, avoiding their eyes by staring down at your shoes. I don’t know how to have acquaintances, or peripheral friends — my friendships are founded on the kind of tell-all, late night conversations that necessitate a life-long bond; as a child, over tubs of ice cream in my parent’s kitchen, and now, on a bench in the park, or in the corner of a bar. A moment of connection, a lesson that we are only as misunderstood as we let ourselves be.


Our culture thrives on over-sharing. Thanks to Facebook, I know what my lab partner from my sophomore year of high school ate for dinner, and how it sat in his stomach. We’ve grown out of modesty. Left privacy at the door. A few weeks ago at Salt, we had a Skype session with a social media guru who urged us to build our social media presence, establish our beat, and curate tweets to fit within the Twitterverse.


I might seem like the prime user for social media, but in fact, I hate it. Sharing my thoughts comes naturally with my closest friends, but not with an unlimited amount of strangers on the internet. The same goes for the personal essay, which happens to be our next assignment in writing class. The idea of showing my essay to my fellow writing students doesn’t make me lose much sleep, but the prospect of making it accessible to all of the internet unnerves me.


In “The Limit”, Christian Wiman writes about the dark underbelly of his family; his words are so hauntingly raw that it is easy to forget the risk he is taking in exposing his personal history. Writing for “the reader” is a daunting task. Who is this reader? How will they judge me? And addressing my own personal history, it would be impossible to not include others. Rarely are people flattered by their portrayal on the page or their face on the screen. Somehow, I run the risk of not doing my loved ones justice, betraying their essence, filtering the facts through my own experience. By striving for honesty, will I inevitably falsify my experience?