“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
Except from the Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams
My friend Kai was telling me yesterday about an experience he’d had recently and how he’d written a piece that reflected some of his thoughts in his journal. It’s not just a “Dear Diary” sort of journal. He writes serious stuff. ESSAYS. I asked him if it was a real journal or an online one (an unconscious choice of words). He said he writes by hand in a book of paper. Has done so for years.
I would love to read what’s in Kai’s journal. He’s a fascinating guy. I suggested to him that he should start a blog. He was quick to respond. Not a chance. What he writes he will never share with anyone. It’s too personal and he would feel too restricted if he thought others might read his words.
That stopped me cold. I had a sudden flash of a comment I read recently on Facebook. One of my FB friends made a snide remark about blogs being written by people who just like the sound of their own voices. That they’re just attention-getting devices. For a moment I felt a bit like that woman at a party, the one who talks too much about her personal life and makes everyone uncomfortable. This was not what Kai intended of course, just an insecurity showing.
Too much information? Perhaps. But I don’t think so. I’ve chosen to make this blog public. So I’m careful about what I say. I don’t wish to slander anyone or hurt anyone’s feelings. Or divulge things that shouldn’t be divulged. That won’t stop me from occasionally poking a little gentle fun though from time to time, if only at myself.
Because I’ve spent a career writing for a radio audience, I suppose I didn’t give it much thought when I began this blog. When I reviewed all the options that came with setting it up, I could have restricted it in various ways: to a list of people, to subscribers only (that would be a very tiny group) or to just myself. But I’m used to having people hear what I write and comment on it. And frankly, I didn’t expect to be generating much of an audience. Nonetheless this blog is a sort of online journal.
People write blogs for hundreds of reasons. Mine was simple. I wanted an outlet to practice more creative writing than the more technical work I’ve been doing lately. If anyone wants to read it, great. If not, that’s fine too. But Kai’s comments triggered something for me. By choosing to write in a public way, I do censor myself. What would I write if I closed it down to just me? Which brings me to the difference between an online journal and a real one.
Is it more real to write by hand in a book and keep it private? I hadn’t realized that was my belief until I said the words. Maybe it’s generational. Hard copy is real to me; electronic copy is… ethereal. Private is real. Public, potentially, plays to an audience.
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
Some years ago, Sweetie had a birthday very soon after we had begun dating. I didn’t know him that well then but I did know he wrote poetry. I’d even been the recipient of some of it which may have had something to do with why we’re together today. He’s a romantic. He wears his heart on his sleeve. And he’s a wonderful writer. I decided, for that birthday, to give him a book of Yeats’ poetry and a beautiful leather-bound journal. I had this romantic idea of him writing poems that would be forever preserved in this beautiful book. And maybe someday many years in the future someone would find it and be touched by it and treasure it as something rare and valuable. It hasn’t quite worked out that way.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.”
A few months ago I came across the journal on the back of his dresser, covered in dust but otherwise as pristine as the day I gave it to him. I asked him why he’d never written anything in it. There have been many poems over the years but most of them are saved on the computer. Sometimes he’s printed them and included them in a card at Christmas or on my birthday or Valentine’s Day or any other day when he feels inspired. But nothing in the journal. His answer surprised me. He said he didn’t know how to write a journal. He didn’t know what to write. And he felt that if he did write something, it should be perfect, not crossed out, changed, fiddled with until he got it the way he wanted. And so it has sat on his dresser collecting dust. And the poems reside in a virtual file, little electronic phrases floating somewhere inside an internet cloud. Not tangible. But real nonetheless. Written with as much thought and care and love as they would have been, written with ink on paper.
His poems are beautiful. I’ve suggested printing them all, putting them together into a small volume and seeking a publisher. Sweetie has responded to that suggestion the way Kai did.
“Generally, by the time you Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
What, then, does that make this online journal? Less real? Writing helps me focus and connect and organize the thoughts that roll around in my head. I grab them when I start to see one idea connect to another, rush to get them all down, massage the words, look for gaps and things that don’t make sense, research things I need to know to bring me full circle and make a point. When I begin, I rarely know what the final point will be. It’s uncovered in the process. And in the process, I learn something about myself. So I’ve come now to believe that writing an online journal is as real as any beautiful, tooled leather, handmade paper book. Although I admit to taking small bits of artistic license from time to time.
I have another confession. I’ve been thinking of reclaiming Sweetie’s journal. I could carefully write, in my best handwriting, all my online pieces. Just in case.
“I suppose you are real,” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse only smiled.
“Someone made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It last for always.”