In Writing on February 16, 2009 at 11:41 am

People follow blogs for several reasons–to get the news, to read other people’s takes on things, to compare their reactions to others’ (which makes reading the comments almost as satisfying as reading the posts themselves), to feel connected. Different types of blogs serve different purposes. But I suspect that the ones that are the most popular are those in which the bloggers reveal personal things about themselves. We all want to know other people’s dirty little secrets.

That’s one reason for the popularity of tabloids: they’re all about revealing secrets. Affairs, health crises, pregnancies, engagements, arrests–the list goes on and on. We focus on people in the public eye because they’re fed to us by the media. But we’re just as likely to be delighted at some delicious gossip about our neighbors, our classmates, our co-workers, our family members. Then there are the advice columns. We don’t read them to see what advice the columnist dispenses as much as to find out what kind of messes people have gotten themselves into.

Why do we want to know these things? So we can compare them to our own secrets. One of the most popular books in recent years has been PostSecret which is a collection of real postcards with secret thoughts and deeds written on them. The compiler, Frank Warren, went around handing out postcards to people with these instructions:

“You are invited to anonymously contribute a secret to a group art project. Your secret can be a regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession, or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything — as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before. Be brief. Be legible. Be creative.”

As the postcards came rolling in, he posted them on his website as a community art project. But it soon grew into far more than that. The outpouring has been remarkable–and global.  (He’s now coming out with a second book, My Secret, by and for teens and college students.)

Secrets, both your own and others’, are a burden to keep. People long to reveal their own secrets, but they’re afraid to do so. Even (maybe especially) if we reveal them anonymously, a weight is lifted. This may very well be one reason for the popularity of blogs. Some bloggers may hope for fame and recognition, but the vast majority may be content with the behind-the-scenes manipulation of their own truths, like the little man behind the curtain in “The Wizard of Oz.” It makes us feel more powerful than we really are. And at little risk of discovery.

I named this blog  “Up Close and Personal” because the phrase appealed to me. I didn’t think at first of the expectations that it would create in my readers. They expect me to reveal personal things about myself. I have done that to some extent, but I’m usually reticent to do so. It’s not immediately clear even to me why such a private person would want to open up my life to the world’s scrutiny.

But I also keep journals and have since the ’70s. I don’t know if anyone will ever read them, but I secretly hope so (see, I revealed a secret). It may be my way of leaving a mark on the world. I was here. I existed. Maybe I write this blog (and my other blogs) for the same reason: I want other people to know that I’m here, that I exist. I want my readers to get to know me. I’d love to get to know them.  I want to know that someone noticed that I am a person and I’m more than willing to return the favor. (This impulse may also lie behind the popularity of sites like Facebook and MySpace.)

Then there is the fact that I’m a writer even outside of writing for my blogs. Some people have remarked that writers are awfully narcissistic and self-involved. Why else would they want to spend hours every day trying to find ways to expose their thoughts and ideas to the outside world? Mea culpa, I suppose. But there is another impulse at work here: I feel compelled to write because I need to reveal my secrets.

  1. Wow, this blog has a whole new look! I’m impressed with your set-up skills etc. Of course I signed up, tho I don’t know where that shows up here – and totally understanding the desire for people to leave comments and not be ghosts, you’ll hear from me! You go girl! suZen

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