Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

A Public Life

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This morning, I had the pleasure of speaking to an English class at Ryerson, led my instructor Sarah Henstra. The course was about writing about the arts, an attempt to present becoming a (freelance) writer and critic as a viable career option. I jokingly titled my talk, "How You Too Can Work At Home In Your Underpants Covered In Cheeto Dust." 

After discussing things like workload (heavier than you think, students), pitches (think in terms of relationships with editors rather than sales pitches) and internships (I have never done one and don't understand the point in the least), the class asked a series of fascinating questions about social media. They wanted to know how to use it, how much to share, what the risks were, what the potential benefits could be. I talked a bit about building your readership, sharing your work, interacting with your peers, the way that Twitter can often seem to take the place of or act as an enhancement of newsroom culture. It is a way to interact with readers and colleagues, stay up to date on current news and concerns. It's also an amazing way to get your work out there, interact with readers, share your personality and your perspective and your thoughts. I've attracted a great deal of work because of Twitter; hell, I met my agent because of it.

It was the last question, though, that really caught me, that I tried my best to answer but that I am still thinking about now: a student asked if I was ever worried about sharing so much of my life, about how my tweets could be used, about what they could cost me. "Aren't you afraid that someone will dig up something that you once said to harm you?"

The short answer, the answer that I gave and believe, is no. I am not afraid of anything that I said being shared, held up, and analyzed. I will apologize for any mistakes I have made, any moments that I was cruel or crass, was unaware of my privilege or used a term incorrectly or inappropriately. When it comes to my life, my thoughts and my opinions, I am not afraid to speak publicly. I'm not ashamed of anything that I do or think about. I'm not concerned about offending my employer because, well, that is me; I've chosen a career that allows me that freedom.

What would someone hoping to hurt me find? That I am a feminist? That I have talked and written about BDSM and my love of supervillains? That I swear and drink? That I listen to aggressive music and like combat sports? That I deal with anxiety and a family history of mental illness?

Being public, living publicly, has been a joy and a relief for me. I don't feel for a moment that I have to hide, that I have to be concerned about privacy or disclosure. Even if something were to surface about my personal life -- a former partner who became one of my life's great villains, for instance -- I would feel more relieved than anything else.

But since the conversation I had with these Ryerson students, my mind has drifted back to an excellent piece that Stacey May Fowles wrote for the National Post called "Not Putting Yourself Out There." She wrestles with the pressure that writers feel to live publicly, be accessible, and disclose. She talks about the negative impact that being constantly accessible and open to critique can be; how the thick skinned are celebrated as tough while the more sensitive are dismissed; how a culture of availability can lead to the idea of author as commodity. She notes that "Writing is a solitary act, while publishing is a shared one, and skill at being a likable public figure who gives great readings and interviews is in no way a quality of producing quality literature." She talks about how readers can become demanding, even harassing, feeling entitled to a response, a share of more of the writer's personal life. She also notes that a whole host of reasons exist for not wanting to disclose everything about yourself, and that simply not wanting to is also an entirely valid opinion.

I want to amend my answer to the Ryerson class, slightly. I want to explain that, while I am very happy living out in the world, that they don't have to. That being shy, or introverted, or simply not wanting every thought they have out in the world is perfectly valid to. That being private and selective is a valid choice, and one that deserves respect. That I choose to live publicly but will fight tooth and nail for anyone's right to privacy.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Natalie Zina Walschots

Natalie Zina Walschots is a music writer, poet and editor based in Toronto. She writes for a number of publications, both in print and online. Natalie's second book of poetry, DOOM: Love Poems For Supervillains, was published by Insomniac Press in the Spring of 2012.

Go to Natalie Zina Walschots’s Author Page