Get a [private] life

cover-drawingI’m reading a fascinating book, Drawing From Life: The Journal As Art, by Jennifer New, on the hand-written, hand-drawn journals of a variety of people: many professional artists, along with scientists, architects, writers, engineers, a psychiatrist and a musician. Some are famous, others not. The intricate images are stunning as works of art. But what I find equally interesting is the private aspect of these journals. Over decades and lifetimes, the journal keepers filled hundreds of blank pages only for themselves.

That, to me, is the modern rarity. Not just the considerable artistic talents, but also the tendency toward autonomy and privacy.

Today, people are hooked on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, online forums, home pages, blogs. People expect an audience to make the “work” of writing worthwhile. People need the reinforcement of readers comments, whether it’s “Great post!” or “You’re full of it!” People can’t stand the vacuum of their own minds.

Indeed, these “social-networking” options have increased communication. Did you ever think you’d hear from that bizarre high-school classmate again? Well, here she is, repeatedly friending you on Facebook.

But isn’t there a value-lost by the constant pressure to be public, rather than private? Would you write the same things in a [public] blog as in a [private] journal? Why does modern society discount the value of a private life? Even if no one sees your words or drawings, the act of “doing” itself changes you. (Same with yoga, I might add.)

Certainly, blogging (and all writing) helps to clarify one’s thoughts. Blogs are a forum for expression, whether prosaic jottings or impressive “publishable” pieces. But in a blog, one is aware of an audience. One might speak the truth but it’s an embellished and selective truth. The entries featured in Drawing From Life made palpable the journal keepers’ enormous sense of freedom: to observe, reflect, explore, and create (New’s categories, which serve as chapters in her book).

Another difference between pen-and-paper expression and the online variety deals with time. Some of the journal keepers took days, weeks, and even months to create one entry. Blogging (much less Twittering) is expected to be quickly written and quickly read. And the shelf life of most posts is … a week or two?

In her blog, writer Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project linked to this apropos article in Slate, “Seeking: How the brain hard-wires us to love Google, Twitter, and texting. And why that’s dangerous.”

Of course, it’s impossible to backpedal from Google. (Facebook and Twitter are foreign concepts to me, but I’m a chain Gmail checker and Google searcher.) Still, maybe my daily blogging and browsing can lose half an hour to a reunion with pen and paper.

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