writing is an act of intimacy, pt 2

i've always known that writing is an act of intimacy. this thesis made itself evident over the past year's worth of epistolary relationships: long rambling messages and short chatty texts and photographs capturing snippets of existence; all attempts to stay near until we can exist together (again, or for the first time) in the same city, in the same room.

everything i write is a letter and i've been writing letters my whole life. i was seventeen and writing tiny letters with Taylor Swift-style secret messages to tell people all the things i never said in conversation; nineteen and writing to penpals across long and short distance; twenty-one and running a social experiment which paired strangers together to write letters to someone they'd never met. everything i've ever written online has been for other people, even if only sometimes just one. the letters are sometimes short and celebratory, sometimes long and yearning, and almost always written past midnight, with all the raw honesty imbued by post-midnight existence. Paulo Coelho tells us, writing is a socially acceptable form of getting naked in public. the best writing is stripped of glamour; it exposes our untold stories. i said that it was terrifying to show you my writing and at the time i didn't know why, but now i do: being vulnerable with someone is a specific thrill.

we write to be known to our audience, even though being known is terrifying. that's what i meant when i said, did you know that a bunch of strangers on the internet read and like my work but it doesn't terrify me the way it does whenever i share it with you? sometimes you're safest in rooms where nobody knows your name. it's infinitely scarier to be known by a whole real person in your whole real life; it's easier to get on stage in front of a room of strangers than it is to perform for a single person. the most terrifying audience is a size of one.

last night i edited an essay for someone who had poured out her whole heart on paper; told this story for the first time and sent it to me on a tiny leap of faith. sending other people your work is always an implicit act of faith and an outrageous act of grace: here's the closest that anyone is ever going to get to my whole heart existing outside of my chest. i've taken creative writing courses which required everyone to read work aloud, workshopped fiction with people i'd just met, read my poetry out loud to a room of perfect strangers—but none of it ever felt quite like this. i've always experienced the intimacy of a shared piece of writing on the side of the writer, but this was the first time that anyone had shared something with me which made me feel like i was holding something wildly precious in my hands. i read her words and it felt like understanding in a way that i don't think we would have found if we had been in conversation. i wanted to tell her, this is beautiful, thank you so much for trusting me with this.

i've always thought about the act of writing as a one-sided intimacy; been hyperfocused on the way that it feels like excavating your heart out on paper for someone; how terrifying it is from the perspective of the writer, especially when writing for specific people. i don't think realized until now that being on the other side of it is a specific intimacy as well. i was overwhelmed and awed and grateful that someone would entrust me with the things they've never said out loud; struck by how precious that really is. i wanted to say, wait, i'm so grateful that you shared this, let me hold it in these two hands carefully, let me not fuck it up. as a writer we know intimately that exposure makes us tender, but when done right, the best writing exposes our audience as well.

the stakes are higher than i knew—sharing your writing is not just putting your heart on the line in all of its wild imperfectness; it's also an act of trust, and trust is non-neutral by nature: every act of trust either brings two people a tiny bit closer or pushes them further part; there is no middle ground. i said i was terrified of showing you my writing, and you said that you were grateful every time i did it, and at the time i didn't know what it meant, but i think i understand better now.

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