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Writing Phantoms

"It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen..."

Expressing yourself. Online. Making connections. Learning all along. That's the common denominator of what we are doing here.

But there are differences. Huge.

Daily Homework

What I enjoy about writing my thoughts online is that these posts give closure to a string of ideas and free me to turn onto things I had not considered before. Sometimes they are like a soup -cooking slowly and mingling what were merely ingredients, spin off ideas read in blog posts. This post has a network of ingredients.

My last post on identity made me realise that I write with a premise -or an illusion- of being understood. Actually it was Graham Wegner's comment that painted it quite clearly to me:

"Claudia, I'm never quite that confident that I have understood your intent in your blog posts, but I am confident enough to know that any written content is open to interpretation from the reader's perspective. Even text that is interpreted differently from the author's intent is valuable and pushes the reader to consider things from a new angle. And if they present those conclusions or ideas back to the original writer, it can open up new insight that wasn't originally considered. If all your readers understand perfectly what you are trying to say, then they may have nothing useful to add to the conversation!"

Interpretation is open source by nature. While my illusion of being understood probably springs from a genuine need, in a networked world, being misunderstood matters most.

Graham says more,

"Maybe in the online connected environment, we can bypass what is considered essential personal detail trading in the face-to-face world, and get down to the emptying of one's still embryonic concepts out to an unknown but open minded audience."

Hopefully someone will 'misunderstand' and leave thoughtful comments like these! And yet, we still long for those details. The unimportant things that make us human.

While slowly mentally drafting this post, making sense of my own need to be understood, David Truss alerted me of Amalia's post, Voice Found. Now What?.

There you have a voice struggling beyond whatever may be a stumbling block for me; for when I write, I completely trust a connection will be made. I simply don't see how it cannot. Unless I change my style to how-to manual writing mode. There's you out there. I know that for sure.

Amalia says,

"So, instead of saying that I’ve found my voice, the bigger truth is that I trust my voice. I know when I’m going wrong. My bones tell me. And if I can stay true to that, then I’ve done something. The problem now is choosing what to say. There are so many things I’m passionate about..."

Her need is different from mine,

"This blog is forcing me to choose. Well, let me put it this way. For the sake of a sense of community around my blog, I want to focus a bit more. Even if it’s only me and two other people, I want us to chew on some common topic together. (...) Show me what You want me to do with this voice. I want to be useful, I want to harmonize, I want to connect."

The post left me wondering and with a strange sense of sadness. I think it's important to find a voice, but it's not enough. Now I see it differently. I'm afraid I disagree with Amalia. The problem is not choosing what to say. The problem is trusting yourself enough to stand at the edge of the writing cliff and make a bungee-jumping leap of faith. Trust your voice to be neither right nor wrong. Connections? That's the easy part: they are the inevitable consequence of sharing your-self.

I am reminded of a lecture by Virginia Woolf: Professions for Women. Fifteen years ago, I would read that lecture voraciously.

Flashback. I remember a bicycle going by in front of Cambridge University on a cold January, sunset, organs playing -one clear, another one fading-, the walls looking like sepia-toned photographs. Me, walking and holding a copy of A Room of One's Own next to my heart. I was planning to buy a flat of my own in Buenos Aires, to be free of paying a rent forever. Maybe write. The Internet was not a dream yet.

I hear Virginia again. (Are you still reading me, Amanda?).

"While I was writing this review, I discovered that if I were going to review books I should need to do battle with a certain phantom. And the phantom was a woman, and when I came to know her better I called her after the heroine of a famous poem, The Angel in the House. It was she who used to come between me and my paper when I was writing reviews. It was she who bothered me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed her. You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her--you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily (...)

I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing. For, as I found, directly I put pen to paper, you cannot review even a novel without having a mind of your own, without expressing what you think to be the truth about human relations, morality, sex."(...)

Thus, whenever I felt the shadow of her wing or the radiance of her halo upon my page, I took up the inkpot and flung it at her. She died hard. Her fictitious nature was of great assistance to her. It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality. She was always creeping back when I thought I had despatched her. Though I flatter myself that I killed her in the end, the struggle was severe; it took much time that had better have been spent upon learning Greek grammar; or in roaming the world in search of adventures. But it was a real experience; it was an experience that was bound to befall all women writers at that time."

At that time? The lecture was written in 1931. The phantom was the impediment to say exactly what you think while being a woman in a man-writer's world. I could harry to say that the 21st century is different, that there are no such gender differences; however, I think we do have phantoms lurking.

I still see it is more likely for women to take care of the home than become prolific bloggers. I still find men more straightforward and less puzzled by dichotomies of online vs offline identity. Less concerned with having to open different blogs because they found new topics of conversation, which may cause worries about losing audience or clicks. I may well be over-generalizing, but men are more likely to be beyond all that. They would probably not write a post like this one. Or take as long as I take to write it!

I had a Skype call with my friend Alan Levine recently. A first synchronous talk after years of connecting online. I remember Alan told me about how he writes. He needs to get it said and published. He is fluent about blogging. I don't imagine too many drafts sleeping in his blog editor.

Alan left this comment on my previous post,

"We talk about 'going' online like it is a place, we never talk about other media like that. And given the way mobile connectivity enabled the communication, I hardly see my online and not online modes as being so cleanly split.

I exist as one Alan: there are things I don't put online but I do not see a neat division."


We are all sharing, connecting, learning. There are interesting differences, though. Amanda is struggling with the phantom of connecting; I am struggling with one of elusive expression. Meanwhile, Alan is being himself.

You need to find your voice and your purpose. And then, not to be tongue-trapped by anything. There's some learning job, if you are patient. After that, there is the most difficult of all. To react genuinely to every single blog post that stirs your mind, to every agreement or deep disagreement with the closest people in your network. For that, you'll probably have to learn to kill a few phantoms. Even when you think you have mastered that exercise, it would not be surprising to find yourself again back to square one in the network game.

Note to Self
Remember the basics: never ever assume you're that connected, well- expressed or understood.

Now make that as big or small as you want.

Carry on.

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A very genuine and reaching post.

I actually prefer posts that feel "filling" like this with twists and turns in thought, and yet at the end still leave oneself with more questions than answers.

Cheers !

Definitely, I'm still reading. I discovered what you are writing about immediately after I posted that. Connection just happens. I also discovered the importance of leaping out on faith, and writing what comes. Thank you so much for your confirmation.

I also love your quote from Virginia about what I call "the should lady." She sits on my shoulder from time to time "should-ing" all over me. I have to knock her off on a regular basis. She must die! But she is most definitely a phantom.

I will continue to read, and I will enjoy it, even as I misunderstand, even as I make connections...

Dear Amalia,

Thank you for coming back to this post and for taking the time to comment. It means a lot to me because you triggered my thoughts with your own post.

You make re-read our blogs and reflect on this conversation again. I am certainly going to use your phrase "the should lady" upon your should-er. Phantoms are elusive, but it's easier to deal with them when they have such an accurate name!

I wish you peace, freedom and success with the new directions your blog is taking.



Right back attcha, Claudia! You rock.

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