Vanity of Vanities: the World-Wide Press

Our lives are laid bare, now. Our bones are picked clean; we’re the scavenger and the scavenged in these internet days. Some parts of my life I couldn’t fathom dragging out for the internet world to feast on, even though I don’t have any scandals or skeletons locked in my closet. No past abuse. No arrests. No divorces. The other day, I read a woman’s story of her divorce, as it was happening, on her blog. There it was–her treachery, her journey to becoming a single mom. Finally, after claiming nothing caused this divorce; it just happened! and deflecting naysayers who implied she was at fault, she subtly told her audience that she had biblical reasons for divorce. What is the biblically valid reason for divorce? Adultery. That’s it. So, basically, she told the world her husband was a cheater without actually using the word. And where was her husband in all this? Who knows? The woman has a huge audience. Why not get sympathy where the getting’s good, even if it’s at the expense of a man who only has a face in the family pic she posted?

I know nothing of this woman or her husband. I don’t know the actual factual truth from either perspective. However, for an hour I possessed a prurient fascination with her blog, where she discusses her divorce and her integration into singlehood. The entire affair gave me pause. This is the way the world has become: we’re in the grip of social media. It’s as if we’re compelled to share or read the dirtiest and mundane aspects of our lives with, theoretically, an infinite number of people. I’m left with nothing but questions. What is the motivation behind such airings of private matters? Are we attempting to gain notoriety, or some measure of immortality? Do we find meaning in knowing that, in a sea of voices, our voice will be heard by at least a few others?

And when our treachery comes under censure by hundreds, is it still worth it for whatever ambiguous motivations we had in the first place? I shouldn’t add myself in the collective ownership of treachery. This woman’s treachery–discussing what should have been private information about her husband on the internet–doesn’t belong to me. Somehow, I’m still involved, though, because I read her stories. I studied the disheartening picture of her complete family that is no longer complete. Also, I have to admit that I’m not always careful about what I write on my blog. Sure, I have a code I follow when I write my memoirs: I ask permission to write about someone whom I’m still in contact with, and if I’m not in contact with people I would like to write about, I mask their identities and settle for vagueness. Others’ stories aren’t mine to tell; I understand this. I may not have crossed my own lines, but have I crossed others’? It’s difficult to say.

Airing one’s divorce on the internet may seem different than grappling with the past and calling it memoir, but the only real distinction is measured in time. I write about events that occurred many years ago; this woman has been writing about current events that have created wounds, as yet unhealed. But it isn’t outside the scope of memoir to write of the present (think of the detestable Eat, Pray, Love). Honestly, revealing one’s ever-present dirty laundry to the world could be called a form of therapy or disguised as a literary form, but that doesn’t change what it is materially: a stinking mess. My honor code may be meaningless to those who recognize themselves in my words and don’t care for the way I’ve described them. Memoirs are tricky, and memoirists even trickier, and not necessarily because they’re intent on deceiving or are in any way more self-centered than the average person. They’re tricky because they’re writing their own histories, which involve others, and this history is intensely personal. They are historians who have conflicts of interest with their subjects.

Once, I read some articles from the pen of a memoirist discussing her life as a super-woman chasing after everything, including hardcore career, family, and her small hobby of being a contracted-for-publishing author. I found her tone a little off–perhaps narcissistic, or maybe even in the vein of she doth protest too much–which is why I was pleasantly surprised to discover that her husband insisted she not write about him. Write about being Super Woman; go ahead, he said, Just leave me out of it. Her publisher didn’t like it and neither did she, but they had to comply with his wishes. His rigid declaration was a triumph for the powerless person without a voice. He removed his wife’s power to define him, unlike the husband of the woman blogger discussed above.

I, frankly, would loathe for others to define me, being on the far end of the autonomy spectrum. I’m not sure why I believe I should define other autonomous human beings. My conflict of interest is showing, I guess. Deep down, at the bottom-most layer of my ego consciousness, I suspect I want recognition as a human being, even if it’s nothing more than my chasing after wind.

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5 comments

  1. People share their weddings online all the time. And divorce is just a reverse wedding, and nearly as common a rite of passage in our modern society.

    So I am thinking about becoming a divorce photographer. The goal is to show how much fun and success the individual is having in his or her newly single life. Also the “other woman” pics will be handled with particular tact and tastefulness…

    Also, we will have themes to our photo montages. I think that the “He’s a loser who cheated on me and would never take out the trash, but he’s also a pretty good father to the kids” will be very popular this season.

  2. Depends on what generation you belong to. If you are a baby boomer or X’er it is a rite of passage, and you are probably missing out if you have not done it.

    If you are a Millennial, you don’t bother to get married in the first place, and therefore cannot get divorced. In fact, Millennials are short on Rites of Passage which usher them into the next stage of life, which at least partially explains why they still live at home with their parents… Oh, yeah, that, and a crap economy.

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