Conversations with Poe: The Writer as Exhibitionist

Scott William Carter   December 3, 2009  

SSPX0820Me:  One of the things that strikes me about the Internet is how readily some people share aspects of their lives they wouldn’t dare share with the stranger sitting next to them on the bus. 

Poe:  You ride the bus?

Me:  Don’t change the subject.  Look, I think every writer who wants to be read must have certain exhibitionist tendencies.  I’m not talking about flashing private parts in front of strangers — I’m talking about “the act or practice of behaving so as to attract attention to oneself,” as my dictionary defines it.  Otherwise, why send out your work at all?  

Poe:  Well, some writers may not care about the attention.  Maybe they just want to get paid.  

Me:  Okay, if that’s true, then why publish under your own name?  You could send everything out under a pseudonym and avoid the spotlight entirely. 

Poe:  Some writers do. 

Me:  Yes, but most don’t.  Most writers — or musicians, or artists, or marionette performers, whatever — seek some level of attention and accolade for their work.  They’re saying, “Hey, world, look at what I did here!”    

Poe:  All right.  I’ll accept that.  What’s your point? 

Me:  I’m not sure I have one.  I’m just expressing some concerns.  The Internet has made it incredibly easy to not only share your work with a wider audience, but to share every aspect of your personal life with the wider world as well — whether it’s who you’re dating or what you had for breakfast.  I think every writer/artist/performer has to find their own comfort level with that, but the thing I struggle with the most is that person’s family.  Are these people on board with their photos/names/intimate details of their lives being made public? 

Poe:  I suppose that’s up to the family to decide. 

Me:  But what about children?  When I see someone putting photos of their children online — I’m not talking about Facebook, or a closed social network, but a public Web page that anyone in the world can see — I wonder if it’s appropriate.  Even if they give their consent, is it right?  Maybe they should be shielded from the public eye until they reach adulthood, and then they can decide for themselves if they want to tell the world what they had for breakfast each morning.  

Poe:  So where do you come down on this? 

Me:  Well, I’m a writer.  Of course I’m at least part-exhibitionist.  But I’m of the belief that my family is off-limits except in the most general sense.  They didn’t sign up for to be supporting actors in my writing life.  So you won’t see me posting photos of my kids on here.  Or hardly ever even mentioning their names.  I can’t help but talk about them at least in general, because it’s my life too, but they deserve to decide for themselves how public they want to be with their lives.  Here’s the problem, though:  You no longer have full control.  Other people will take photos of you or your family and post them online without your consent.  It’s only going to get worse, too.  In this era of YouTube, social media, and reality television, good luck trying to control your level of privacy. 

Poe:  You’re not exactly sounding a hopeful note. 

Me:  I guess it depends on how much you value your privacy. 

—-

I’ve got an Edgar Allan Poe action figure in my writing office at home, complete with a miniature raven on his shoulder.  After a while, I started talking to him, sharing my concerns about writing, family, and life in general.  One day, amazingly, he started talking back. 

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