Who do you write for?

Published on 2023-08-22

I started reading the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer a few months ago, which introduced me to the Potawatomi conception of gift-giving. Settlers, particularly those who live in the highly materialist modern industrial world, tend to think of gifts as things we receive for free. It is our responsibility as gift-receivers to express gratitude in the moment, but that's mostly where our responsibility ends.

In the Potawatomi tradition, when you give someone a gift, you're also giving them a set of responsibilities, and in effect, inviting them into a reciprocal relationship. For example, when the Earth bares fruit, you receive that fruit as a gift, and in turn, you are expected to take care of the environment so that the cycle can continue.

I like writing quite a bit, and I think and write about writing quite a bit too. Almost to a fault, when it starts to get in the way of what I actually want to say. But today is one of those special days where I want to set aside some time to write very explicitly about writing, and the thing I want to write about writing is how I've come to understand what it is--or rather, what I want it to be--to the people who receive it.

I've come to think of my writing as a gift.

Saying that on its own makes me feel a little egotistical, and that's a problem I've grappled with quite a bit the more I've written and the more I've given people my writing this year. But what I mean by this is that I write for people. Sometimes I write for myself, sometimes it's for my friends, and rarely it's for complete strangers. When I write, I'm inviting these people to have a relationship with me, and what I'm giving them is a piece of my mind.

Between consumerism, materialism, growing up on social media and living in the society of the Spectacle, I've always felt like the world is fake. I see this through my own actions and I see it played out in the actions of others as well. I know that I want to to be "real" more than anything, and I suspect lots of others do as well. But it's hard to be real! As the pariahs we are, we often don't even have the language to fully conceptualize our experiences. That all seems to get a little easier, though, when I sit down and write out my thoughts on paper. I'm giving myself the space to fully develop my thoughts in a way that can be packaged and shared with anyone. That level of "realness" tends to be really intimate, in the sense that it drops all pretenses. So, I've found that writing can be a good way to invite people into my head, opening the door such that in the future, they may feel comfortable doing the same in turn.

The first time I sat down to write a friend a letter, it felt a little silly. Like, I could bus across town and talk to you in person if I really wanted to. I could send you a text, or even gasp an email. But letter writing in particular is good for this sort of thing because of how deliberate it forces you to be. The rare journal entry and letter writing are the only times I write by hand these days, and so it takes quite a bit of work. You feel it, and they see it. And despite all my worries that my friends will think I'm being weird, I've never written someone a letter and found myself less close to them than I was before.

So if all my writing is a gift, then who am I trying to build a relationship with when I publish something on my blog?

This is the question I actually wanted to answer in this gemlog entry, and I think it might help to ask another question first: who are you?

  • a friend?
  • a future friend?
  • an employer?
  • me?

I think everyone in the world can fit into one of these four categories if they want to

If you're a friend, then hi friend! I know at least one or two of my friends have read my blog. I think for you, reading my blog might give you some insight into the parts of my life that I'm too nervous to talk to you about directly. For example, I care and write a lot about the relationship between social life and technology, but it's not something I bring up with people very often, if ever.

If you're a future friend, then maybe reading my blog will give you an idea if I'm someone you want to be friends with.

If you're an employer, then I've probably got more work to do on my opsec.

If you're me, then I hope my writing from the past will offer me some insight into how to navigate the world in the future.

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