You Heard Wrong – I am Not an Exhibitionist

I am changing the signature line on my email to include the word (new to me until today) escribitionist.  According to Wikipedia, an escribitionist is a person who keeps a diary or journal by electronic means, instead of in pen and ink.  I fall into both categories–I have kept holographic diaries since I was 10½, and I first picked up the blog habit about eight years ago.

Apparently, this word is a melding of the word exhibitionist and the Spanish word escribir, which means “to write.”  I know that when you hear the word “exhibitionist,” the first image that comes to mind is the flasher in the dirty raincoat.

I remember in the fifth grade, whenever I mentioned the little blue book with the lock on its cover that my parents gave me for Christmas, I had to force myself to use the word journal, although I much preferred the word diary, and still do.  There were two reasons: The word “diary” sounded too close to the word “diarrhea,” and the other was because many of my peers associated them with girls.  In fifth grade, girls were still icky to many of us.

So many this portmanteau isn’t so far off the mark.  If any writer is honest, he/she has to be every bit an exhibitionist.  I do not mean someone who exposes genitals to women at bus stops or to children on playgrounds.  What is the most popular euphemism for genitalia?  “Private parts,” or “privates.”  A writer must be willing to expose the most private part–not genitalia, but the psyche, the mind.

For this, I have tried to take a cue from Robert Lowry.  Anyone who has spent any time with me, or has pored through years of entries in this blog in its various incarnations, should be familiar with the name.  He was a Cincinnati-born author who enjoyed some prominence in the post-World War II literary world.  His career crashed and burned permanently when his mental illness (which manifested itself at its most violent in anti-Semitism) and alcoholism interfered with his ability to write.  His career in ruins, he moved back to Cincinnati in 1962 and lived with his mother until she died in 1987.  He spent the next several years bouncing from one flophouse to another in downtown Cincinnati, and he was living in a tiny room at the Fort Washington Hotel when I met him in 1990.

In his entry in Who’s Who in America, he explained his technique:

A bullish, pound-it-out-and-let-the-pages-fall-where-they-may attitude at the typewriter has made me, starting at the age of seven, a successful writer.  You’ve got to wipe clean the entire slate of your mind in order to be able to tap your subconscious and your unconscious and let the dynamically important things in your life surface and take over.  There is no other way to write compelling, gripping, irresistible literature, be it novels, short stories, poems, book reviews, or essays.

Just as the Internet made it easier and much more cost-effective to display private parts (as in genitalia) all over the world, available at the click of a mouse, so has it been able to spread the display of once-private thoughts all over the world, readily available to anyone with a modem.  I am forever beating myself up when I am not sitting down with a pen and the latest thick volume of my diary, although, in my own defense, entries there have been more regular than on this blog–although, as you may have noticed, I have been writing here much more frequently than I have in months, if not years.

Pre-Internet, if you had a spouse or parents who respected your privacy, the diary was as secure as a bank vault to keep a record of what went on in both your head and in your day-to-day life.  Sometimes, it was the only place where a person (of any age) could vent.

When Susie was still in grade school, a young friend of hers, who was quite intelligent, always seemed to have a lot on her mind, and had a variety of problems at home, at school, and with her peers.  She was a frequent guest at our house, and during one visit, I remembered a scene in Henry Fool (1997).  Henry Fool is an untalented novelist, drifter, and criminal who befriends a socially retarded Queens sanitation worker, Simon Grim, when he moves into the Grims’ basement.

She had wandered into my study, and I was sitting at the desk, with the laptop in front of me.  She said she would like to write some day, so I rooted around in the desk drawer and found a blank composition book, and gave it and a ballpoint pen to her.

This is an excerpt from Hal Hartley’s script, when Henry Fool performs his biggest (if not only) mitzvah in the story:

Henry stands and grabs a notebook from off the mantelpiece. He tears out a few pages and shoves them in his pocket. He hands the now fresh writing tablet to Simon.

HENRY: Here. Take this. And…

He searches his pockets and finds a pencil.

HENRY: …this. Keep them with you at all times. You ever feel like you got something to say and you can’t get it out, stop and write it down. OK?

Simon hesitates, then accepts the gifts. Henry goes for another beer while his new friend studies the dozens of notebooks on the mantelpiece.

This must have had some effect.  This young woman is 21 years old now (four years older than Susie), and I see her on the bus periodically, and she always has her leather-bound journal with her.

The big difference between the handwritten diaries and the ones kept here online, is the intended audience.  always comes first in “diary.”  That was a popular mnemonic to prevent people from incorrectly writing the word “dairy.”  We bloggers know we are writing for an audience.  All of us love to think that our words are spreading worldwide and enthralling readers as fast as we can click the mouse, but most of us are realistic enough to know that is quite unlikely.

The diarist, on the other hand, wants what is written to remain private.  The typical picture of the girl’s diary is a book stashed underneath the mattress or the pillow in her bedroom.  Elsewhere in this blog, I have written about the immense feeling of betrayal I felt when I saw my mother reading my diary.  (I am pretty sure my father never did.  Beginning when I was 16, I was quite frank when I wrote about drinking, dabbling with drugs, and early sexual experiences, and he never took me to task about them.)

Some of the smaller, pocket-sized books that can be quite effective diaries, especially if you want to have the ability to write down your fleeting thoughts on the spot

Some of the smaller, pocket-sized books that can be quite effective diaries, especially if you want to have the ability to write down your fleeting thoughts on the spot.

If we are to use the word escribitionist to describe someone who keeps a diary by other means than paper and ink, I suppose that would include someone who types entries.  FBI agent Dale Cooper, the lead character in the ABC serial mystery Twin Peaks, introduced me to a new method of journal-keeping, the voice-recorded entry.  His microcassette recorder was practically an appendage, as he dutifully dictated his thoughts and his investigative findings to his unseen aide Diane.

Tonight, at least, I come to this topic with clean hands.  I managed to write in the longhand diary this afternoon, and, fueled by the open-faced meatloaf cooked so wonderfully by the Blue Danube Restaurant, I have been able to produce a blog entry.

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