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Thanks for this post Barbara. I've just started my first blog. The more I write and the fewer comments I get the more fearful I become about taking off my mask and allowing others to see into my life. I ask myself why am I inclined to want to put myself on paper (and on the internet) for others to read? And yet there is something that draws me to do this. But it is difficult to not look at who is and who is not responding. Is my writing dressed appropriately? Did I make sense? Am I being understood? Is anyone listening? Writing makes me vulnerable, like the time, when I was 7 or 8 and went to the market in shorts without a shirt! I became extremely self-aware when I realized I was the only one with no shirt on! Debra

A reader

Hi Barbara,

I agree with you, sometimes it's a lot easier to drop our personality or life mask in front of strangers, than it is to do it in front of family or friends.

This also reminded me (though I can never remember where I read this the first time, but I believe it was in an essay from the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa) of the idea that writing is in a way a form of striptease: by telling stories that most likely will have some connection to your own life (even if it's supposed to be fiction), you expose your "naked" self to all those potential unknown readers/strangers.

It also reminded me of a train journey (which could also be the typical next-seat neighbor chat situation during a flight) where I met this man who felt the need to tell me all about his life situation at that moment, probably because he knew we would never see each other again once we reached our destination (at that time, there was no Internet to check on each other).

And speaking of the Internet, this medium is definitely the best example of the use of "virtual" masks. For instance, here I am using a pseudonym and not using my real name :-)
(do let me know if that poses a problem when commenting on your blog entries...)

About your writing exercise suggestion, it's great! Could we post here what we may have created as a result of your suggestion?



What great comments.

Debra - I understand about silence when you post on your blog. It's such a mystery which posts generate a lot of comments and which ones don't. I thought once that I'd written a lot of helpful stuff from my writing classes and there was dead silence from cyberspace. But then I wrote about cleaning my office and 25 people responded at length. And yes, you do wonder sometimes about your life on the page being appropriately dressed -But in the end - the hell with what other people think. Just write your own truth.

A Reader - No problem with your name - Someone in class used that analogy of talking to strangers on planes. (I wonder if people are as free now because of the Internet and being able to Google each other.) I think it would be great if people posted their 5 minute writing exercises! Thanks for the idea. And also mentioning that essay by Mario Vargas Llosa.


Hi Barbara,
I do read your blog regularly but don't always posts comments. I guess it's a way of being a voyeur, yet remain anonymous. Reading your comments and Debra's makes me realize that as a blogger, you want that feedback or response from readers so I will make a conscious effort to respond more.

I feel envious of the writers in your advanced class and do hope I can join one of your workshops in the future months. Will you be teaching the four day studio again next February?

A reader

Hi again, Barbara,

I found a link where you can read about that "striptease metaphor" I mentioned from Mario Vargas Llosa: http://www.southerncrossreview.org/49/matherne-vargas.htm

And btw, do tell me if you find long comments like mine maybe a bit too "invasive" of your blog space, but, as I told you by email already, since I discovered your blog, I really enjoy reading your entries, plus I find it really inspirational and very generous of you/this blog all the info. and tips you give about writing in general (even if only in theory about memoirs), so I feel motivated to participate actively in your blog's comment area whenever I have the time for it.

But following your OK about posting our writing exercise results, I have copied/pasted mine for this week's suggestion (and pardon my English). It is no memoir, it is just a fiction
idea based on a real life anecdote, though it happened in a completely different way. And it took me more than 5 minutes, so I cheated a bit. You and anyone are free to comment on it.


On the Saturday morning of the wedding, Tina and I got up at around 10 to make it barely on time for the open-buffet breakfast that was included in the room price of the fancy hotel where all the guests of the wedding had been accomodated.

Of course we ran into all the groom and bride family and friends, who were already at the restaurant lounge chit-chatting and with an almost conspiratorial look, probably getting the last bits of organization news before the wedding ceremony took place in the beautiful gothic chapel of the town.

We waved at everyone with a smile and went directly to sit at the table where our only three known friends (who along with Tina and I had gone to college together with Stacy, the bride) were already having breakfast.

"So Tania, you sure we're not going to be the only odd-looking table at the wedding banquet?"

Tania chuckled and said, "Good morning to you, too, Val! Don't worry, I'm sure we'll add a touch of color to all these solemn-faced and rather ancient crowd..."

"Yes, I noticed we look almost like teenagers compared to most of the family relatives. I know Stacy said most of her family was old, but I had no idea they were actually a majority."

"Yes, kind of shocking for such a wild young-hearted thing like Stacy. I do remember she told us once that her parents had her when they were not so young."

"Anyway, I hope they're not shocked with the fact that we'll be wearing slacks and not a long dress, as it said in the invitation..."

"Honey, if they have already managed to look at your hair color and haven't said a word yet, I wouldn't worry..."

"What's wrong with deep orange? It matches the satin blazer I'll be wearing.."

"Exactly what I was saying...," said again Tania and we all laughed.

We finished breakfast almost at noon and spent a good part of the afternoon preparing for the ceremony, which was supposed to start at five. I washed my hair again and tried to groom it in a way so that it didn't look so orangy. I had let Tania's comment make me feel self-conscious about the color and Tina realized it with a giggling smile.

"Don't be silly, you look great!," she said, while giving me a tender kiss.

When we finally went down to the hotel hall, the whole group of family and friends were there again, having the announced pre-ceremony cocktails, but this time exquisitely disguised in the traditional clothing you would expect from a rich ivy-league college kid's wedding. Stacy was not there, nor was Jack, the groom. I figured Stacy would probably come down later with her Dad, when everyone was gone, to be consistent with the tradition of making the groom wait for the bride. And I guess Jack was already on his way to the chapel.

As expected, I was wearing an orange blazer and a pair of smart, very thin black leather slacks. Tina was also wearing slacks, though of a black shiny fabric that matched her also black blazer. Tania, Marcy and Linda were also wearing a slack and blazer outfit, as we had all agreed by phone before the wedding. We had all decided to be the "practical gal" bunch and not spend on an expensive night dress that most likely we would never wear again when, instead, we could always match the blazer and slacks with other clothing pieces. Our dear friend Stacy had completely agreed, so she said she was totally cool about it.

To our surprise, we got the same diplomatic looks we had gotten at breakfast, nothing out of the ordinary, so I was able to relax as soon as I grabbed a glass of champagne and had a sip.

We made it to the chapel and, as it was to be expected, saw Jack by the altar waiting for the bride. He was wearing a traditional-looking grey tuxedo with dark grey pants and a white shirt and tie. He looked astonishingly handsome, as usual, with that almost feminine beauty of his face.

When the sound of steps warned us that the bride was about to enter the chapel, everyone turned in expectation: there, surrounded by an almost heavenly light, appeared Stacy, wearing a tuxedo outfit similar to that of Jack, who smiled in a way that reassured her and made it obvious that he already knew about this surprise.

I guess the whispering that followed was only normal, but to us, Stacy's buddies from college, besides feeling relieved now that we were not the only women wearing slacks, the surprise made sense with the Stacy we had known and admired in college: that beautiful, wild curly hair feminist activist and rebel who, in spite of being filthy rich because of her family, still believed in the power of symbolic gestures to shock and hopefully change society.


Cynthia - Thanks for checking in. Hope you're working on your memoir. Yes, I am teaching that same course at the UCLA Writers Studio in February - Also teaching a one week course in Idyllwild in July.

A Reader - Thanks so much for that link. I don't have time to comment on exercises by readers but am happy to have you post them and hopefully get comments from other readers. Glad that exercise worked for you!


The last 2 paragraphs nearly made me cry!

("Good writing and good films show us this – the lives of others. Most of us are desperate to figure out how to live our lives, how to find meaning and depth and courage, and to know how others do this.

C. S. Lewis said, “We read to know we are not alone.” Remember that next time you’re at your desk feeling hesitant. Someone out there is waiting to read what you’re writing so they’ll know that they’re not alone.")

Even if I wasn't weepy because of a strep infection, pleuracy (or pleurcy) AND my monthly visitor, this would have made me teary!

Well put Barbara!


Jo - Sometimes I wonder about doing a blog but comments like yours make it worth it. thank you.


You're very welcome Barbara!


Hi Barbara,

I'm going to be teaching a writing class as a volunteer to women who are in recovery. I'm grateful for your ideas and really like the candid style of your blog -- very inviting and comforting. Thank you!


Ellen - thank you so much. And good luck with the wonderful work you're going to be doing.

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