On Being Exposed

I’m feeling a little naked lately, with Imaginary Girls getting read by early readers and me stumbling over the things being said about it—sometimes when I mean to be looking (I have peeked), and even when I don’t mean to be looking at all. Imagine what it must have been like for authors before the internet, before Twitter even. Would I so easily come across a stranger openly saying what they thought of what I wrote? Like on a street corner? On a park bench? Would they stuff notes under my door, tagged @novaren so I knew they meant me?

The photos in this post are self-portraits taken by my favorite photographer, Francesca Woodman. She used herself as her main subject, exposing herself first, making it so no one else could. Her story is tragic and I wish she kept living and taking photographs. So many of her images resonate with me. I feel like I know her, but I don’t. I can’t. Maybe none of us could.

I don’t think I posted this here, but Kirkus gave Imaginary Girls a star. I was shocked and didn’t believe it was actually real for days.

This post says things I can’t articulate. (Also, if you like YA dystopians, you should read her book, Divergent—it comes out next month and I thought it was fantastic. In fact, it kept me from writing my own book for many hours because I could not physically part myself from the ARC until I reached the last page.)

I read what she wrote about fear and I felt completely recognized.

I was shy as a teenager, but in a way I was more courageous than I am now. I’d share my writing with whomever asked. I’d meet friends for writing groups and we’d read our poems aloud to each other—I was never shy to do that—and I felt a clear assurance that I was a writer. I was one then and I’d grow up to be one. That was never a doubt. I believed in myself then.

Then something happened to me in my twenties. Maybe it had to do with getting my MFA so early (I would argue too early), and how vicious the workshops could sometimes be, or, later, with the rejections from literary agents on my first two attempts at adult novels. But I began to grow more closed off. It was rare I’d show my writing to friends—often they had to beg me, asking again and again and again, before I’d hit Send on an email. I didn’t believe in myself then.

I do believe in myself now, but I also feel petrified at the thought of being read. And exposed.

Still, I’m honored whenever anyone chooses to read the book. Thank you.

Don’t look below if you have an aversion to nipples.

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