Naked

“I was on your website this morning; I don’t get it.” This was my dad. I saw him yesterday for my extended family Christmas celebration. This post isn’t about family relationships, but of course it could be. We all have so much fertile ground to till on that topic. But then I wouldn’t be writing about me, and if this blog is consistent in any way, it’s always about me.

This blog-post is about the sinking feeling I get when somebody says to me: “I read your blog.” Or “I read your book.” This happens with some regularity, and over the past couple of months, maybe too often. My online footprint is wide and somewhat deep. Anyone who Googles me using Jeff Cann Gettysburg or Jeff Cann Running—which are the two web searches I would try—will easily find me and immediately discover that I’m a writer.

Recently, at the funeral for my friend Mike, a best friend from college, and later a coworker for fifteen years at a fortune five hundred company, person after person, people I’ve been out of touch with for decades, came up to me and started conversations with “I read your book.” Former college friends, former co-workers: I’ve read your book. I’ve had years to practice this exchange, and still, I never know how to respond. I don’t know if they are saying it in a praising way or a snarky way. I’d much rather they said “Dude, your book sucked.” At least I’d know where I stand.

When I hear “I read your book” I want to say “Okaaay” or “Aaand.” I want the person to say something more, or at least something else. Maybe “I enjoyed your book.” Or “I learned a lot about you from your blog.” Or “Hey, tell me what it’s like to live with Tourette Syndrome.” What I really want to hear is “Wow, I love your writing.” But now I’m pushing too far.

When it first came out, common feedback I received about my book Fragments was that it helped people sort out some of their own problems. “Hey Jeff, I deal with some of that same stuff; it’s nice to read someone else’s perspective.”

But then once, a friend said, “Wow, your blog really makes me think about the things that bother me about myself.”

I replied, “Oh good, so it’s helpful, I’m glad you like it.”

“I didn’t say that. I don’t like it at all.”

On my contact page it reads: Nothing is more flattering than receiving a comment. Even a mean one. Am I really looking for people to bash me? No, but I like ambiguity even less than bashing. If someone reads something I wrote, I want feedback. Good or bad, I want to know.

Every now and then someone will binge read my blog. Looking at the search terms section on my Stats page, I’ll see they got here by searching on my name. And then I wonder who it is. When I was job hunting, I assumed it was prospective employers (why I actually ever got a job, I’ll never know). Normally, I assume it’s one of my coworkers. Or maybe one of Eli’s mountain bike coaches. One of Sophie’s teachers? Whatever, someone is getting the upper hand on me. It’s like they’ve seen me naked. They know all about me, and I know nothing about them. I don’t even know who it is.

Sometimes people will say things that seem like leading statements on a topic I blogged about. I want to ask if they’ve been reading my blog, but saying the words my blog out loud sounds narcissistic. I know almost everyone reading this is a blogger. Don’t you think we’re all a little self-absorbed?

I didn’t start blogging to be read. I began blogging to explore my secrets, air them out, make them no longer secret—even if it was for a bunch of strangers. I didn’t write for people I knew. In fact, my first blog was anonymous. Like many bloggers, my first audience was only me. Even then, I worried that people from real life would start reading what I blogged.

It makes me a little uncomfortable that after all these years, my father is interested in reading my blog. Flattered, but also uncomfortable. Some of my topics set my own teeth on edge. I don’t want to upset him… or worry him.

This morning on the phone, my father and I talked about my blog. It helps that he calls it my website, it seems less immature. He didn’t understand why each story only showed the first four lines. I explained that he needs to click on the story to read the rest of it. So now I’m watching my stats… all day. I’m trying to divine when and what my father is reading.

~  ~  ~

Q: Am I writing too much this week? Don’t worry, on Thursday, my normal life starts back up, and I’ll resume my normal pace. Thanks for reading.

The title of this post is a nod to my favorite creative nonfiction essayist David Sedaris, who has an essay and a book with the same name.

Fragments, a memoir is available at Amazon: $4 for an eBook, $8 for a paperback. I recommend it.

40 thoughts on “Naked

  1. Great post, Jeff. Not sure I want to know if anyone in my family reads my posts. Like you, if someone tells me they’ve read my writing, I’m always at a loss how to respond, so I usually default to “Thank you!” Always awkward, yet we writers do enjoy learning that we’re being read.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Rebecca. I know that my brother reads some, which is fine since I’m so terrible at communicating with my family so at least it gives him some context. It’s mostly my coworkers that mortify me. For a while, my book was passing desk to desk. Really hard to join a conversation when you’re naked.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I suppose we bloggers are self absorbed. Or maybe it’s just that we like seeing our thoughts in writing so we can test them with the universe and release them from our crowded brains. Either way, I think there’s an element of courage when it comes to sharing your ideas with the world. Jeff, I also brace myself when someone tells me they’ve read my book. Probably because the act of writing is such a personal creative endeavor … and an impulse that many people like your father will likely never understand. At any rate, I look forward to reading what you have to say in the new year. Cheers!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, personal essays that get… personal… are an intimate art form. It’s hard to put so much of yourself out there. I almost quit early on because I got so agitated every time I posted. I’m gald I stuck with it, although it’s still a bit agitating–mostly wanting better stats than I get.

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  3. My daughters & mother know I blog but I dont think they care enough to read it. Its probably better, because I tend to be very honest.
    That’s just weird… someone says they’ve read your book and that’s it? What are you supposed to do with that? Offer them a refund?? An autograph?? People are just confusing. I avoid them as much as possible.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It is weird. I’d say at least 60% of the time, that’s what they say: I read your book. I know I need to get better about saying ‘well, did you like it’ but I’m terrified by the answer. When I started my current blog, I posted links on facebook for a while but no one seemed interested. Now I’m happy with my group of ‘strangers’ who I feel I know more than the people who surround me in my town.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. In the past several months, two people from my past have left comments on my site. I don’t want contact with these people, and they should know this by now, but they try to intrude into my life every year or so. I guess social media is available to anyone, and I search for people myself. But this felt unpleasant nonetheless.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve never had a problem like that. Tricky, because you’re setting up a public place where they want to hang out. I suppose it’s possible to ‘block’ people on wordpress, but I don’t know how to do it. For a while I had a guy with racist comments showing up, but he eventually got the message and disappeared.

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  5. I read all your stuff ( or a lot of it). I love it. I like keeping in touch with you ( albeit one sided). I don’t leave comments because I’m not a writer. ( I also feel pressured to be witty or interesting or articulate or, at the least, coherent. ) keep on blogging, Jeff, and I’ll keep on reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I chuckled my way through this as usual with your blogs. I especially like the comment from the guy who didn’t find it helpful to think about his own life. When people tell me they read my book with no other comment, I don’t feel naked. My book is not about me. I feel like a fraud. Sometimes they ask me my opinion on immunization or why there are so many more children diagnosed now than before. They assume I am an expert on autism although I keep saying that my expertise is in the area of listening and sharing the stories of the autism experts. As a former educator I want to get past the question of did you like it, which requires a yes or no answer. I need to think of a go-to question similar to, “What did you learn from the book or find helpful?” Haven’t gotten there yet.

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    • If you not looking for a “yes, I liked it” then you’re a more highly evolved person than me. I get the difference though that you’re trying to convey data (albeit in a storytelling manner) as apposed to laying yourself open for all to judge. I’m glad you get the humor in my posts. I’m not sure everyone does. One of these days I’ll get to your book, because it sound like mandatory reading. I’m sort of having trouble picking up a book right now – which is unusual and disconcerting.

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  7. Great post Jeff, I am always unnerved if someone says they read my blog, it makes me uncomfortable when coworkers will read your blog but not follow it, with no feedback or approval :). It does make me feel exposed without knowing who’s reading!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sigh. It’s one of the tricky parts of blogging, Since you’ve had stalker issues, I’m sure it’s even more unnerving. I sort of wish wirdpress left a bread crumb trail like linked in.

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  8. “I began blogging to explore my secrets, air them out, make them no longer secret—even if it was for a bunch of strangers.” Me too – exactly that!

    Like you – although writing a book is still a dream rather than a reality for me (soon though!!) – I find it slightly… I don’t know what the right word is… odd, perhaps, when someone I know in real life comments they’ve read my last blog post but fail to say anything more. It throws me a little and I agree it’d be more comfortable if it was followed up by even a “didn’t like it” than just that they read it.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Oh my gosh, I have so much to say about this. Not about your book – I read it and would recommend it. That is weird people leave you with a cliff hanger like that. Just about readers, in general. My family DOES follow my blog and you’re right. I never write about them, but could fill a whole book. I chose to write our autism story and used our real names – why? Because I never thought anyone would actually read my blog. “Blog” has actually turned out to be one of my least favorite words – it’s made the “cringey” list for me because, you’re right – I actually devote time to write about me and our family. Like we are so important that we need blog attention. That can be seen as very self absorbed. I see that my blog is getting read, but it does make wonder too – By who? I know I have a local stalker I told you about – the one that is sure to tell anyone around if I wrote about an event they were at. Not that I ever use THEIR names, I’ve only ever divulged my own family’s names. That is a choice I made for us, but would never take the liberty to assume someone would feel the same way. I get comforted when I see someone has searched up a topic and landed with my writing. But sometimes I feel the same, someone got wind of what I do and are searching – for what I don’t know – but I don’t always feel like it is to learn about autism. I’m the reverse, too. I am hoping to get back on the writing train when this week settles down. It’s just so non-stop. One more birthday to go, New Years and then back to school! So crazy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, I read your blog… As you and I both know, the vast majority of blogs are poorly written. And then there are so many written on topics that are NOT general interest. And they’re all me, me, me. Why do I read? Well, I’ve found a bunch of good ones to read and I like it when people tell a compelling story in the first person. I first got hooked on it with David Sedaris (the author I mention at the end of my post) If you’ve never read his work, I’d recommend Naked – an old book. Lately he’s gotten sort of boring because really he’s now just a bazillionaire and he can do what ever he wants. Most of it is pretty funny, but there’s a serious side to it as well. But back to blogging, At a writers conference a couple of summers ago, one of the instructors asked me where I’ve been published. When I said primarily on my blog, I could actually watch as a shade of disinterest moved across her eyes. We get a bad wrap.

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  10. Love reading your writing.
    It is absolutely a strange sense of nakedness, especially when people I know in real life comment on something I’ve written about, and suddenly, I’m aware they are reading. I once griped about something (in a long ago blog) that apparently resulted in an uproar in a specific social circle, and I had no idea they all read it. Might have burned a bridge or two there.
    It’s easier I find to write for an audience, known or unknown, and it makes the writing better, good feedback and bad.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I love this piece. I have taken to pouring out my deepest trauma in the form of poetry on my blog. I really took off the armor and exposed my wounds. Although it’s scary, the catharsis is well worth the uncomfortableness. Keep on doing what you do. You’re inspiring people unknown! C’mon over a look at my armor-less poetry if you get a chance! It will give you strength to continue your great work!

    Mo

    https://smp19671.wordpress.com/2019/12/31/grown-a-poem/

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  12. First, “Wow! I love your writing!” Second, I know what you mean about family members reading your blog. I am not really writing my posts with the thought of family members (especially my kids) reading them, but I know they do.

    One of the best compliments I ever got was when a friend asked if my youngest son read my blog. When he said he did, she asked if he got to know me better through reading my posts. He told her “No, I got to know MYSELF better.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I see what you did there.

      I have a hard time believing that my kids, 17 and 14, haven’t read my book or my blog. I know one of my daughters best friends did. But they’ve never let on but they both roll their eyes.. I think reading someone’s blog is a short cut to intimacy, but it’s a one way exchange. I’ve tried to encourage my kids to do some journaling

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  13. I am a nurse. I have a certain work “persona”. One day one of my physicians told me he found my blog. I got a sinking feeling. His only comment was that I spell “fuk” wrong. He’s still talking to me so … I figure it’s all good.

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    • And so it makes you wonder, why was he looking for you in the first place. I imaging it’s hard for some people to wrap their head around the whole concept of blogging to start with. It’s truly a naked feeling, yes?

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      • He was looking at WordPress as a blog platform He also writes. He just happened upon it. And yes… a very naked feeling. But that’s why I started it. I needed naked and frighteningly honest in my life. It has been quite liberating.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I dunno. WordPress has over 400 Million blogs on its platform. Seems more likely he was putting in pointed searches. My blogging journey from anonymous to where I am today has exposed every last piece of me. It’s made me comfortable talking about the problems that have followed me all my life and blogging has also let me develop the vocabulary necessary to even understand what’s going on with me. It’s sort of like journaling on steroids.

        Liked by 2 people

  14. I’m reading Fragments, sporadically, and reflecting on what you’ve said here in this post as I read. You’re so open and honest and that’s something I most value in a person. At times I find myself wincing – you’re hard on yourself. Of course I relate to that too. I guess it’s hard to see that in others. I wonder how we end up being so harsh. When my last counsellor commented on my harshness, I asked her what she meant, then told her she was wishy-washy, lol. I needed her to model a different version of self-awareness and she just couldn’t do it. So frustrating.

    For some reason I’m reading the book from back to front. Maybe some of my questions will be answered at the beginning. 😀 And I’m enjoying your pithy observations and concise writing style. Mostly I appreciate the honesty, so thank you for writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. First, that you’ve taken the effort, time and money to read my book is extremely flattering. Thank you. The ‘hard on myself’ comment is one I get a lot. One reviewer called me a masochist. It’s been years since I’ve read the book cover to cover, and I think I unconsciously stay away from some of the harsher stories (“O”), because they no longer represent who I am. It’s hard to read about that guy.

    I wrote those stories at the start of my mental health analysis and I still hadn’t come to accept who I am. I can’t really think whether the book’s vibe will change towards the front of the book. I remembering putting an upbeat story at the very end to let readers end on an upswing, but I I doubt it works the other way.

    I had to look up pithy (it sounded insulting) so thanks for the vocab lesson. Always trying to expand in that regard.

    Again, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. My pleasure! I think my grandparents used ‘pithy’ a lot. 🙂 Didn’t even occur to me that it might be an unusual word. I’d never intentionally insult a fellow blogger. And I admire you for publishing. I have many questions regarding the editing and publishing processes – if you’ve already written about this, let me know and I’ll read that too.

    Liked by 1 person

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