6 December 2020

Sharing intimate details

A few readers of my newsletters, or my stories for that matter, have been surprised, worried, or shocked, at the extent at which I can be exposing intimate details in them. Others have also been wondering about the reasons for writing such monthly letters. This article attempts to consolidate the explanations I had provided to those who were asking or expressing their surprise. Most of those explanations are coming after the fact though, having observed take shape in reality: I had not thought of them ahead of time, the only vague reasons I initially had being related to keeping in touch with people I know and possibly generating interesting discussions. So here’s the consolidated list of why such monthly newsletters are worthwhile, to me at least:

1. They act as a regular record of what I have thought, read, worked on over the previous month. A way of marking the passage of time and realising that, after all, I did achieve a few little things and that I wasn’t entirely lazy. There’s obviously a narcissistic trait to those newsletters, I won’t deny it, even as I try not to paint myself in any undue positive way. Likewise, I try hard not to victimise myself. Striking that balance isn’t easy: not that what others think matters to me that much, it’s more that I owe it to my own past, present and future self to provide an accurate depiction of who I was and am. To my “future” self because, who knows, I may read those newsletters in my old age, if I ever get to that “old” age, or I’ll run some machine learning models to analyse my texts (for improving my writing, for analysing my psychology, etc.).

2. They constitute a form of legacy. Nothing will remain of me after I die, especially since I don’t have children – except my influence on others and my “creations” (writings, photos, videos) which I’ve centralised for the most part on this website. Neither of those may possess much value but since they bring me some happiness, I might as well make sure they are preserved while I’m alive. That’s why this website is built with simplicity and automation in mind, thus requiring little maintenance and likely to last longer than any other publishing platform or social media out there over which I hold zero control. Perhaps some of my nephews and nieces will also be curious in reading some of it many years from now (the content of my newsletters is duplicated on my website, even if it’s semi-private for the time being, as I’m giving the premiere to my recipients).

3. They hold me accountable: I have many ideas, many ongoing projects. It’s relatively easy to get them started; it’s much harder to finalise them. By sharing my intentions broadly, I create some invisible peer pressure which compels me to keep moving forward, for instance with the coaching experiment. I have written 4 newsletters so far: the days towards the end of each month act like a pressure cooker about to explode. Of course this exercise shouldn’t become a chore, otherwise I’ll lose the enjoyment that comes with writing. It’s not as if anyone is eagerly waiting for my newsletter every month! So it may well be that I suddenly stop one day, focusing instead of other forms of writing or my other interests.

4. They encourage and inspire. It’s not my primary purpose though but some readers mentioned my newsletters compelled them to act more swiftly on their own projects. A small proportion of my readers are direct and indirect members of my own team at work: I hope my honest style of writing makes me more approachable, as I highlight insecurities which everyone else has. I’m not flawless, I suffer from ups and downs entangled with a form of mild depression – but I keep going, I keep “doing” and figuring out ways to become wiser, even if I often fail miserably. I do hope there’s at least one little thing in each of those newsletters that readers find interesting, insightful or inspiring.

Sebastian, November 2020

5. They allow me to stay in touch. I would probably not write as much (each newsletter averages 4,000 words) if I were to write to everyone I know. In fact, I know I don’t write as much. It may occasionally happen that I would write a long email but then I would at times guiltily copy sections of that email to incorporate into another email, to save time. Oh of course I don’t need to write at length and I doubt anyone reads the entirety of each newsletter (it would take 20 minutes of focused reading, not counting the duration of the videos and texts I link to). Paradoxically, my correspondence is now larger than before, as my newsletters trigger responses. All those responses are very welcome in fact – and I do my best to reply to each and every one of them. In those private responses, I would certainly be even more personal depending on my connection level. It’s very similar to the 1990s when I would send handwritten letters and postcards to my friends: they would most often trigger responses and discussions that otherwise wouldn’t have happened as much.

6. They lead to new ideas, whether in the minds of my readers or in my own brain. I crave intellectual stimulation. They also lead to new collaborations, new introductions and connections I would generate. Each smart response I receive, including the ones that question my motives, each acknowledgement that someone has thought of something new, each request for feedback on someone’s ideas injects that tiny extra amount of dopamine into my system. It’s thankfully but one of the dopamine sources in my life, so it would be theoretically okay if I weren’t read at all (but notice how it does affect me that my own siblings, with whom I get along, display little interest in my life). As a part-time neurosurgeon / MBA professor of mine would say, it’s vital to have 3 pillars in one’s life: they can be family, close friends, a great job, an enthralling hobby, good health, etc. The idea being that if one pillar were to suddenly break down, as it inevitably will (divorce, unemployment, sickness, death), one still can rely on their other pillars to stay mentally sane and possibly rebuild another pillar.

7. They force me to write. Writing has become an important aspect of my life. I didn’t enjoy it that much until my mid-teens when extensive reading, careful observation of my mistakes and of writing styles, as well as indirect encouragement from my teachers and my mother finally made this not just pleasurable but necessary. As much as reading, basking in the sun or swimming. While I haven’t been able to keep up with my rhythm in 2013 when I would publish two stories each week, those newsletters impose some routine and can become drafts for improved pieces.

8. They help with achieving my projects. The best example of that is the coaching experiment for which really good candidates applied to after having read about my project in the newsletters I sent since September. I however do not want to transform these newsletters into outlets for promoting things: I’ll stick to my initial mandate of sharing my thoughts, my creations and not spamming my readers.

8 reasons, that’s not too bad. I do assume that anything I write, even in private, may surface publicly and would be made known to my employer or to my worst enemy. While it wouldn’t make me happy if confidential matters were shared without my authorisation, I’m also careful in what I disclose. In short, I take calculated risks. I may bite my fingers one day but until then, I’m comfortable with what I’m sharing and how I’m sharing it.

I don't find it difficult to find topics to write about in those newsletters since I'm not actively looking for them: they are simply the real collection of what I do, read, watch, think about. If there's nothing to report, I'll write nothing, that’s not a problem for me since this is a self-imposed exercise and not an attempt to prove anything to anyone. It’s really the opposite I have to watch out for: there's probably double or triple the amount I could write about, especially in the realm of the arts, but I have to limit myself! If anything because it takes me about 10 hours each month to write a single newsletter, not taking into account the time for copyediting and formatting in MailChimp. I would say 70% of the newsletter is written in the 48 hours prior to sending it, the rest throughout the previous month. I do jot down topics throughout the month so I don't forget what I want to talk about.

That’s it, you now know it all. The only thing left is for you to subscribe to my newsletter if you haven’t already. And if you are, I hope any of my 8 reasons above are enough to inspire you.