How far to “open the kimono”?

By Caitlin Kelly

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We’ve all got hidden nooks and crannies…


I just finished reading a new memoir, The Skin Above My Knee, by a woman I met through a local writers’ group, Marcia Butler. She was, for years, a skilled professional oboist and her candid and powerful memoir describes in detail both coping with her difficult family and her highly successful musical career.

She also reveals that both her parents are now dead, so discussing their behavior, abusive and deeply rejecting, could have no immediate consequences.

In journalism, we call disclosure “opening the kimono” and, especially when writing personal essays, it’s a challenging decision to know what to say and what to withhold from public, permanent view.

Now that everything can be quickly and widely shared online — and snarled at by trolls — it’s even more daunting to decide how much to tell millions of strangers about yourself, sharing things you might never have told anyone before, not even a best friend or therapist.

Our stories can resonate deeply, informing and educating (and amusing) others. While reading Marcia’s book, there were several moments when I had experienced the exact same thing at exactly the same age. That was a bit spooky!

I’ve had a life filled with fun adventures — meeting Queen Elizabeth aboard her yacht Brittania, visiting a 500-member Arctic village, traveling eight days across Europe with a French truck driver, performing at Lincoln Center in Sleeping Beauty as an extra.

But, of course, I’ve also had many moments of fear and panic — dating a con man who had done jail time in another state, a quick and ugly divorce from my first husband, bullying at the hands of several bosses. Without the dark(er) bits, it’s all saccharine sunshine.

I too, come from a difficult family and have had many years of estrangement from both parents and a step-sibling.

So, which stories to include, and which to delete?

Which to highlight in detail and which are just…too much?

I recently had lunch with two women, highly accomplished journalists with awards and tremendous track records of professional achievement. One, a good friend who has known me for 13 years, is urging me to write a memoir, and I’m considering it.

But both women freely admitted that they would not. They’d each be too uncomfortable revealing the woman beneath the professional veneer, however truthful that exterior is.

Once something is out there for public consumption, you can’t control how readers will react, whether with compassion and admiration or scorn and derision.

I read a few blogs where the writers share much more intimate detail about their lives.

Not sure this is where I want to go next.


How much do you share in your public writing, like books, articles and blogs?


Have you ever regretted over-sharing?


What happened?

14 thoughts on “How far to “open the kimono”?

  1. I tend to keep identifying details to a minimum and I don’t use social media (although I’m sure I could easily be figured out and of course FB et al isn’t helping). Because of my ex-narcissist, I have to keep the kimono closed with probably spanx underneath. 😉

    I have over-shared on ocassion (verbally) but I’m not aware of much in the way of adverse consequences except my own embarrassment. In your case, it’s a very important decision that could affect your livelihood.

  2. i like this phrase, describes it perfectly.

    for me, it is always a balancing act. i don’t often tell stories about the most challenging moments of my life in my blog, which is very public i tend to share my most personal thoughts and life experience stories with an intimate group of people who i am close to. perhaps someday, i will write more, but i’ll go with my instincts and know if it feels right.

    what i know of your story is fascinating, you’ve led such an interesting life, but i completely understand why you may or may not choose to share more of it in a public way.

    1. There’s a lot of deeply confessional writing out there — I know one writer who talks a lot about her struggles with mental illness. She writes beautifully, but I would never share that…yet it’s almost now her brand.

      This may be generational, where younger writers are used to it and crave it and like doing it.

      Thanks! There’s a lot to tell, and much of it is a lot of fun…:-)

  3. I actually share a lot less about my personal life these days, both because people online can be so nasty, and because my job requires me to be quiet about things like political stances or things that could lead to issues at work. Honestly, I’m kind of okay with that. I prefer to focus on the writing and the scary anyway.

  4. I’m kind of going for comfort these days. Writing comments on blogs I follow (especially yours) is a good way for me to get a in bit of writing and conversation without revealing very much. I haven’t posted anything in my blog (Kennysaidwhat) since last October and that, while very personal, didn’t really give anything up.
    I have bipolar disorder, there’s something. My wife knows all about it and, of course, my therapist. Most of the other people in my life think it’s not a real thing, that it’s something I have chosen or that it can be cured by oversimplifying it out of existence, so I just don’t talk about it. If I must regretfully decline your invitation to the party, it’s not because I don’t want to spoil your good time with my craziness, I just have a little tummyache. I see a therapist so my friends and I can keep our opinions concerning this to ourselves. Comfy.
    The late, great Tony Soprano once said “There are people who would go ten miles out of their way to avoid eye contact with me”. Only now they don’t have to. I would like to believe these are very sad people but I’m pretty sure they take great pleasure in what they do, which leaves it to me to cast not my pearls before the swine.
    So, there’s a little skin. Sexy, non? Good post, thank you.

    1. Thanks for this.

      My mother is bipolar. I don’t say much about it publicly, but it’s been challenging.

      I think discretion is usually the wisest tack. Not sure what FULL disclosure accomplishes to strangers except remorse.

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