Monday, October 8, 2012

Living (and Blogging) in the Real World

(Disclaimer: These are just thoughts, brought on by a variety of influences. These thoughts in no way imply any sort of current issues here at home. Please don't read into them.)

Blogging is weird.

Theoretically, you can talk about your life, in whatever level of detail you're comfortable with. Except you don't live your life completely alone, so part of your story is invariably also part of someone else's story.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

-John Donne

How do you deal with that? Other people are entitled to whatever level of privacy they want to maintain online, right? But you are also entitled to talk about your own life from your own perspective, aren't you? (Side note: I hate the word "entitled." I hate it about equally as much as the word "deserve.") So do you make up names for people so that they're not as easily Googled? That stops random searches, sure, but if someone who knows you both stumbles upon your blog and reads the pertinent entries, I imagine they're going to see right through your "Great-Aunt Bertha" alias and realize you're talking about your great-aunt Greta. And when you're talking about people even closer to you, like your spouse, parents or children, well - there's no hiding who they are to anyone who knows you.

One solution is to only write about things that are specifically about you, as if you really are an island. Another is to only write about the most positive experiences in your life. Yet another is to write about other people only when you can say something that can't be interpreted even obliquely as negative. Finally, you can write about only people who can defend themselves (ie, who read the blog and are therefore free to comment with their side of the story), or perhaps only people who can't defend themselves (ie, who are dead or are unlikely to ever see the blog).

I have problems with all of those, but the one I really want to talk about is the second item on that list: writing only about the most positive experiences in your life. I can think of some compelling reasons to do this; a big one is that putting the best face on everything keeps everyone happy. Except possibly you, since you may spend a lot of time writing if not fiction, then at least half-truths.

I watched the first few episodes of Mad Men recently (I know, where have I been for the last 5 years?). The '50s and early '60s were a time when everyone thought everyone else's life was perfect. Your neighbor had beautifully behaved children, her house was always neat as a pin, she threw wonderful dinner parties. But you really had no idea what was going on behind the picket fence and therefore, you spent a lot of time comparing yourself to the illusion of your neighbor. And although there are complaints that now we know too much about everyone, and we see too far into people's lives through the various social networks, in a lot of ways, that illusion is still there.

Blogging was harder when it was called "writing your memoirs."

Now I'm about to sort of contradict myself, because I'm not saying anyone should post about every little frustration or argument on Facebook (we all have people like that on our lists, and it is cringe-worthy to read things you're pretty sure they'll regret saying soon). But I am saying that posting about things that you've gotten some perspective on, or things that happened in the past can be helpful to you, and helpful to others. It doesn't help anyone to look around and find either perfection or complete disarray to compare oneself to. I think it's important for people to be honest, although it's also important for readers to remember that they are always only reading one view on the story. It's easy to forget that we're all the stars of our own movies, and it may look different from the viewpoint of someone you think of as a minor character. (If you haven't seen it, you should check out Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead for an illustration of that point.)

And since I don't want to end on a parenthetical statement, I'll just say that I appreciate and have been seeking out people who are brave enough to write about the full range of their experiences. It takes guts to do at all, and it takes sensitivity to do it fairly.


  1. My blog is about me, tho mainly I write about my hobby (geocaching) or my travels.

    The nice thing about my hobby is that part of the game is using aliases, so I often refer to other cachers by their caching name, not their real name. This adds a level of anonymity that otherwise wouldn't exist.

    If I am talking postive, or neutral, about someone, I may use their name (or caching name). If I am talking negative about someone, I tend not too. I grew up with the old saying "if you can't say something nice about someone, say nothing at all"

    Often when I am talking negative, it isn't the person specifically that bugs me, but a set of actions common to all, and that person just happened to set me over the edge to the point were I feel the need to bring up the subject. When I do, I anonymize the person if I am going to make references to that persons specific actions.

    I never spread gossip - it is a stupid thing to do, however I will also not talk about someone elses bad or negative experiences unless they publicly mention it first (or ask me to mention it, tho this has never actually happened).

    1. Dave, I think that there is certainly a different dynamic if your blog is more about a thing than about your life. And, even further, if your presence online everywhere is not about your life.

      For me, I tend to draw my inspiration from things that happen in daily life, so it is a question I wrestle with more often. As for "say nothing at all," I think that many times, this is what gets us into this mindset that no one else has ever had the problems we've had. Silence isn't always the desirable answer. I mean, sure, it's not productive to talk about how your neighbor drives you crazy with some trivial habit, but what if someone has really wronged you?

      But it doesn't really apply to things like geocaching, more than likely. Perhaps to travel.

      I wouldn't talk about someone else's experiences that didn't involve me either, except in the most general sense. That's their movie, after all. ;)

  2. Interesting points here, Ursula. Yesterday I faced a conundrum similar to this. My blog is usually quite impersonal, based more around my travel experiences than about me but yesterday was a personal anniversary of sorts and I felt the need to write about it. I have to say that, although I published the blog, I chickened out of sharing it on Facebook and G+, as I usually would. Maybe I need to be braver!

    1. Thank you for commenting, Annie - I hadn't looked for quite a while at who was following the blog, so I had no idea I was missing out on yours. I've rectified that situation now.

      I think that posting at all is one step, and letting people know it's out there on FB and G+ is another step. I don't think you have to do them both at once to be "brave." It's kind of like my philosophy on talking about people - it's not always the best to say everything you think to someone's face ("brutal honesty" is often just a way of saying "I don't care about your feelings"), but if I say something to a third party, it's something I'm willing to admit to and own should it get back to the person in question. Sometimes we all need to blow off steam or say that thing that is bothering us, but if you wouldn't be willing to admit to it later, it's probably something that should be left unsaid!

      I find this is a pretty good policy on the internet, where "private" is only as good as who you share it with, and records exist long past the time when you'd like to forget something.

  3. I'm really struggling with this very issue. I'm not sure why I even want to Blog anymore. Sometimes I feel like I just "need to get things out". Rarely are those things very positive. I've gone back to journaling, that is blogging for myself for only my eyes. Once in a while when I have something specific that friends, family, and employers probably won't find objectionable I will actually publish something for public consumption.

    1. Journaling for yourself or a small audience has its benefit as well. I used to do a lot of that, but in recent years I've quit. I feel like I'm reaching for a specific goal now. I admire people who embrace their entire lives and don't feed into a culture of masks and facades, and I'd like to be one of them.