Telling Our Own Stories: Our Children and Internet Privacy

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had a private blog. Writing has long been my preferred means of communication, and blogging felt like a natural way to chronicle my daughter’s birth and my birth as a mother. We were 2,500-3,000 miles from our family and friends, and this blog helped make that distance seem shorter.

I posted weekly belly pictures and anticipatory poems about labor (“Here I sit in early labor/Hoping my moans won’t wake the neighbor”). I wrote a post entitled “My Cups Runneth Over” in which I gleefully reported on my trip to the bra store when I discovered that I now filled a C cup. I wrote about my ambivalent feelings about the ultrasound I got halfway through my pregnancy. The image on the screen was so different from my experience of my baby that the moment didn’t carry for me the emotional significance so many women report. “All attention was on that little screen,” I wrote, “but I had the entire universe inside me.”

I posted pictures on the blog for a while after my daughter was born, but telling her birth story was painful and new parenthood was kicking my ass in ways I had never imagined it would (and the blog host started charging money), so I eventually let that blog go.

Between my daughter’s birth and my second pregnancy, Facebook was born. I leaped into the Facebook ball pit and jumped around happily with everyone else, tending my pretend farm, “poking” people, sending magic eggs, updating my status seventeen times a day. While pregnant with my son, I posted weekly belly pictures, and after his birth, I posted photos of us in the birth tub and dozens and dozens of photos of his cuteness.

Then there was some alert about Facebook using member photos in advertisements, and how, based on the terms of agreement, all content on Facebook was the property of Facebook to do with as it liked. I wasn’t really sure how big a privacy risk this was, but it got me to thinking about what I was doing. My son had been on the internet since before his birth and had no say in whether he was there or not. This didn’t seem fair. So, I took down all of the photos of my children’s faces, all of the birth photos, all of the belly photos. Eventually I deleted all content and closed down my personal profile (although it still shows up, and I suspect it might not be possible to delete it entirely).

I started Imperfect Happiness, and carefully avoided posting photos of faces. (Eventually I posted a photo or two of my own face, but I still avoid photos of my kids’ faces.)

I posted stories about my kids, but I never used their names and when my friends would forget and use my kids’ names in the comments, I would edit them. I wanted to post about deep, important issues, but I didn’t want that traced back to my children.

For a long time, this seemed like enough privacy, but now I’m not so sure. Telling my own story is one thing, but do I have a right to tell my children’s stories to anyone who happens upon Imperfect Happiness? Am I betraying their trust in me by exposing our private conversations and concerns to the world?

I felt this way about my daughter first. She’s four years older and much more private than my son. Especially now that she’s on the cusp of adolescence, she seems even more in need of someone she can trust with her secrets. In the past six months or so, I’ve started to feel this way about my son, too. He’s not yet six, but he has a rich internal life that he lets me glimpse and which delights me. I want to resist the temptation to share the things they say as “cute.”

And my children are cute. They are endearing. Every day, they each reveal a heart that’s sensitive and strong and wise in its innocence. I listen with amazement as they reveal their hearts to me and to their dad and to other people they trust. I am one of a very few with whom they trust their hearts. It doesn’t feel right for me to turn around and tell all about it on the internet, especially in that distancing, patronizing “isn’t that adorable?” grown-up way. That doesn’t feel like a good way to cultivate trust.

This has been my struggle with blogging over the past few months. How do I tell about the moving and perception-altering experience of sharing my life with my children without betraying their trust?

Without an answer to this question, I tread carefully. I’ve withdrawn from the revelatory posts I’d previously found so comfortable, and this has left me feeling flat about what I’m writing. I know authors who write movingly without telling too much about their families; I know it’s possible, but I’ve not figured out how to do it yet and so I err on the side of silence.

Just as my children have since their births been engaging in the long transition from being one with me to being individuals, I need to learn how to transition from interweaving my story with theirs to the degree that their stories are merely an extension of mine. Even more difficult, I have to learn to see my own story as not merely an extension of theirs.

 

My Very Dull Competitive Edge

This morning I was doing breakfast dishes while my four-year-old was agitating for me to quit my task and read him I Drive a Bulldozer yet again.

“Mom, I don’t like you when you’re busy, but I like you when you’re not busy.”

“Oh, yeah?” I said, not turning around from the soapy water.

“Yes. Because I love love from Mommy.”

“And I love love from you, Sweet Pea.”

And of course I kept doing the dishes and of course I felt awful because this was not the first time this morning that I’d put off my kid, it was just the first time I’d put him off when I wasn’t at the computer.

A month or so ago, I started posting for the weekly Remember the Time Blog Hop and then quickly added the yeah write weekly writing challenge. The yeah write challenge involves not only writing a blog post which follows their guidelines and represents my best work, but also reading  about 30 blog posts every week, analyzing them for adherence to the yeah write guidelines, and then voting for the five that I think adhere best and most artfully to these guidelines. On top of both of these blog events, I decided to do BlogHer’s National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) for November.

I figured NaBloPoMo wouldn’t be too much of a challenge. Between the writing challenge and the blog hop and WordPress’s Weekly Photo Challenge and my book reviews, I was already posting most every day anyway. And I’d completed the Post-a-Day Challenge back in 2011, posting every single day through my spouse’s layoff and job search, our cross-country move, our six weeks living in a hotel, and our introduction to New England, which included a hurricane and a freak October snow storm that knocked out the electricity for a week. I think I missed maybe two days out of 365 that year. Thirty days of posting would be a cinch.

For some reason, though, it has not been a cinch, and I spend a lot of time sitting at my computer  (or standing, if I have my laptop on the kitchen counter so I can blog while I’m supposed to be cooking dinner, like I’m doing now) with my son begging for my attention. Add to this all of the other times he has to beg for my attention—like when I’m doing household chores or doing homeschool with his sister or sleeping—and the poor kid spends a huge amount of time talking to my back.

I don’t think I need to spend every moment paying attention to my kids, but it’s starting to seem like the only attention I give them anymore they have to share with the internet. And that doesn’t feel awesome.

So, something has to give and since we need clean dishes, I think it’s got to be the yeah write weekly writing challenge. Because that’s not been feeling awesome to me, either. I’d hoped it would be a pleasant writing community for me, but it feels like the regulars there have a nice community going, and just like when I go to a party in real life, I feel like I’m  standing on the outskirts of an animated conversation, never really knowing how to break in. Occasionally people pat my shoulder on their way to the bathroom and say, “Awesome party, isn’t it?” and I smile and say, “Yeah! It’s great!” as they walk away. I’m just not good at parties.

Another reason this particular party’s not awesome is that don’t do well with competition. I took one class with my future spouse when we were in college. It was Calculus II. I’d taken both Calc I and Calc II in high school, but didn’t have the money to take the AP exams so I didn’t place out of them for college. I took them again in college because my being an English major wasn’t a done-deal freshman year, and I wanted to keep the possibility of a scientific major open. So, I took Calc I and got an A, and then I took Calc II with my future spouse making wagers with me on every test, and I got a C.

Same thing happens in sports. If I play racquetball and have a third-party keep score and not tell me how I’m doing, I do better than when I know the score. I could probably blame this on societal programming intended to keep me as the female from out-competing my male counterparts, but I tend to think it’s just my own anxiety. I get in a competitive situation and the adrenaline and cortisol flood my brain, and it shuts off.

And even though I know this is going to happen, and I know that it doesn’t have any bearing on my worth as a human being, my thoughts go full-on existential the moment I’m not in the winners circle. Not that I’m often in the winners circle.

My spouse thinks that maybe if I compete long enough I’ll stop getting so anxious about it, and I can break the cycle, but that’s probably because he does not have this problem and so he’s kind of jerk for thinking he has the answer to my problem. (Okay, so my spouse isn’t a jerk. He’s just solutions-oriented, which just seems jerky when the solution he offers doesn’t match the problem.)

I think the solution is avoidance. It’s worked for me so far. The first time I had a post make Freshly Pressed, I didn’t even know what Freshly Pressed was. Sticking my head in the sand and avoiding direct competition worked for me then. Not that the post was great writing, because it wasn’t. It was just a great title on a recipe post. But I got featured without trying to be, and that seems to be the key for me.

They say you’re more likely to cut yourself with a dull knife than with a sharp one, and with as dull as my competitive edge is, it’s probably safer to go back to competing only with myself.

Hopefully taking a break from competitive blogging will help me spend less time mired in existential angst and more time with my kids in front of me and the computer screen at my back. At the very least, it will significantly reduce the number of blog posts I read each week, and that should buy me some time.

How Can I Keep From Singing?

I’m going to let you in on a little secret:

I’m average.

I’m a regular mom, not a Supermom. I write and sing and play the flute, but I don’t stand out above the crowd. I’m not bad at these things, I’m just…average (except in height; there I’m below average). I get the job done—and I enjoy doing it—but I don’t have anything in particular to crow about.

Which leads me to wonder: Why do I blog? Read More

The Sour Grapes Test

The other day I found out that I graduated high school with a woman who is now a famous mommy-blogger with a recent New York Times Best Seller.

I felt a bit conflicted when I heard about this. And by “conflicted” I mean “in a bit of a crisis.”

My clearest memory of this particular classmate is from our tenth-grade biology class. We were studying genetics. The teacher had the whole class stand up and then she read off recessive traits. If we didn’t have the trait, we sat down, and if we had it, we stayed standing. As the teacher called out traits, I kept standing. Soon I realized that it was only me and one of the popular girls left standing. She looked around the room and saw me. I gave her a meek little smile and she gave that popular-girl half-smile, half-sneer thing that made it clear she was not happy about being in this recessive club with me.

I hoped that the next trait would force one of us to sit down. I even considered sitting down whether I had the next trait or not, but as it turned out, I got to sit down without being forced to lie. My ring finger is longer than my index finger and apparently hers are the same length. Or at least I think that’s the difference between us; it’s been more than twenty years, and my diaries from that time are in Ohio in the rafters of my mom’s garage so I can’t sift through the teenage angst to find that one detail. Regardless, I felt relieved to take my seat.

And now she’s famous and my friends (who’ve never met her) are quoting her and sharing links from her on Facebook.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. I’d been assured by parents, fellow outcasts, and teen movies that the kids who were popular in high school would be relegated to obscurity afterward while the nerds would inherit the Earth. I’d comforted myself with this thought for years, thinking that maybe its effects for me were diluted because I wasn’t even a very successful nerd; I only got 1320 on my SATs, attended Renaissance Festivals but didn’t dress up, and although I joined Model UN, I never could figure out the point. But now, it seems, it wasn’t true at all.

Hoping for compassion, I told my husband the high school biology story.

“Wow, so that’s why our kids look so much like me!” he exclaimed.

“What?” I asked. “What are you talking about?”

“Because you’re so recessive. My genes are dominant. That’s why our kids look like me and not like you.”

“Have I met you?” I thought but didn’t say.

Then I had a fun time with another friend of mine doing the “sour grapes” thing.

“You don’t want to be on the New York Times Best Seller list,” she assured me. “It’s just a popularity contest. I mean, look how often John Grisham is on it.” And then we laughed, and that helped for a little while.

Then I made the mistake of mentioning the situation to my minister. I said I was having some trouble knowing what to do with this new information.

“You just feel happy for her,” she directed. Of course. What did I expect? She’s my minister. She’s professionally obligated to see the good in everyone.

And none of it helps because that’s exactly the problem: I know I should just feel happy for her. I feel ashamed that I’m not. I mean, I do feel happy for her, but not “just” happy. I keep thinking about that tenth-grade sneer and about how her blog—while occasionally very funny—just isn’t my cup of tea, and how her book—although I’ve not read it—appears to be just the type of feel-good overly optimistic rah-rah self-help book that I read only when I want to feel awful about myself.

And she keeps showing up, probably because she’s got great publicity people who can reach into my no-tv, no-mainstream-media life and still make me aware of her stardom or semi-stardom or whatever.

And just like in high school, half of me wants to hate her and half of me wants to be her.

But.

Then I tell myself, “You know? Really, this isn’t about you at all. What’s the harm in feeling happy for her? Sure, it’s luck of the draw. Sure, it’s a popularity contest. But she’s also got a compelling story, and she tells it in a way that resonates with a lot of people. So, good for her.”

Next year, it will be twenty years since we graduated high school. People can change, and based on her story, she was going through quite a bit of her own crap when we knew each other. Maybe after all these years she’d not be scandalized to know she shares all but one recessive trait with me. Or maybe I’m grown-up enough not to care if she is.

Maybe that’s the real problem. Maybe part of me really is trapped back in tenth grade, feeling doomed to obscurity and belittled on the basis of things outside my control, always comparing unfavorably to the people around me, wanting to opt out of the popularity contest at the same time that I secretly want to win at it.

Although it’s not even this particular popularity contest I want to win at. I don’t want to write a best-selling self-help book. I don’t want to be a mommy-blogger guru. I’d like to publish a book, but the party I want to be invited to is the one with Lionel Shriver and Marilynne Robinson and Jennifer Egan. So, no need for jealousy, right?

It’s been a few days now since I started writing this post. I’ve talked it through with a few more people and mulled it over while just living my life, and I realize that this is actually a unique opportunity for me. It’s given me a chance to revisit that unpleasant popular girl/unpopular girl dynamic from when I was fifteen and to react to it differently. Looking at it as a chance to see how I’ve grown over the past two-plus decades and reframe that old hurt, I really appreciate this opportunity. It threw me for a loop at first, but now that the dust is settling, I think I have more perspective. Despite what my minister says, I don’t think I need to feel anything in particular about the success of someone else, I just need to accept it as reality and move on. We each get what we get. If I’m happy for her, great, but the key is to not feel unhappy about myself.

The real test, however, will be how I feel if I see her at our 20th reunion next year. But then, I doubt she’ll be the only test at that reunion. There’s a reason I’ve been avoiding my reunions for 20 years. But, maybe it’s time to jump in. Chances are, it won’t be as scary as I expect.

New Digs

I’d only planned to change my header image. I found a font I liked, printed out a reference sheet, put on my sun hat, swept the driveway, then knelt in front of my garage and drew my blog title.

With my kids’ help, I took a few photos, and with my kids annoying me because I was burning dinner, I uploaded my images and prepared to enjoy the new header.

But alas! The header on the theme I’ve known and loved for the past three years was too narrow for my cool new image. So, I put some food in front of the children to try and quiet their demands and set to work finding a new theme. If you happened to look at Imperfect Happiness in the past two hours or so, you probably saw a couple of iterations of this as I tried and erred with some of the most promising-looking themes.

Long story short (or more accurately, short story excruciatingly drawn out), my blog’s got a new look for the first time since I first hit “publish.”

What do you think? Did anything disappear that you miss? Is anything still there that really detracts from your blog-reading experience?

Your Idea, My Post

You’re all familiar with the regular features on my blog: the periodic book reviews, the monthly Weekly Photo Challenges, the randomly timed snippets of my children’s conversations, the yearly spate of homeschooling posts, the sporadic recipe post, the rare and dramatically unpopular poll.

Hoping to branch out and flex my writing muscles a bit, I’ve decided to add a new feature:

The Reader’s Request Post

The name pretty much says it all, but to clarify…

  • You, the reader, will submit a topic or prompt, and I will base a blog post on it, crediting you as the originator of the idea.
  • I will title each post, “Reader’s Request Post: [Descriptive Subtitle],” tag it “Reader’s Request,” place it in the Reader’s Request Category, and link to it on the “Reader’s Request” Page (when it’s created).
  • The frequency of these posts will depend on the number and frequency of responses I get and how long it takes me to write each post. I’m betting that some posts will take a very short period of time to write while others will require some amount of research, editing, and, well, effort. I could see this being a weekly feature or a monthly feature or a quarterly feature or one that appears once and never shows up again. Really anything’s possible.

By now, my expert marketing skills have left you saying, “Wow! What a great idea and unique honor to be featured in such a way on a personal blog with a moderately sized readership! How can I get in on this?”

Here’s the simple Three-Step Process to see your idea in my words:

  • Think of an idea you’d like to read about.
  • Send me your idea in the comments on this post, in the comments on the Reader’s Request Page (once it’s up), or via the Drop Me a Line contact form.
  • Wait for your post to be published.

Then…

  • Comment and let me know how I did representing your idea.

This feature is in its test phase, so please let me know if there are details I’ve left out or questions I’ve left unanswered. If I’ve told you everything you need to know, then get to it, and send me your idea(s)!

The 2012 Challenge Wrap-Up

2012, like most years, has been a year of challenges. For me, it’s specifically been a year of challenges I’ve set for myself and then blogged my way through.

Here, as part of The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge, is my wrap-up of the challenges I’ve started—and sometimes completed—this year:

1) My Bold Plan for 2012: Starting January 1st, I did a self-guided version of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s 8-week MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) series. I actually completed all 8 weeks and for nearly half of the year had a really robust and regular meditation practice. Then we went on vacation and one of the cats decided to show his dismay at being left behind by comprehensively soiling my meditation cushion, and that was essentially the end of that daily practice. I got a new meditation cushion, but I’ve not been able to recapture the morning meditation habit.

2) Self-Compassion: In March, I challenged myself to develop self-compassion by journaling about an uncomfortable occurrence each day for one week (more info is at that “Self-Compassion” link). I did this as part of the Mindful Mama Carnival, co-sponsored by Becoming Crunchy and TouchstoneZ. I did manage to journal every day for a week, but while I came up with some decent insights, it wasn’t really a practice that stuck with me.

3) Savory Smoothies Challenge: In August, I challenged myself to try a new savory (non-fruity) smoothie each day for a week. The first couple I tried were just…ugh. But I stuck with it and found three savory smoothies that have made it into my smoothie rotation. I still drink one nearly every morning, except when the avocados look brown inside or smell like bacon. Not that I have anything against the smell of bacon, I just think avocados should smell like avocados.

4) My “Little Audacious Plan”: In September, I wanted to set myself up with a big, ambitious challenge to finish out the year, but instead I set out to complete four smallish tasks. I ended up completing one of them (I got rid of my Facebook profile) and kind of halfway completing another (see ROW80 under #5). The other two? Yes, well, let’s not mention those.

5) ROW80 (A Round of Words in 80 Days): After mulling it over for about a year, I finally decided to jump into a writing challenge for the fourth round of ROW80 this year. I was going to re-read a chapter a week of The Pen and the Bell by Brenda Miller and Holly Hughes, journal each day using one of their writing prompts, and meditate each day with one of their meditation suggestions. I can’t even tell you where I am with this. I did maybe 5 1/2 weeks of it and then just kind of dropped it. I’m hardly even journaling anymore, and I don’t remember the last time I meditated. Since I’m not even sure if the ROW80 round has ended yet or not, I’m pretty sure that means I’ve dropped out.

6) Weekly Photo Challenge: This may be the most fun I’ve had doing a challenge this year. When I first started posting as part of the Weekly Photo Challenge, I was so worried that the photos I took with my little point-and-shoot were silly or didn’t follow the challenge topic properly or not artistic enough or they broke some basic photography rules that everyone but me knows. I still want people to like my photos, but I don’t worry so much anymore about whether or not my pictures are “good.” I like the way the challenge helps me see the world in a different way, not only because I see different things  than I normally would while looking for subjects to photograph, but also because I get to see everyone else’s take on the challenge. Since late May, I’ve posted for this challenge nearly every week.

So, those were my challenges for 2012. I’ve got a couple in mind for 2013, but I’m going to let myself go challenge-free at least until January 1st.

What challenges have you set for yourself in the past twelve months? Did you meet your goals, or are you still working at them?

How to Blog Imperfectly: An Interview with Myself

“Mommy, don’t type!” demands CJ’s three-year-old son.

“I’ll be done in a second, honey.” She tries to soothe him without looking away from the screen. “I just want to publish this post.”

Undaunted, her son ups the ante: he grabs her forearms and pulls.

“Don’t look at the ‘puter, Mommy. Look at ME!”

It’s times like these when CJ wonders why she blogs.

CIMG3359From the moment of her first creative writing lesson in third grade, through her B.A. in English with a creative nonfiction writing focus, to her first-person blog today, CJ has enjoyed writing personal essays.

“It’s like how I feel about traveling. I feel like there’s so much I haven’t seen here, it seems a pity to ignore the United States to see other countries. It’s not that I don’t want to see other countries because I really do; it’s more that I want to delve deeply into the one I know best so as not to miss anything before moving on. It’s similar to what happens with my writing. There’s so much I want to explore from my own perspective, it’s difficult to get myself to branch out and explore the perspectives of fictional characters. And,” she adds, “I already know the language here.”

That’s not to say that CJ hasn’t aspired to write fiction. Literary fiction is her favorite genre to read, and she often feels the desire to create something similar to her favorite books and short stories. She has a few persistent characters swimming about in her head, and she even completed 50,000 words of a novel for NaNoWriMo in 2010. Short for National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo is the literary equivalent of a marathon, in which participants challenge themselves to complete a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. CJ estimates that her novel was about one-third written when she reached 50,000 words, but she’s not gone back to it to complete the remaining two-thirds.

“I’m really deadline focused,” she explains. “I try to keep to a schedule so I can be more consistently productive with my writing, but it’s not something I can maintain without some kind of external deadline.”

In 2000, CJ founded a writing group in North Carolina, where she was living at the time. It was a very productive time for her, and she credits that productivity to needing to have something to submit for critique every six weeks or so.

“I’ve not had a writing group since 2003 [when we moved from North Carolina], and I’ve not been nearly as productive with my writing,” she says.

Despite this claim of low productivity, CJ has been remarkably consistent with her blogging. She blogged every single day of 2011, and although she’s slowed down a bit in 2012, she continues to publish 2-3 times a week or more.

“I’m not sure why that is,” she says. “I guess blogging doesn’t feel like ‘writing’ in the same way that an extended project does. It’s more like an ongoing conversation.”

A conversation with other people or with herself?

CJ laughs. “It’s tough to say sometimes, I guess.”

Imperfect Happiness has a solid following—168 blog followers and 208 Facebook followers to date—but its page views can be erratic.

“I can’t really tell what people like about my blog,” CJ admits. “Maybe they just like to read about someone who’s floundering about and asking some of the same questions they are.”

Her readers do seem to appreciate the authentic, first-person voice of her blog, but they are divided about what subjects they prefer.

Her recipe posts get the most page views, but her more controversial posts get more comments, which is what CJ says she likes best about blogging. She explains that, while she didn’t take into account the social aspect of blogging when she hit “Publish” on her first post, that aspect has turned out to be very rewarding, especially when the comments are particularly rich.

“It really enriches the experience for me and gives me a sense of connection that’s missing when I’m by myself at the computer. I get especially excited when someone I’ve blogged about—like the author of one of the books I’ve reviewed or the subject of one of the NPR pieces I’ve referenced—takes the time to comment, and we get into a little bit of a conversation. But I love it anytime comments conversations happen.”

CJ started out blogging her progress on a “happiness project,” inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s bestselling book. Gradually she branched out to include recipes; book reviews; a sporadic series called, “You Know You’re a Crunchy Mama When…”; daily off-the-cuff musings; photo posts; posts filled with existential angst; posts about writing; and the occasional post in response to one of the Weekly Writing Challenges put out by The Daily Post. Her book reviews come in last in popularity, but her style of injecting book reviews with her personal experience has attracted a loyal following.

Imperfect Happiness has something for everyone, but not everyone likes any one something.

“If I defined my blog’s identity a little more clearly, and wrote shorter posts, I might be able to attract more readers, but…” she shrugs her shoulders. “I feel pretty comfortable with how things are now. People who like what I have to write, read. People who don’t? Well, I guess I’m not writing for them.”

And that three-year-old begging his mom not the look at the “’puter”?

CJ tries to do most of her blogging when her children are asleep, but sometimes the bug just bites before bedtime arrives.

And that might just be the best explanation for why she keeps blogging.

This post was written as part of The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge for the week of December 3rd.

Blogging Outside of My Comfort Zone

This week, The Daily Post challenged bloggers to post outside of their comfort zone. This is my submission to the challenge.

Top Ten Blogging Topics/Formats That Are Outside of My Comfort Zone

1. Poetry. When I sit down to write a poem, I really do draw a blank in a way I rarely ever do when I sit down to write prose. I actually gave it a half-hearted try for this writing challenge. I sat down and said, “Let’s write this blog post as a poem.” And then I sat and listened to the crickets chirping. I could only think of Dr Seuss books and how I have this half-formed idea to write a faux-scholarly criticism of The Cat in the Hat, but since book reviews—even tongue-in-cheek ones—are not outside of my comfort zone, I moved on.

2. Sharing Personal Information. Now, those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while might be thinking, “Really? Your three-part birth story wasn’t ‘personal’?” I think that there’s a difference between revealing anecdotes, opinions, emotions, thoughts, hopes, and dreams and revealing actual “information” about myself, like where I live and where I went to school and my full non-nickname name and my image and the images of my children. I’ve gone so far as to avoid referencing the blogs of friends whose posts have featured images of me and my children (although the third birth story post does feature an image of my son, he’s all cone-headed and covered in vernix (ie, birth goo), so I don’t consider that a “recognizable” image of him). I’m not entirely clear about what the danger is, but I figure it’s easier to keep the cat in the bag than to put it back in.

3. Blogging About TV Shows. But this might just be because I don’t watch television except for re-runs of The Simpsons.

4. Talking Politics. I tackle thorny issues, but I hate, HATE to talk politics. Here’s my take on politics: Each person running for office represents a particular set of policies or an ideology (or a particular take on an established ideology). Ideally, we either agree with those policies or we disagree with them, and we vote based on that information. The idea that the person who represents the policies with which we disagree is somehow evil or out to destroy the country or whatever is just ridiculous. Charging them as such is beyond ridiculous.

While I’m on the subject, this whole two-minutes-per-topic debate structure just annoys the heck out of me. It’s good for little more than giving the candidates a chance to spew more soundbites over and over and over again. A longer debate format would force everyone to go into more detail and maybe actually, you know, debate the issues rather than just repeating their own position over and over and over again waiting for people to decide who to vote for by whose demeanor they like best or who spewed his soundbites most aggressively (or least, depending on your preference). I cannot see how opining about so-and-so’s outfit or haircut or workout regimen adds anything substantive to the conversation.

If I were in charge, I would make it so no one knew what the candidates looked like until after the election. Or maybe just ban tv ads and televised debates so people are forced to listen to the radio or read things in print (I actually prefer reading speeches to listening to them anyway. I hate the sound of speechifying voices and over-used applause). Or even just watch a speech or debate in person (and extend the campaign season so more of the population—and not just the population of Ohio—has a chance to see the candidates in person). I hate the camera angles and split-screen things. It’s all manner of potentially manipulative hooey that distracts us from the issues at hand. Yes, I said hooey.

5. Excessive Swearing. Really, I do enough of this in real life. Enough that my three-year-old occasionally says things like, “Get out of here, j*ck*ss trees!” and “Cows that type? F**K!” Why I can say the words but feel compelled to bleep myself in writing is something I will leave up to the mental health professionals.

6. Top Ten Lists. Sometimes they’re not bad, but most times they’re overly simple and/or padded with two to five items to get the list to ten. If I don’t have ten items for a list, I don’t feel comfortable pushing it just to get to the magic number.

And there you have it! The Top Ten (or so) Blogging Topics/Formats That Are Outside of My Comfort Zone! Next week, perhaps I’ll post about the art of writing concise post titles.

The Existential Importance of Blog Stats: A Response to a Response

Zoie at TouchstoneZ blogged about me (or rather, about my blog) the other day. I was, as always, tickled. She always delights me with her eloquent optimism about online connections and about blogging in particular.

A core point of her post:

But your words don’t go into a vacuum. And it’s not the “if a post falls in the forest and no one is there to read it, does it make a sound?” issue. Every single one of us tiny bloggers matter. Your voice is unique.

Blogging embodies what we each hold within ourselves at every moment: we are both a miracle and mundane. We are a speck of nothing in the universe, but without our speck something that never was before and never will be again would never exist.

We matter. Both for our nothingness and for our immense importance.

At the risk of always being Eeyore to her Tigger (it’s possible she’s more Kanga and I’m more Owl, but that doesn’t work with the comparison I’m trying to make), I’m not sure about the idea of each of us having our own unique voice. I suppose from a voice-printing standpoint this is technically true, but that’s physiology. But how unique are the things I say, really? And even if my voice is unique, does that make it worthy of putting in print for a potentially world-wide audience? Does that make it worth reading?

And of course, there’s the doubt that sends me to my stats page. Because stats and comments are the only way I can tell if what I’m saying is connecting. I’ve been journaling for years. I still journal. I don’t blog the same things I journal, but there’s certainly overlap there. I journal quotes that I find particularly insightful from the books I read. I journal funny things my kids say during the day. I journal my half-formed thoughts, circling and circling what I hope is a center of meaning and clarity. I journal my thoughts and feelings about making both large and small decisions. And I journal about the things I tell no one but my husband.

I journal as a way of thinking on paper. I blog as a way of sharing my thoughts and, perhaps, connecting with others. It’s so rare that I get to have the kinds of deep conversations I crave in real life, either because I haven’t developed the intimacy necessary to go that route with the people I know or because I almost always interact with other adults when my children are around and, lovely as children are, their presence is rarely conducive to deep conversation. I guess blogging is my way of doing this.

But it’s a fairly flawed way of connecting. I have a sense that some of the people who comment (on my blog and on others) are doing it only as a) a way to drive traffic to their own blog, or b) as part of a personal challenge to comment on everything because it’s the nice thing to do. Replying to these types of comments can feel like the equivalent of someone saying, “How are you?” and me saying, “Oh, I’m so glad you asked, because I’ve been wanting to talk to someone and bounce ideas back and forth about…” only to realize halfway through that they just said, “How are you?” as a greeting and didn’t want an actual response. It’s like in On the Shores of Silver Lake when the Ingalls move into town and Laura says something about how before, isolated by weather and geography, she was alone and happy, but in town she’s lonely because she’s surrounded by people she doesn’t know.

Even with the small amount of discussion that takes place among the comments under each of my posts (well, some of my posts), blogging remains mostly one-sided, my ego expressing itself on-screen. It’s possible that’s the main reason I blog anyway. And a secondary reason I journal. It’s my way of asserting myself, one tiny speck in an infinite universe, one dependent arising of a billion billion dependent arisings. It’s my way of saying, “I exist! I am I! My individual self as I perceive it exists inherently, despite the preponderance of evidence to the contrary!” It’s my way of fighting that 3am, sitting upright in bed, heart-pounding realization that “I” will one day cease to exist.

I think that’s why “low” page views hit me so hard. I’m blogging to declare my existence. If no one reads, do I even exist?

And yes, that’s melodramatic, but so’s basing my self-worth on stats at all.

Maybe eventually I will learn accept reality and to act as part of the collective whole of all existence rather than as a whole and separate ego.

But can one do that and still blog?