One of the points made over and over at BlogHer was: “Your blog is your space. Your space, your rules.”
Another mantra I heard again and again was: “But that’s not my story to tell.”
I guess I am a memoirist, a diarist of sorts. A writer who tells stories about my life, my experiences, my recipes, my fears, my dreams, my hopes. The lines are blurred a bit, though, because I tell other people’s tales too. I do this outright, with Faces of ALI.
But none of us live in a cork-lined flat either. (Except Proust.) We interact with others every day, sometimes only a small handful of people, but usually dozens and sometimes hundreds depending on whether we work in a city or commute, or sit in a cubicle in a skyscraper. Then there are the virtual interchanges: the Facebook updates, the blogs we read, the comments we get, the comments we make. The sometimes sharp debates and discussions we engage in. From the elevator door we hold open (or don’t) to the clueless comments we hear about “just adopting.” From the coffee barista we smile at or the customers we try to politely explain rules to. To the tweets we rush out in an attempt to be funny or relevant, which may come across to 1 or 2 or 76 of our followers as unfunny or offensive. All of these countless interactions we experience just in one day shape who we are in ways that are seen and unseen.
There’s a reason James Joyce followed Leopold Bloom through one day in that beast of a book “Ulysses.” If we truly describe all of a full day (especially an extraordinary day, as Kathy attempted in this remarkable post) we probably would have over 6,000 words essays, at least. Leopold Bloom wandered the streets of Dublin to visit a butcher and read a letter and used an outhouse and so on and so on. The internal thoughts and judgements and the niceties and the tensions of just navigating the mundane and extraordinary events of June the 16th added up to a word count of over 268,000.
So how do we separate ourselves from the interactions of others? Is that even possible?
Blogging is a truly strange beast. Never have so many shared their thoughts, their innermost feelings with strangers. Journaling has been around for centuries, but so has the wail: “Mama! (Fill in the blank) read my diary!”
Obviously most bloggers put up walls. I don’t share the details of a lot about my life. Most of us don’t. But I don’t know if I could tell my story WITHOUT including the insensitive comments and remarks I got. (Although I don’t attribute them to specific people.) Nor could I not express my thanks for this extraordinary community, without mentioning and praising the bloggers who inspired me.
But by doing so, I am telling a story that is not mine to tell.
I know that I have offended people sometimes with my posts. Usually, because I mentioned them or wrote about them without asking. I try not to do this anymore. (Although it occurs to me now that I didn’t run my story about Bodega’s shower past any of the writers mentioned, including Bodega. Were they offended? I don’t know.) I don’t run my writing past my parents or my brother unless they are copy reading specific, important posts. Are they offended? I meant to be funny about my brother the grammarian but maybe my story hurt his feelings? I don’t know. I didn’t ask. I probably should have. Darcy has a rule that he won’t read my posts. I talk about him, but not a lot.
But what about those you don’t mention by name, or you imply, or they simply gather that you are writing about them? (Even if you are not.) Many fiction authors have offended friends and family who assumed that a character was based on them. And those were made-up stories! Here, we are supposed to be writing our story. Readers often DEMAND authenticity. (Not you guys. I’m thinking of criticisms I have seen about the big bloggers.)
Writing my story, my experience, has mostly been a mission of education for me: I wanted people to know what it was like to go through infertility and loss. The ins, the outs. I heard on NPR the other day that only by telling stories can we change someone’s mind. That studies don’t matter: people remember the anecdotes, the well-told personal tales. Hearing stories makes others more empathetic to someone’s plight. And God, do we need empathy for this community.
Of course, we are a community here too. We jostle, we joke, we commiserate, we cry with each other. We learn, we open our hearts and minds to those we might not ever know IRL. And conflict is probably inevitable. Conflict seems to be a part of the human condition. There’s been an argument that women tear other women down, and I think that’s true to a certain extent. But, yes, I am reading Ulysses and it strikes me that humans tear each other down. We are in groups, communities, but those little safe havens, whether SF’s Chinatown or NYC’s Lower East Side around the turn of the century or Leopold Bloom, marching through the streets of Dublin: we are bound to come into contact with others.
The ALI world has become my safe haven, but it’s not a utopia of course. Just like there is no utopia anywhere nor will there ever be. But I gather strength from it. It feels like a home to me, a comfy one where sometimes people bicker over the remote, but where, on rare occasion, the very walls seem to crack. (Although they seem to heal with time.) Sometimes there’s even a scary troll from without our walls, trying to hurt us.
I haven’t answered the question I raised in my title. And that is because, of course I don’t know the answer. I can speculate, I can try to apply rules to myself, I can frown internally if I think those rules have been broken and I can (and do) feel shame if I break my rules.
My blog, my rules.
But what are your rules? How do you know what is your story to tell?
UPDATED: I thought this was a fascinating post and wanted to share it.