Blogging Redux

Has it happened, are there more blogs now than people on the planet? The uncontrollable sprawl of online scribblers has led to a lot of pondering in the media lately, with cultural critics ready to unpack and dissect the implications of this curious new form of expression and interconnection.

I have intentionally kept clear of this increasingly overexposed dissection of blogs, bloggers, blogging, the blogosphere, the battle for airtime and audience grab. It isn’t because I feel untouched by these issues because that isn’t the case. I’m a blogger like a gazillion other people. But it wasn’t until I read the New York Times magazine cover article on Sunday by Emily Gould that I realized just how much I was chafing against the increasing meaninglessness of the term “blogger.”

If you didn’t read Gould’s article, it was a tell all confession of a highly charged, high profile case of “he said/she said”, one that can happen when you live your life out loud, online, without much in the way of editing. Gould began as a blogger who openly shared the details of her relationships and personal life, was hired to be an editor at the now infamous website Gawker, pissed off a lot of people particularly when she defended the ethos of Gawker’s celebrity stalking, lost her job, became a target just as she had targeted others, and now is reconsidering just what it all meant. Gould is 24 years old, which explains a lot. Tact and temperance were not qualities I had honed when I was her age either.

But Gould’s confessional mea culpa—with a twist (there’s always a twist)—has been bouncing in my head for days. Her compulsive need to “overshare” (her term) is a feature of her personality she says, and even though she would like to search and destroy many of her earlier and unwise postings, she seems committed to continue her maturation process online, in full view of the public. Reading her New York Times account has inspired me to articulate my own reasons for writing and for making the determinations about what I share and what I do not.

I have a few favorite bloggers who are regular self-scrutinizers. D at Joe Felso: Ruminations recently wrote one of his ever thoughtful postings on his own blogging oeuvre, including some ideas about where he would like to take his site. Another favorite, G, who currently captains the excellent Writer Reading, taxonomized the categories of bloggers on one of her previous blog incarnations. (I particularly liked the label “Sheherazadists” for bloggers like G–yes, another G name–at How to Survive Suburban Life who use the blogging form to write about their life story in a series of vignette postings.) C at Mariachristina has written about the constraints of writing without the cover of an alias or avatar. She has had to truncate her observations and expressions in order to respect the privacy of her family and friends. The analytical and intellectually probing J at little essays often asks out loud what her blog should and could be, particularly during a time when she is pressured with pursuing an advanced degree in art history and expecting her second child.

I am not of the Gould mold. If anything, I am an undersharer. The oft-evoked distinction Stevens makes in “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” between inflection and innuendo has resonance for me. I want to be subjective, to a point. Idea driven, to a point. Personal, to a point.

I am not a journalist, a confessionalist, or memoirist or a dialectician. The closest analog I can find to describe my aspirations for this blog is my aspirations for my paintings: Evocative, but not manipulative. Suggestive, but not formulaic. Mysterious but not self conscious. Memorable and yet personal, sized for a human being.

One of my favorite descriptions of an artist is from Donald Winnicott and seems apropos for blogging as well:

“Artists are continually torn between the urgent need to communicate, and the still more urgent need not to be found.”

Gould’s blogging style of full disclosure is probably more in keeping with an increasingly confessional, privacy-blind culture. I for one am in search for something more. Or perhaps something less.

15 Replies to “Blogging Redux”

  1. Elatia Harris says:

    Wow, this is interesting! As always for Slow Muse, I mean. Building the blogosphere, hewing out one’s place in it, is a lot like… like laying track under a moving train. It’s happening a bit too fast for comfort, no one really knows what’s coming next, or how the vrooming engine directs the path rather than vice versa.

    As you know, I blog once monthly for 3 Quarks Daily, and, except that my posts are online, they could really be magazine articles. The most personal thing about most of them is my choice of material — it’s completely up to me. The greatest difference between hard and soft copy is my unimpeded access to imagery. I would have to be writing for L’Oeil or FMR to expect such visual splendor to accompany my words, and even then the question of permissions would loom. I often wonder if it would be as much fun, or even attractive enough to do, if I stuck with the 2 or 3 visuals I’d be lucky to get in hard copy. The answer is no, I believe — the revelation of the Internet, for me, has been the unprecedented dialog between word and image it enables. I am excited we are in the heady days of that now — it’s only a matter of time before permissions and fees will be a huge factor, as they are in hard copy publishing. Meanwhile, we’re in the Garden of Eden, a lawless time of infinite juxtapositions.

    Of course, a blogger confesses a great deal by her choice of material. Being confessional on top of that is almost gratuitous. I remember being told in high school that the phrase “I think” has no place in expository writing; if you’re the one putting the ideas out there, then you’re the one who thinks them, so it’s understood. Nevertheless, has any form ever been more personality-driven than blogging? Hunter Thompson and Tom Wolfe may have been leading us here, but they are the Old Guard, if (still) the New Journalism, and they never really reached the asininity of _some_ blogging — a “This is me” school of writing whose tedium is painful, whose reader rewards are non-existent. The conflation of what can be shared and what should be shared is — as Emily Gould found out — good for no one.

    Blogging, I could of course tell you anything. But aren’t you glad I don’t? It would be like dirty underthings slipping from my bundle on my way to the laundry room: if you picked it up, the more fool you. I was merely a bit untidy and in a hurry. Thus a blogger makes a reader complicit in her own discomfort, in the way Kathryn Harrison did not quite do when she wrote about sexual relations with her father — I didn’t have to buy the book. If she had blogged, however, I might have been ambushed.

    What is it about a glowing screen late at night? If we’re reading, oh, we just want to peek, oh, just for a minute… If we’re blogging, then why not tell it like it is? Blog it, sister — right into the uncaring air! It’s still just a blog, forgotten tomorrow on top of being unreal enough today. Those of us over 50 may have found to our sorrow that many friends aren’t reading, anyway. They “don’t do blogs.” It is as far as they’re concerned a five-year old kicking screaming form they’ve learned to ignore. One of my friends who is a real brick if you need help but cannot seem to take it in if you’ve done something good, has told me, apropos why she ignores my blog, that she has no time for foolishness. As though, for the first time in my life, I were throwing myself into a patently unworthy sub-genre, and trying to get her to come along for cheer-leading. When I told her that 3,000,000 a month read 3QD, she actually looked hurt.

    Which brings me to a feature of blogging that I never anticipated — how many friends I would make because of it. What, if anything, do we do in the anticipation it will leave us just like it found us? Just about nothing? That said, when you write to connect with people, and it actually connects you with people, it can come as a surprise. Even if the subject is rather private — family, loss, childhood, heart’s desire — for some reason we are not sitting down with a spiral notebook and a pencil and trying to work it all out for ourselves and no one else. No, we are rolling the message into a bottle and casting it into the fiber-optic sea. Someone out there might be night-fishing for tuna, we might get caught in their net.

    What blogging is above all is the acknowledgment that unimaginable possibilities will be brought into play by some small thing you do when you are at liberty to be yourself. It makes writing less lonely work without compromising its authority or authenticity. Does the format entice you to “overshare?” Probably — but only in the way that anyone hiding while intending to be found is probably not in camouflage, but wearing bright red.

  2. Diana Johnson says:

    Tolle, describes, “The pain-body as a semiautonomous energy-form that lives within most human beings, an entity made up of emotion. Like all life forms it needs to feed–to take in new energy–and the food it requires to replenish itself consists of energy that is compatible with its own.” Is this why bloggerism is bogged down with incessant confessions? The constant chatter in your head that replays past perceived “dissing”?

    In my Tai Chi class today a women asked “What can I do to…?” The instructor replied, “It is not to do more, it is to do nothing.”

  3. Diana Johnson says:

    The last line shold be “It is not to do more, it is to do less.”

  4. What richness here, Elatia and Diana. These comments epitomize the largesse of night fishing in the fiber-optic sea. I am enriched, so enriched by your wisdom. Yes, yes, so much better than the notebook on my desk that is never seen by anyone but me.

  5. Deborah, your description of your visual art as “evocative, suggestive, mysterious” is also how I would describe your blog, Slow Muse. I enjoy reading your perspective on poetry, painting, travel, sculpture, and people in your artistic world. The premise for your site, I believe, is to reveal what inspires you to create art. I find that you reveal your intellectual side very well on these pages. The tone is measured and philosophical.

    Thanks for mentioning me in your post. Because I do have my full name on my blog, I don’t share intimate details of my personal life. But even if I used only a pseudonym, I wouldn’t tell all. I’m not an exhibitionist, nor a voyeur, although maybe young people raised on shows like Big Brother, Survival, Entertainment Tonight, and Jerry Springer might fall into those categories.

    In the long run, having a theme for a blog helps set the stage. You have a beautiful site, and I’m always happy to have visited, read, and learned.

  6. Elatia: I love the metaphor of blogging as a message in a bottle. That is so perfect.
    Deborah: Thank you for the mention. You have one of the more consistently thought-provoking blogs, your musings always profound and enchanting. I found Gould shallow and boring myself. It’s very easy to confess. It’s much more difficult to, paraphrasing Winnicott in words more expressive of how I think, reveal and conceal at once. I have been playing with that balance in my various blog incarnations — sort of like being reincarnated and having a second, third and fourth chance. I think in my first blog, though it was popular, I revealed much too much and increasingly over time became very uncomfortable with that and deleted the whole thing. Now, my two blogs are very focused, expressing myself without revealing myself, and I am learning the distinction. It’s a lot like the work of a psychotherapist who is fully present with the patient in a mindful way, yet behind a partition, or perhaps a burka, showing only the eyes.

  7. Identity crisis. A down side of many blogs is forgetting which blog goes with which comment. Sort of like a spy or criminal with many alias passports.

  8. C and G, two of my favorites–thank you, both of you, for your insightful comments here. You have both made such a significant contribution to my life both online and off. May that exchange continue in whatever incarnation or identity that emerges!

  9. Deborah – your Winnicott quote nails it, perfectly. In all forms of communication it is far more compelling “reading” if implication takes precedence over description. Much more to chew over, find relationship to, leading to yet more questions than answers. That is what keeps me coming back to certain painters, composers, filmmakers, writers, installation artists, dancers that graceful gap where i can enter and wrassle with the work, be overtaken and wish to repeatedly visit. Your paintings and writings are elusive, hide and seek, provoking and open-ended. That’s a lot to give on a regular basis, and the refreshment is why i come, seeking. You make me think! Thank you!
    Confessional material bothers me, as it forces itself upon consciousness, and awakes the voyeur inside – not a pleasant aspect of self to exercise. In my opinion, confessions are best kept to the semi-privacy of the light-filtered confessional, or the therapist’s presence. The hidden is sometimes more interesting than what is revealed. G

  10. G, Such insights and thank you for saying the nicest thing possible about my writing and paintings.

    It is curious to me what is behind our culture’s fascination with public confession. It is related no doubt to the dulling and dumbing down that is reality TV, celebrity culture and all the time invested in gossip and innuendo.

    And let me also say how grateful I am for the artful manner in which you have been telling your life stories at your site. There’s a lesson to be learned from your approach for many who have not figured out how this can be done with grace, intelligence and readability.

  11. […] by the former Gawker blogger, Emily Gould) and some thoughtful comments on Gould’s essay by Deborah Barlow and […]

  12. So much here, way more than I can take in. I’ll have to come back. I followed your link from a comment you left on cristine’s blog. Glad I did. I like your paintings and hope to spend time with your writing. Good luck in all you do.

  13. Rick, So good to have you stop in. Thanks for you kind words. I am a big Mariachristina fan too.

  14. I didn’t read the Gould article, but having read D’s post about it (from which I followed the link here) and now this post, I will read it.

    Those over-sharers I think capture our attention so well precisely because of their transparency. I have to wonder, what trait is that exactly, is it generational, and why do those bloggers gain such fame (or infamy) so quickly?

    I’m not exactly an under-sharer, and in fact, I can be pretty open at times. My blog partner and I talk about this some, and she’s more private than I am, although we both have limits on what we’ll divulge. I just push those limits more than she does, but no where close to a Gould, for example.

    It’s all fascinating stuff, and I guess where I’m landing with it is, it’s a personal decision. I might be more transparent if I felt doing so would also be a safe choice for my family. I don’t think that’s the case, though, and I won’t put them at risk.

    I like that there are quite a few of us who blog relatively quietly yet find community with one another.

  15. Ybonesy, I am a fan of your site as you know, and I do think both of you are operating in a universe that shares my values–authentic expression, adventuresome without sensationalistic showmanship, quality thinking and discussion, looking for what has heart and meaning for us personally. I’m glad to be part of that world. Thanks for your comments.

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